Archive for Mongo Santamaria

Keep Calm and Clave On – An Afro-Cuban Jazz Primer – Part 3

Posted in afro-cuban jazz, Jazz Arts Charlotte, Jazz in Charlotte, Under The Radar with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2019 by curtjazz

The clave (/ˈklɑːveɪ, kleɪv/; Spanish: [ˈklaβe]) – a rhythmic pattern used as a tool for temporal organization in Afro-Cuban music. It is present in a variety of genres such as Abakuá music, rumba, conga, son, mambo, salsa, songo, timba and Afro-Cuban jazz. The five-stroke clave pattern represents the structural core of many Afro-Cuban rhythms
(From Wikipedia)

Got it now? The clave, is the heartbeat of great Afro-Cuban music. You can fill your stage with world class musicians but without the clave, you’ve got nothing. You can bring in all the explanations you want but you’ve got to have the heartbeat.

I’m going to stop trying to describe it now because I am woefully unqualified to do so. Percussionist Dafnis Prieto, is very qualified and I’ll let him do so, briefly, in the clip below:

Also more than qualified; clave wise; are Orquesta K’Che; one of the best Latin Jazz bands in the Carolinas. They will be with us in JazzArts Charlotte’s THE JAZZ ROOM on April 24 & 25, as we pay tribute to The Music of Cuba. A sample of their remarkable artistry is below:

So come out and join us THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. And before or after the show, check out the history of the music by checking out the last five of our Afro-Cuban Jazz pioneers:

  • Chano Pozo (1915 – 1948) Luciano Pozo González contributions to the development of Afro-Cuban Jazz during his short life are incalculable. A dark-skinned Cuban, who was a devotee of the Santería religion, he scuffled his entire life to survive. His talents as a drummer were discovered at a very early age. However, the bandleaders, who admired his work, would not hire him, because of his skin color. He immigrated to the U.S., in 1947, in search of a better life. Dizzy Gillespie wanted to add Cuban percussion to his big band. His friend, Mario Bauzá suggested his newly arrived friend, Pozo. The rest is history. Diz and Chano’s collaboration lasted only 14 months but during that time Chano’s innovative style on the congas, melded with the sound of Dizzy’s brash bop based big band, to create a sound like nothing jazz had ever heard before. This was the beginning “Cubop”. It was a thrill for audiences to see the muscular, shirtless, Chano; strutting around the stage, chanting in Yoruba as his rhythm drove the band. He and Gillespie collaborated on writing the standards, “Tin Tin Deo” and “Manteca”. They also created an unforgettable version of “Cubana Be; Cubana Bop”. Sadly, their amazing collaboration was cut short, as Chano Pozo was shot dead, in a Harlem bar argument at age 33.
  • Arsenio Rodríguez (1911 – 1970) – A musician, composer and bandleader, Rodríguez played the tres (Cuban guitar), as well as the conga. Born in Cuba and blinded at the age of seven, when kicked in the head by a mule, Rodríguez was considered a master of the son Cubano, son montuno and rumba. He also established the modern Cuban conjunto, adding piano, horns and congas to the traditional Cuban sextet or septet. This format became the standard for most Afro-Cuban music that was not being performed by a big band. Several of his former musicians, including pianist Rubén Gonzalez, saw a late career revival, due to the Buena Vista Social Club album and film, which drew heavily on Rodríguez’s style. Rodríguez was a prolific composer, who wrote over 200 songs. He was unable to musically transition, when interest in the mambo waned, by the mid-60’s. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, in 1970.
  • Mongo Santamaría (1917 – 2003) Influential Cuban conga player, bandleader and composer who pioneered the marriage between Afro-Cuban rhythms and R&B. He heard Herbie Hancock play “Watermelon Man”, while Herbie was working as a fill-in pianist in Mongo’s band. He got Herbie’s permission to record it, it became a smash pop hit and thereby helped spawn the boogaloo (bugalú) craze.  His most famous composition, “Afro Blue,” became a jazz standard in and was recorded by John Coltrane and Cal Tjader, among many others. Mongo is a legend in jazz, Afro-Cuban, R&B and pop music. Arguably, he is the musician with the widest influence in this grouping.
  • Carlos “Patato” Valdés (1926 – 2007) Once called “The greatest conguero alive”, by Tito Puente, Patato invented (and patented) the tuneable conga drum. Traditional nail-head conga drums used nails to secure the skin to the wooden drum, which could be ‘tuned’ somewhat by using a candle or Sterno under the head of the drum. A visonary, Patato had long been experimenting with securing the skin to the drum-head with a metal ring which could be adjusted with a square box wrench, allowing a conga player to tune his instrument as would a violinist or pianist. After emigrating to the U.S. from Cuba in 1954, Patato’s first album in the US was Kenny Dorham’s classic Afro-Cuban. During his illustrious career, he worked with virtually every legend of Afro-Cuban and jazz music, including Art Blakey, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría; Willie Bobo; Grant Green and many more.
  • Chucho Valdés (1941 –    ) Arguably the greatest Cuban pianist ever,  Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, is a true living legend. The son of Bebo Valdés, who was also a pianist (1918 – 2013) as well as the leader of the orchestra at Havana’s famed Tropicana club; Chucho has been instrumental in the spread of the influence of Afro-Cuban Jazz, into the 21st Century. Chucho first garnered attention outside of Cuba, when he formed Irakere, in 1973, with some of his bandmates from Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, a Cuban big band. Irakere blended Afro-Cuban, jazz and influences from modern rock, funk and pop, into their sound. Though some of the early members of Irakere, such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, defected to the U.S., Valdés remained in his homeland. However, as tensions between the U.S. and Cuba began to thaw in the 90’s, Chucho became a frequent presence in the U.S., for recordings and concerts. He has won six Grammy Awards and although he yielded the piano/director chair of Irakere to his son, Chuchito, he continues to work and garner acclaim, with his current band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.

