1. James Moody with Chano Pozo
“Tin Tin Deo,” from Chano Pozo: El Tambor de Cuba (Tumbao). Moody, Ernie Henry, Cecil Payne, saxophones; Dave Burns, Elmon Wright, trumpets, James Forman, piano, Nelson Boyd, bass; Art Blakey, drums; Chano Pozo, conga, vocals, composer. Recorded in 1948.
Before: I know who this is. I love it. [sings along] I get chills listening to this. Chano Pozo with James Moody. This is where I come from, you know? This is when they were first mixing jazz and latin. I’m sure it’s a fine trap drummer behind him but it sounds like they‘re building a house back there [laughs]. Yeah, the house is going up. That’s a great band.
After: Chano was already a big star in Cuba before anybody knew him in the States. He was a great dancer and performer too. He was only on the scene here for a short while and we still play his Manteca, Tin Tin Deo, Guarachi Guaro, more than 50 years later. I used to play with Eddie Cano who knew him and said when Chano walked into a party, the whole room lit up. Chano was full of life, bigger than life, you know?
If Chano were here today, what would you ask him?
Wow. Let me think for a minute. I’d ask him about all the great rumberos in Cuba before he came here. I’d want to know about all the neighborhood cats back there. And then I’d ask him how it felt coming to NY; Was it a big, trippy city? Was he nervous or scared, or did he just want to tear this place up? What was it really like when he started coming across and hanging out? Who was he checking out, who did he stay with? And then I’d probably ask him about his drums, you know.
2. John Benítez
“Breakdown,” from Descarga in New York (Khaeon). Benítez, bass; Luis Perdomo, piano, composer; Dafnis Prieto, drums, percussion; Richie Flores, conga, percussion. Recorded in 2000.
Before: This is really good playing. Beautiful. I don’t know who it is but it sounds like Danilo Perez, or maybe Chucho. It sounds like El Negro on drums, somebody like that. I’m not up on all the new conga players. Are those bongos? Sounds like the congas are tuned kind of low. Patato taught me to tune my drums to E-G-C many years ago. A lot of guys today tune their drums real high and they play real fast. They’ve adapted the rudiments of the trap set to the congas. Cats like Changuito and Giovanni are the ones that took off with the new style and sound. Everybody on this sounds great. The bassist could be that big kid; great guy, the Puerto Rican guy. I can’t think of his name. He’s gonna kill me! The drummer’s are playing fast and furious, that’s how they all play today. That was great. I’m gonna get that. Who was that?
After: Oh yeah, John’s the bassist I was talking about. He’s great, I’m gonna call him up and tell him to send me this. The drummer was really great. Oh, Richie. I almost said Richie. Yeah, crazy Richie… [laughs] Sookie Sookie! First time I played with Richie and John was at the Kennedy Center for the Clinton inaugural. Richie copied Giovanni [Hidalgo] like I copied Mongo. But a lot of cats sound like that now. I’m gonna get that CD. I like it. It’s clean, man. John’s a great guy too.
“Congo Mulence,” from Kenya (Roulette Jazz) solos by Cannonball Adderley, alto sax; Joe Newman, trumpet; Musical Director, Mario Bauza; orchestra includes Rene Hernandez, piano; Roberto Rodriguez, bass; Jose Mangual, bongos; Uba Nieto, timbales; Candido Camero, conga; written, arranged by A.K. Salim. Recorded in 1957.
Before: Beautiful big band, man. Is that Cannonball? Wow. It sounds like some jazz cats with Machito. There’s that walking conga. That guy’s not in a hurry, he’s walking in the shade. [at start of trumpet solo] Yeah, take your time, now. The conga could be Carlos Vidal or someone like that. That’s cool. I like that too.
After: Oh, I have that at home but I haven’t heard it yet. That’s great shit, man.
4. Kenny Dorham
“Afrodisia,” from Afro-Cuban (Blue Note) Dorham, trumpet, composer; Jay Jay Johnson, trombone; Hank Mobley, tenor sax; Cecil Payne, baritone sax; Horace Silver, piano; Oscar Pettiford, bass; Carlos “Patato” Valdes, conga; Art Blakey, drums. Recorded in 1955.
Before: Pa-Ta-To! That’s some of the best shit, man. Kenny Dorham with Patato. Yeah, I have this record. I have an arrangement of this, too. I can’t remember the name of it; Afrodisia or something like that.
After: To me this is jazz-latin, not latin-jazz. Patato had to really swing it. That was the early years when the [jazz] cats didn’t really know how to play the latin grooves, and their thing was swinging real hard. So Patato was trying to do a chopped-up mambo, chopping it all up to make it fit their groove and swing. Patato, like Chano, should get more credit. Patato was on all those early records and playing his ass off. This is when it was all being invented, you know? More people need to know about that stuff. That’s my whole life man, that kind of stuff. When I was a kid, from the minute I woke up to the time I went to sleep, it was nothing but records like that and Mongo and Cal, all day long.
