He was born William Correa on February 28, 1934 but to the jazz and Latin music worlds he was simply known as Willie Bobo, a moniker given him by Mary Lou Williams after they recorded in the early 50’s. Growing up in Spanish Harlem in New York City, he began playing bongos at age 14 and started performing a year later with Perez Prado. Over the next few years he studied with Mongo Santamaria while serving as his translator and at 19 joined Tito Puente for four years.
Willie became one of the great Latin percussionists of his time, a relentless swinger on the congas and timbales, a flamboyant showman onstage, and an engaging if modestly endowed singer. He also made serious inroads into the pop, R&B and straight jazz worlds, and he always said that his favorite song was Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi.”
He worked with Cal Tjader, Herbie Mann and Santamaria with whom he recorded the evergreen Latin standard “Afro-Blue” but it was in 1963 that he made his first recording as a leader with Clark Terry and Joe Farrell. He went on to record with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Chico Hamilton and Sonny Stitt. In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles where he led jazz and Latin jazz combos, appeared on Bill Cosby’s first comedy series in 1969.
He recorded on his own for Sussex, Blue Note, Verve and Columbia. One of his last appearances, only three months before his death, was at the 1983 Playboy Jazz Festival where he reunited with Santamaria for the first time in 15 years. Jazz percussionist and timbale master Willie Bobo, known for his Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz succumbed to cancer on September 15, 1983 at age 49.
Paulinho da Costa was born Paulo Roberto da Costa on May 31, 1948 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Learning to play percussion as a child of five by exploring the different sounds of everything he could get his hands on. While still in his early teens, he joined several musical groups, traveling extensively throughout the world. Upon arriving in the United States, the multi-versed percussionist carved a sizable niche in the music community,
Over the course of five decades Paulinho has participated in thousands of recording sessions, performed on the soundtracks of nearly two hundred films and television shows, recorded seven albums as a leader for A&M, Concord and Pablo record labels, and has been a part of several Grammy winning albums.
He playing has crossed over to work in a variety of music genres including Brazilian, blues, Christian, country, disco, gospel, hip hop, jazz, Latin, pop, R & B, rock, soul and world.
He has performed, collaborated and recorded with an impressive list of musicians and vocalists from A to Z not limited to Bill Cunliffe, Chico Freeman, Chicago, Miles Davis, Earth Wind and Fire, Ricky Martin, Eliane Elias, Toots Thielemans, Sammy Nestico, Dizzy Gillespie, Cher, The Gap Band, Bobby McFerrin, Michael Jackson, Ramsey Lewis, Chet Atkins, Sadao Watanabe, Tori Amos, Stix Hooper and Quincy Jones to name just a few.
Percussionist Paulinho Da Costa is currently proficient on more than two hundred percussion instruments and is considered one of the most recorded musicians of modern times.
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Ray Barretto was born on April 29, 1929 in New York City of Puerto Rican descent. Raised in Spanish Harlem he was influenced by his mother’s love of music and the jazz of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. At 17 he was in the Army, met Belgium vibist Fats Sadi and realized his true calling when hearing Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie play Manteca.
After his return in 1949 Barretto started joining in on jam sessions perfecting his conga style, played with Charlie Parker, Jose Curbelo and Tito Puente, with whom he would play for four years. He was soon sought by other jazz bandleaders and as a result of Ray’s musical influence, Latin percussionists started to appear in jazz groups.
By 1960, Barretto was a house musician for the Prestige, Blue Note, and Riverside labels. He also recorded on Columbia Records with jazz flautist Herbie Mann. New York had become the center of Latin music in the U.S. from which “pachanga” arose as the Latin music craze of the time. In 1961, Barretto recorded his first hit, “El Watusi” that became the first Latin song to enter the Billboard charts. He would go on to record 41 records as a leader, 11 with the groups Guarare and New World Spirit and seven as a sideman working with Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann, Celia Cruz, Red Garland and Kenny Burrell.
Ray became musical director of Fania All Stars, played with the Rolling Stones, and Bee Gees, was nominated for three Grammys, won one for Ritmo en el Corazon was crowned Conga Player of the Year in 1980 and inducted into the International Music Hall Of Fame. On February 17, 2006 conguero Ray Barretto passed away from heart failure.
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Candido was born Candido de Guerra Camero on April 22, 1921 in Havana, Cuba and learned to play percussion as a child listening to the music of his native land. Early in his career, Camero focused on conga and bongo, recording in his native Cuba with fellow jazz musician Machito. Although he has been credited as the first person to use the congas in jazz music, both Diego Iborra and Luciano “Chano” Pozo Gonzales preceded him in the 1940s.
Moving to New York in 1952 he started recording with Dizzy Gillespie and from 1953-54 he was in the Billy Taylor Quartet. The next year saw him performing and recording with Stan Kenton. During the Seventies Candido enjoyed success during the disco era, most notably with the Babatunde Olatunji-penned track “Jingo” from his Dancin’ and Prancin’ album on the Salsoul Record label.
He has performed and recorded Errol Garner, Gene Ammons, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery, Elvin Jones and Lionel Hampton on the short list of jazz luminaries. Percussionist Candido was honored with the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2008.
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Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría Rodríguez was born on April 7, 1917 in Havana, Cuba and learned rumba as a kid in the streets of the barrio. Mentored on bongos and rumba quinto by Clemente “Chicho” Piquero, Mongo recorded some of the very first recorded folkloric rumbas.
Santamaría began playing bongos with Septeto Beloña in 1937. In the 1940s he worked in the house band of the prestigious Tropicana nightclub. When Chicho could not join a late Forties Mexico tour, Mongo stepped in and opened a wider audience. Then a move to New York proved fortuitous as he joined Tito Puente followed by Cal Tjader’s Latin jazz combo.
In 1959 he composed and recorded Afro Blue that has since become a jazz standard. In 1963 when Chick Corea left the band, Santamaria hired Herbie Hancock and a subsequent backstage conversation between Mongo and Donald Byrd who recommended Herbie play Watermelon Man, led to Santamaria recording the tune that soared to the top of the charts.
He recorded over thirty-six albums as a leader and sideman, established a niche of blending Afro-Cuban and African American music. He was an integral figure in the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B and soul, paving the way for the boogaloo era of the late 1960s such as the Temptations 1969 hit “Cloud Nine”, on which he played congas.
Mongo Santamaria, rumba quinto master, conguero and percussionist, whose rendition of Watermelon Man has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and whose name has been punned in Blazing Saddles as “Mongo! Santa Maria!” passed away on February 1, 2003 in Miami, Florida.
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