We remember Mongo Santamaria (1917 – 2003)

Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría Rodríguez was born in Havana, Cuba on this day in 1917. He died in Miami in 2003. According to his obituary, he moved to New York City in 1950:

After establishing himself as a professional musician in his hometown of Havana, performing at the famous Tropicana Club with Conjunto Matamoros and Conjunto Azul, he toured Mexico with a dance team. In 1950 he arrived in New York and began working with Gilberto Valdés, playing charanga music, with its recognizable, courtly flutes-and-violin mixture in the frontline. Soon after, he worked with the popular bandleader Peréz Prado, and then for six years with Tito Puente, trading fireballs of percussion with the timbales-playing bandleader during the height of the mambo craze in New York City.

At the end of the 1950’s Mr. Santamaria left Puente’s band to join Cal Tjader, the San Francisco-based jazz vibraphonist, who was beginning to mix jazz and Latin music. With Tjader, Mr. Santamaria made the album ”Mas Caliente,” among others; it was a new, mellower Latin-jazz sound, popular among jazz audiences and another affirmation of the wide applicability of Cuban music.

In 1963, he put “Watermelon Man” in the Top 10 of Billboard USA. The rest is musical history and many of us danced to his recordings for a very long time.

PS: Click for my videos and podcasts at Canto Talk.

We remember Beny More (1919 — 1963)

Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez was born in Santa Isabel de Las Lajas, Cuba on August 23, 1919 and died February 19, 1963.  He was only 43 and and allegedly a victim of cirrhosis of the liver.

More’s music is found in every Cuban household in the US.  I remember that my parents ordered some Beny More LP’s when we finally got a record player in Wisconsin.  More’s music was exactly what my parents needed to survive those cold Wisconsin winters.

He started singing as a young man and eventually joined Perez Prado, the big Cuban orchestra of the 1950’s.  More eventually started his own band and enjoyed tremendous success until his death.

The bad news is that he died young.  The good news is that he left a huge archive of music and much of it is available in the US.

P.S.  You can to my show (Canto Talk).  

We remember Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez (1918-2008)

We remember Israel “Cachao” Lopez, who was born on this day in Havana, Cuba in 1918. For decades, he was at the center of Cuban music.  

Late in his career, Cachao made a huge comeback. Thanks to Andy Garcia, he was introduced to my generation, the kids who left Cuba and grew up in the US. We did not realize how important Cachao had been to the music that we love so much. He was a big part of Cuban music, along with Ernesto Lecuona, magical Beny More, Trio Matamoros, and Celia Cruz.  

Cachao died in March 2008. Thankfully, we have lots of CD’s to remember his wonderful rhythms and arrangements.  

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter

Beny Moré, Cuba’s ‘El Barbaro del Ritmo,’ was born on this day in 1919

My late father told me a great story many years ago. It turns out that he proposed to my future mother on December 31, 1949 and were married on August 5, 1951.  My future father’s plan was to propose to my mother during a Beny More appearance. The good news is that my mother said yes, but the bad news is that Beny never showed up. 
Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez was born in Santa Isabel de Las Lajas on August 23, 1919 and died February 19, 1963. He was only 43, allegedly a victim of cirrhosis of the liver.

More’s music is found in every Cuban household in the US. I remember my parents ordered some Beny More LP’s when we finally got a record player in Wisconsin. More’s music was exactly what my parents needed to survive those cold Wisconsin winters.

He started singing as a young man and eventually joined Perez Prado, the big Cuban orchestra of the 1950’s. Moré eventually started his own band and enjoyed tremendous success until his death.

Unfortunately, he died young.  But fortunately, he left a huge archive of music and much of it is available in the US. My favorite is still “Santa Isabel de las Lajas,” a song about his hometown.

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

We remember Richard Egues (1923-2006)

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As a young man growing up in Wisconsin, our family turntable was the best source of Cuban culture.  

My parents subscribed to a Cuban “LP of the month club” out of Miami and built up a collection of music. (They still have the LP’s today!) One of our favorite groups was Orquesta Aragon, one of the great Cuban bands of the 20th century. 

Richard Egües was Aragon’s flute player.   His unique sound helped the group achieve world-wide popularity.   In ’99, Egues released a solo album, “Cuban Sessions.”

Egues was born in 1919 and died in 2006.  He was 84 and left us a huge collection of records and songs.

PS: You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

We remember the great Cachao (1918-2008)

We remember Israel “Cachao” Lopez. He was born on this day in Havana, Cuba in 1918.      

For decades, he was in the middle of Cuban music.

In recent years, Cachao had a huge comeback. Thanks to Andy Garcia, he was introduced to my generation, the kids who left Cuba and grew up in the US. We did not realize how important Cachao had been to the music that we love so much. He was a big part of Cuban music, along with Ernesto Lecuona, the magic of Beny More, Trio Matamoros and Celia Cruz.

Cachao died in March 2008. Thankfully, we have lots of CD’s to remember his wonderful rhythms and arrangements.

The mastery of Cachao

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

We remember Beny Moré (1919 – 1963)

Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez was born in Santa Isabel de Las Lajas, Cuba on August 23, 1919 and died February 19, 1963. He was only 43 and allegedly a victim of cirrhosis of the liver.

He started singing as a young man and eventually joined Perez Prado, the big Cuban orchestra of the 1950’s. Moré eventually started his own band and enjoyed tremendous success until his death.

The bad news is that he died young. The good news is that he left a huge archive of music and much of it is available in a digital format.

Click here forSanta Isabel de las Lajas,” a song that he wrote about his hometown!

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

2008: We lost Cachao

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Israel “Cachao” López died on this day in 2008

This is a little bit about Cachao

“Born in Havana in 1918, he came from a family of musicians and studied classical music. He began his public career at 8 years old, playing bongos in a children’s group.

A year later, he had stood on a crate to play bass for the Cuban pianist and singer, Bola de Nieve, accompanying silent films.

At 13, he became the bassist of the Havana Philharmonic, and he performed with the orchestra from 1930 to 1960.

But he also played Havana clubs with his brother Orestes, working with a noted Cuban dance orchestra, Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, and with their own groups.”

In recent years, Cachao recorded several albums and collected many awards. He was a master arranger of Cuban music.  Rest in peace Cachao! 

P.S.  You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

We remember Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963)

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Ernesto Lecuona died on this day in 1963.

Like some of you, I grew up listening and hearing stories about Lecuona’s songs.

He was my parents’ favorite composer and they had a personal reference to each and every one of his songs.