5. Mario Bauzá
“Lourdes’ Lullaby,” from 944 Columbus (Messidor) Mario Bauzá and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. Solos by Marcus Persiani, piano; Rolando Briceno, soprano saxophone; with Victor Páz, Michael Philip Mossman, Daniel Colette, Manny Durán, trumpets; Gerry Chamberlain, Bruce Eisem, Don Hayward, trombones; Pete Yellin, Enrique Fernández, Dioris Rivera, Pablo Calogero, saxophones; Joe Santiago, bass; Bobby Sanábria, drums, José Mangual Jr, bongos; Carlos “Patato” Valdes, conga; Joe Gonzáles, José Alexis Díaz, percussion. Composed by Mario Bauzá, arranged by Michael Philip Mossman. Recorded in 1993.
Before: Hmmm, it’s groovin’, beautiful music. It’s afro-cubano; those are the bata drums [sings all the percussion parts]. It’s all arranged very well, everyone is in tune. I like the way this is orchestrated and voiced, you know? Sounds like Paquito or somebody like that. Birds, trees, jungle, you can hear all that in there. Could be Chico O’Farrell’s son [Arturo]. That’s what a big latin band is supposed to sound like. Listen to those trombones! Could be Bobby Sanábria playing drums. Ah, right there; that’s Patato’s lick on conga. I don’t have this, but I’m gonna get it now. Who is it?
After: Wow, man. Last time I saw Mario was when we played together at the Kennedy Center. He was really sick at the time and didn’t look well. But he was one of the cats from the old school, so when it was show time he got it together, looked great, and made it through. He was an educated musician, one of the main cats for writing and arranging this music. I loved and respected him so much.
6. Cedar Walton
“Latino Blue,” from Latin Tinge (HighNote) Walton, piano, composer; Cucho Martinez, bass; Ray Mantilla, percussion. Recorded in 2002.
Before: The conga drum sounds flat, either the way it was recorded or maybe the room. You can fix that in the mix, but it depends how much time you’ve got for fixing, you know? Sounds like Danilo, or maybe Mark Levine’s project. It’s sounds like a newer recording. The conga player sounds like he’s been around. It’s basically a mambo pattern, though he does it his own way, mixing in a little guaguanco thing [sings the lick]. I like those little blues heads.
After: Ah, Ray Mantilla. I’m not real familiar with his playing, but every time I’ve heard him, he plays real nice. Nice and smooth, he knows all the correct patterns. You know he learned from the right people.
7. Bobby Sanábria Big Band
“Nuyorican Son,” from Live & In Clave!!! (Arabesque) solos by Dr. Chris Washburn, trombone; John Stubblefield, tenor saxophone; John Walsh, trumpet; with Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Roberto Quintero, Hiram “El Pavo” Remon, perrcussion; John di Martino, piano; Boris Kozlov, bass; Bobby Sanabria, drums, percussion; written and arranged by Dr. Chris Washburn. Recorded in 1999.
Before: [laughs] This has to be one of those big bands I was talking about. Maybe Bobby Sanábria’s? I haven’t heard this record but I’ve heard people talk about it. It’s got that New York feel and sound and energy. You know, like: Watch out muthafucka, ahmonna cut ya!” These cats are pushing it to the edge. He’s right, it’s Cuban music with a New York attitude.
After: I think Bobby plays really great now. And he plays everything; drums, timbales, chekere. When I first met him many years ago he was a bit stand-offish, real New York. And I’m from L.A., you know? Next time I saw him he was cool. Then, he was my guest at the Grammy after-party, cause we were both nominated the same year, and he sat in with us on timbales. I really like the way he plays, he’s got a great feel. He’s really grown and he speaks very well. We did some talks together at the Jazz Educators conference. He knows the history of the music and I respect the man now very much. I think he’s a great guy, man. His head’s in the right place and he’s gonna be good for our music. More power to him.
8. Ray Barretto
“Acid,” from Acid (Fania). Barretto, conga, vocals; Rene Lopez, Roberto Rodriguez, trumpets; Orestes Vilato, timbales; Pete Bonet, guiro; Big Daddy, bass; Adalberto Santiago, vocals. Recorded in 1968.
