Carlos “Patato” Valdes was born on November 4, 1926 in Cuba and learned to play the conga in his native land. Moving to New York in 1954 he began playing around the city working with Willie Bobo in Harlem. Known by his nickname “Patato”, he invented and patented the tunable conga drum in the late Forties that revolutionized use of the instrument as earlier drums only had nailed heads.
Since the 1950s Patato is among the Congueros that were in highest demand in the Latin Music and jazz world. He played, toured and recorded together with singer Miguelito Valdes, Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Machito, Herbie Mann, Cachao Lopez, Cal Tjader, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones among others. He also worked in the bands of and toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Mario Bauza.
Patato acted in and composed the title song of The Bill Cosby Show, contributed to the soundtrack of the film The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, gave Bridget Bardot mambo lessons in the film “And God Created Woman, led his own band Afrojazzia and toured Europe once again and mastered to the delight of his audiences, the art of actually dancing atop his congas during his performances.
For over 60 years Valdes demonstrated in his conga playing how a musician could combine technical skill with superb showmanship, fusing melody and rhythm, and understanding the rhythm is rooted in dancing. Carlos “Patato” Valdes, whose spontaneity and charm enabled him to bring together audiences of varied backgrounds and cultures to the Afro-Cuban rhythms and who Tito Puente once referred to as “the greatest conguero alive today”, passed away on December 4, 2007 in New York City.
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Pucho was born Henry Lee Brown on November 1, 1938 in New York City. Living in Harlem he cultivated a love for jazz, rhythm and blues, and mambo and largely self-taught imitating his favorite musician, Tito Puente. He started playing timbales professionally in New York City at the age of sixteen in bands led by Joe Panama in Harlem and the Bronx.
He formed his own band, Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers in 1959 as a Latin jazz, soul jazz and R&B group and appeared at Count Basie’s club and a Carnegie Hall festival. Over the course of the group’s tenure of thirteen years, of the many musicians that worked in his group, Chick Corea is listed among them.
From 1966 until ’74 he recorded a series of albums for Prestige Records, and due to their musical range recorded with George Benson, Lonnie Smith and Gene Ammons. Disbanding the group in the mid Seventies he concentrated on more traditional Latin music. During the late ‘70s and ‘80s he worked the Catskill Mountain resorts with a small trio until a resurgence of interest through the acid-jazz movement in the Nineties gave way for him to re-form the group and tour Britain and Japan.
Pucho, the timbales player who just may have been to eclectic for a wider jazz audience acceptance, has since released new material, had his early material reissued and continues to perform.
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Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill was born on October 28, 1921 in Havana, Cuba of Irish/German heritage. Attending military school in Georgia he learned to play trumpet and was exposed to big band jazz.
Although he played trumpet early in his career, he became a sought-after composer and arranger, and was one of many leading the emergence of the Afro-Cuban jazz movement in the ‘50s dubbed Cubop.
Best known for his work in the Latin idiom, Chico also composed straight-ahead jazz pieces and even symphonic works. He composed works for Machito’s Afro-Cuban Suite with Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman’s Bebop Orchestra’s Undercurrent Blues and composed the Manteca Suite for Dizzy Gillespie and arranged for Stan Kenton and David Bowie, among others.
Over the course of his career he has recorded for Norman Granz’s label, with Todd Barkan at Fantasy, worked with the count Basie, Gato Barbieri, and Cal Tjader and has recorded and performed as a leader in small configurations, a bandleader and a sideman on more the two dozen albums. His music has been featured in the film Calle-54 and in the ‘90s he led a big band that took up residence at Birdland in New York.
Chico O’Farrill, Grammy nominee, passed away on June 27, 2001 in New York City and eventually his son Arturo took over the band.
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Celia Cruz was born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso on October 21, 1925 in Havana, Cuba, the second of fourteen children. Growing up in Cuba’s diverse 1930s musical climate, she listened to many musicians that later influenced her adult career, such as Paulina Alvarez, Fernando Collazo and Abelardo Barroso. She started singing backup on many recordings by santaria singers.
As a teenager she sang in cabarets contrary to her father’s wishes of her becoming a teacher. Ironically one of her teachers told her she could make in one day what a teacher made in a month. Cruz began singing in Havana’s radio station Radio Garcia-Serra’s popular “Hora del Té” daily broadcast, won 1st prize, entered and won more contests, recorded for radio stations and made her debut album in Venezuela in 1948.
In 1950, Cruz made her first major breakthrough when she filled in with the Sonora Matacera and was hired permanently. Soon she was famous throughout Cuba and during her 15-year tenure toured throughout Latin America. Leaving Cuba upon Castro assumption of control she emigrated and became a U.S. citizen where she would team with Tito Puente and an eight record deal with Tico Records in the ‘60s that eventually led to joining pianist Larry Harlow and a headlining concert at Carnegie Hall.
Her 1974 album with Johnny Pacheco, Celia y Johnny, was very successful, and Cruz found herself in the Fania all-Stars and toured Europe, the Congo and Latin America. She went on to record in the film Soul Power, Eastern Airlines commercials, radio spots, star in the films Salsa and Mambo Kings, received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton, and won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Performance.
On July 16, 2003, Celia Cruz, one of the most successful and influential Salsa performers of the 20th century, earning twenty-three gold albums, internationally renowned as the “Queen of Salsa” as well as “La Guarachera de Cuba” and worked predominately in the U.S and Latin America, died of a cancerous brain tumor. She has posthumously been honored with an exhibit celebrating her life in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. and an off-Broadway play titled Celia at the New World Stages that won four 2008 HOLA awards from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.
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Dave Samuels was born on October 9, 1948 in Illinois. He started his musical career on the drums at age six, attended the New Trier High school in Winnetka, Illinois, known for its superb arts and music programs. He graduated from Boston University with a psychology degree but by this time he was studying mallet instruments.
Samuels next matriculated through Berklee College of Music where he studied under Gary Burton. The vibraphonist first worked with guitarist Pat Metheny and John Scofield while in Boston, then toured with Gerry Mulligan and played with various groups early in his career such as Timepiece, Double Image and Frank Zappa.
In 1979 Dave began recording with Spyro Gyra but it wasn’t until seven years later that he became a member of the group and one of the soloists. His recordings as a leader have been commercial but since leaving Spyro Gyra in the 90s and taking a slot in the Grammy-winning Latin jazz music group Caribbean Jazz Project, one can witness some very impressive output.
Vibraphonist Dave Samuels has worked with Eddie Palmieri in tribute to Cal Tjader, Andy Narrell and Paquito D’Rivera among others. He has taught at his alma mater, Berklee School of Music and continues to perform, record and tour.
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