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Mongo Santamaria Dies

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Great popularizer of Latin jazz and polyrhythms was 85:

    He was best known for his 1963 recording of Herbie Hancock’s song “Watermelon Man,” which became his first Top 10 hit. In 1959, Santamaria penned “Afro Blue,” which quickly became a jazz standard covered by stars such as Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie.

    Born in Havana, Santamaria performed at Havana’s famed Tropicana Club before moving to New York City in the early 1950s, touring with the Mambo Kings and performing with Tito Puente and Cal Tjader.

    Santamaria recorded scores of albums in a career that spanned nearly 40 years, mixing rhythm and blues with jazz and hip-swaying conga. In 1977 he was awarded a Grammy for Best Latin Recording for his album “Amancer.”

    In recent years, he divided his time between Manhattan and Miami. He was to be buried on Monday at Woodlawn Park South Cemetery near Miami, a spokesman at the Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Funeral Home said. [Reuters]

All Music Guide says:

    A Mongo Santamaria concert is a mesmerizing spectacle for both eyes and ears, and even in his 70s, this seemingly ageless Cuban percussionist/bandleader could energize packed behemoth arenas such as the Hollywood Bowl. A master conguero, Santamaria at his best creates an incantory spell rooted in Cuban religious rituals, quietly seating himself before his congas and soloing with total command over the rhythmic spaces between the beats while his band pumps out an endless vamp (a potent example on records is the hypnotic “Mazacote” available on Afro-Roots (Prestige)). He has been hugely influential as a leader, running durable bands that combine the traditional charanga with jazz-oriented brass, wind and piano solos, featuring such future notables as Chick Corea and Hubert Laws. He also reached out into R&B, rock and electric jazz at times in his long career. No Cuban percussionist, with the possible exception of Santana’s Armando Peraza (and let’s not count Desi Arnaz!), has reached more listeners than Mongo.

No Santana without Mongo blazing the trail first.

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