Before: [immediately] Ray Barretto, those handclaps. I have all those Ray Barretto records, the original Lp’s. Ray had some really great bands. He’s another one of my heroes, like Mongo, Candido and all that. We’re now pretty good friends, but we didn’t get along at first. He probably thought I was a young guy cutting in on his territory, especially a guy coming from L.A., you know what I mean? There’s Orestes Vilato, one of the greatest on timbales. He plays underneath the timbal faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. I can’t even play a roll that fast on top! And this is Roberto on trumpet, what’s his last name? He was with Ray a long time. Starting way back with his charanga bands, Ray always had the best groups, great singers. [concentrates on the conga solo] There’s Mr. Hard Hands. He’s a big guy, with big hands. I learned to play from these records. That’s the school I come from: nice, tasty, he doesn’t need to play that fast furious stuff. He knows where the groove is all the time, you know? A lot of the young guys today play so fast that they cross the clave. But Ray never loses the pulse.
After: This is Ray on Fania. Yeah, the one with the red cover, kind of cheesy. Great band.
9. Patato y Totico
“Mas Que Nada,” from More Than Mambo: The Introduction To Afro-Cuban Jazz (Verve) Carlos “Patato” Valdes, percussion, vocals; Eugene “Totico” Arango, vocalFrancisco “Panchin” Valdez, sticks; Juan “Curva” Dreke, Virgilio Martí, lead vocal; Hector “Papi” Cadavicco, Mario “Papaito” Muñoz, vocal, percussion. Recorded in 1967.
Before: That whole record is great. I used to play this over and over again, all day. This is a classic record man. [sings the bata parts at the bridge] At home I used to get the bata and go crazy with this. My wife would say, “o.k., that’s enough, take it easy.” That’s a beautiful record-a classic, baby.
After: I learned a lot of stuff from Patato, man. Just the way he plays. Every time I’m playing a latin jazz piece with my band, a nice little groove, a nice cha-cha, I always remind myself, don’t play too much, cause Patato never does. He just sets up the groove. Like Count Basie, man. Where are you gonna put it? Sometimes it’s not what you play that makes it groove or swing, it’s what you don’t play. Let it go, man, you know what I’m sayin?
What’s he like as a man?
Patato? Funny! A little, funny man with a funny voice. Nobody understands him half the time. At first I thought it was just me, but I asked Johnny Rodriguez about it and he said, “shit, nobody understands everything Patato says!” Patato also taught me how to wear my Kangol hat just right. That’s a life lesson.
10. Giovanni Hidalgo
“Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” from Hands of Rhythm (TropiJazz). Hidalgo, bongo, conga; Michel Camilo, piano. Recorded in 1996.
Before: Whew! This guy plays great. Piano and conga both sound good. Wow. [chuckles during percussion solo]. That’s that new style, fast. Tasty. Great idea to do it like that. Candido used to do that kind of thing, but this sounds like one of the newer guys. Some guys can’t switch back forth between conga and bongo so easily, but this guy did it really well. Somebody like Giovanni is incredible, but I’ve never seen him play the bongos like that. It could be Giovanni. Who was it?
After: Yeah. Giovanni, man. I’ve seen him do stuff that’s just incredible. Technically, he’s a motherfucker. He does some amazing shit. I hear him sometime and just say, “damn, I can’t even think that fast.” He’s just a total natural for that style, you know? He’s a bad dude. He sat in with us one time in Puerto Rico and I was wondering what he was gonna come up with. He had a little stick in his back pocket, and I thought, uh-oh. He played an incredible solo, and did everything imaginable with that little stick. Giovanni has stayed at my home, and we stayed up one night until 4:30 in the morning. He loves boxing, so I went to bed and left him with some boxing videos. He’s a great guy, great energy, an amazing player.
11. Miguel Zenón
“El Cruze,” from Looking Forward (Fresh Sound New Talent) Zenon, alto sax, percussion; Diego Urcola, trumpet; Antonio Sánchez, drums; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Pernell Saturnino, congas, percussion. Recorded 2001.
Before: [raises eyebrows] Wow, that’s a funny figure. Oh shit! [listens some more] That’s bad, huh? [laughs] Whoah! A lot of shit’s crossed in there, but it works good. The overlaid time signatures and the figures, doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does. This is deep, out, funky. A lot of things going on there. It’s dark. I heard some Roland Kirk in there. Yeah man, it’s nice. I don’t know who it is but it’s totally out and different. It’s fucking great. Somebody was doing some thinking here. I’d like them to explain to me what they’re doing. Great [alto] solo, man. Fine piece of work. I’d like to get this record. Is that Danilo on piano?
After: That’s great, man. It reminds me that music is my life. I used to spend so many years listening to Mongo, Machito, Coltrane and all those guys, just soaking it up. Something like this reminds me that I need to go out and get some new records. I don’t know who this is but I’m gonna go out today and try to find this one. You know, I thank God that I have some success. I get to go all over the world and play music, but the business side takes up a lot of my time. Listening to this reminds me that I need to find more time for me, like I used to. I used to spend days listening to music back in my mother’s garage and later when I first got married. But the band and the business take up so much time. Hearing this tells me to put some time aside to listen. Just for my head. That was cool. I’m glad we did this today.