Hope to see you in THE JAZZ ROOM this weekend. For additional info, visit the JazzArts Charlotte website

Hasta la próxima, el jazz continúa …


Unsung Women of Jazz #3 – Valerie Capers

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , on April 25, 2011 by curtjazz

Valerie Capers

 “With jazz, you’re not interpreting; you’re composing on the spot. You have to develop your technique to the highest level so you are able to respond to a flow of creative ideas immediately. You should listen to everything — I listen to Ravel, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Beethoven — so all that will go into your creative soul. Then you can call upon all kinds of music during performances. That’s the thrill. That’s the challenge and that’s the beauty of jazz.” – Valerie Capers

How Dr. Valerie Capers has managed to remain obscure is a mystery. The good news though is that this brilliant pianist/composer/singer/educator is still with us and a vibrant part of the scene. So we can all make up for lost time.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Valerie Capers was picking out tunes on the piano at an early age. She lost her sight at the age of six.  While blindness may have been a deterrent to some, it was not for young Valerie.  She learned to read music by braille and received her early schooling at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind.   She then went on to obtain both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Julliard School of Music, the first blind person to graduate from the famed arts school.  She was a classical player at the time, but jazz had always been a part of her life.  Her father was a musical associate of Fats Waller and her brother Bobby, played sax and flute in Mongo Santamaria’s band. For a brief time in the early ‘60’s, Valerie joined her brother in Mongo’s group, composing and arranging a few tracks for the legendary percussionist, including the minor hit “El Pussycat”.  

 [Sony will not allow me to embed a clip of “El Pussycat” in my blog. Click HERE to view it on YouTube.]

In 1965, Dr. Capers recorded her first album, Portrait in Soul, for Atlantic Records.  It was a very good jazz sextet date, with a strong soul influence; not atypical of the era.  Saxophonist Robin Kenyatta was the most notable member of the group.  Though Dr. Capers would not record again as a leader until Affirmation in 1982, she was still very active; working with Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente and James Moody, among others. She wrote major jazz based works, such as Sing About Love, a Christmas Cantata, that was produced by George Wein at Carnegie Hall and Sojourner, an “operatorio” based on the life of Sojourner Truth. 

From her first album Portrait in Soul, Valerie Capers plays “Little David Swing”

Capers served on the faculty at Manhattan School of Music and then for many years, at Bronx Community College, where she became chair of the music and arts department, in 1987.  Also in 1987, Valerie Capers became the first recipient of Essence magazine’s first Women of Essence Award, for music.

Dr. Capers made her best known recording, Come on Home, in 1995.  It was part of Columbia Records’ “Legendary Pioneers of Jazz” series, but as Scott Yanow points out on, “ Valerie Capers is much too obscure and under-recorded to be a legend, and not old enough to be a pioneer. “ Nevertheless, Come on Home is an excellent album, mixing well-known jazz and pop standards with a couple of Capers’ originals.  Jazz luminaries Bob Cranshaw, Paquito D’Rivera, Mongo Santamaria and Wynton Marsalis, take things to an even higher level on their guest appearances.  

From Come on Home, Valerie Capers plays “In a Mellow Tone”

She followed-up, four years later, with the critically acclaimed Wagner Takes the “A” Train; which is highlighted by the title track, a slightly Wagnerian interpretation of Billy Strayhorn’s classic; and by her version of “‘Round Midnight” which explores several  variations on the famous Monk theme in a little over eight minutes. 

Although Valerie Capers retired from the Bronx Community College faculty in 1995, her educational endeavors have hardly skipped a beat.  At 75, she is still based in her beloved Bronx; performing, recording and touring the U.S. and the world, never missing an opportunity to spread the gospel of jazz, leavened with her uniquely informative perspective.  Her website includes a great deal of information on what Dr. Capers is up to. Check out the site and catch her live if she’s in your area. You’ll be in for a real treat.

Dr. Valerie Capers tells an anecdote about Dizzy Gillespie, then plays “A Night in Tunisia” [Special Thanks to Dawn Russell’s Bongodawn Productions for this clip]

Recommended Recordings: