Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 1936, Havana, Cuba) Pianist, bandleader, arranger, composer, singer, percussionist; with a classical and jazz background, he draws on his Afro-Cuban roots to create a special mélange which still remains Cuban. He began singing and playing claves around age five, won children's talent contests, started classical piano tuition at age seven and intended to be a classical pianist. He relocated to NYC in 1960, continued piano and theory studies there and rediscovered his Cuban roots chiefly influenced by piano titans Peruchín (Pedro Jústiz; 1913-77), Jesús López, Luis 'Lilí' Martínez Griñán; he also loved jazz and studied with Roland Hanna, Albert Dailey, Bill Evans, others. He turned pro mid-'60s with Vicentico Valdés's orchestra, then with La Sonora Matancera and Belisario López; made recording debut with Rey Roig's Conjunto Sensación on LP Swing '65 on Tropical. With Willie Rosario's orchestra two years, performing on LPs Two Too Much '68 on Musicor, El Bravo De Siempre c'69 and Mr Rhythm/Mr Ritmo '71 (reissued '95) on Inca; recommended by La Sonora Matancera pianist Lino Frías as replacement for pianist Nick Jiménez in the Joe Cuba Sextet, played on albums Recuerdos de mi Querido Barrio (Memories Of My Beloved Neighborhood), Bustin' Out and Doin' It Right/Hecho y Derecho '70-3 on Tico; then with Justo Betancourt, playing on his Pa Bravo Yo '72 on Fania (reunited with Betancourt on Leguleya No '82 on Fania); also sessioned with Louie Colón and Dizzy Gillespie. Relocated to Miami '73 to work in a big band backing singers such as Vicentico Valdés, Rolando La Serie and others, released from his contract after three months to join José Fajardo '74-6; made Fajardo y sus Estrellas del 75 and Fajardo '76: La Raiz De La Charanga 'Charanga Roots' with Fajardo's charanga '75-6 on Coco. Returned to NYC '76, invited by Carlos 'Patato' Valdez to play on his respected Ready For Freddy '76 on LPV; filled piano chair with Charanga 76 and recorded with them '78-80; sessioned with José Mangual Jr (on his classic Tribute To Chano Pozo '77 on True Ventures), Orquesta Novel, Alfredo de la Fé (Para Africa Con Amor '79 on Sacodis), Pupi Legarreta, Daniel Santos, Charanga La Reina, Amadou Balake (Afro-Charanga '81 on Zamidou), others; toured '81 with Tito Puente's Latin Ensemble incl. Patato. Replaced SAR Records staff pianist and music director Alfredo Valdés Jr (who was in dispute with the label) for three months '82; sessioned on SAR albums Papaíto '82 by Papaíto, Chocolate Dice '82 by Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros and Lita Branda's La Tigresa de la Salsa '82 on SAR sister label Toboga. Hired as music director, arranger and pianist on Y Sigue La Cosa '82 on Montuno by Armando Sánchez y su Conjunto Son de la Loma; toured '82 with a quintet incl. Patato (Paris-based at the time), flautist Artie Webb, alto saxist/flautist Allen Hoist.

He relocated to Paris '83 and became a crucial part of the Latin scene, considered to have revived Latin jazz there; teamed up with Patato and Totico (Eugenio Arango) for his solo debut Sonido Solido '83 on TR (aka Alfredo Rodríguez. Patato. Totico) recorded in NYC; returned to NYC to make Monsieur Oh, La, La '85 on Caimán incl. co-lead vocalists Adalberto Santiago and Jimmy Sabater. Made the live Latin jazz set Cuba--New York--Paris '91 on Bleu Caraïbes in Amsterdam and Switzerland with Patato guesting; guested along with Lou Donaldson, Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros and Nicky Marrero on La Fiesta Del Timbalero '91 on L+R by the German-based band Irazu. For the típico-oriented Para Yoyo '93 on Bleu Caraïbes, recorded in Paris, he assembled an orchestra with a sax, trumpet and trombone frontline, rhythm section and lead/chorus voices incl. London-based alto and tenor saxist Lisa Graham and percussionist Dave Pattman. First recorded in Cuba on Billboard hit Cubanismo! '96 on Hannibal led by Jesús Alemañy (trumpeter, arranger, composer; b 1962, Guanabacoa, Cuba; joined top son group Sierra Maestra '78; relocated to London '92). Made Afro-Cuban flavoured Cuba Linda '96 on Hannibal in Cuba, one of his strongest to date, with some of the personnel (incl. Alemañy) from Cubanismo! Returned to Cuba to session on Alemañy's more confident Hannibal follow-up Malembe '97. Gigged with Papaíto in Paris and London '87; toured Europe and French Guiana with Patato '89; performed in Paris with Fajardo '89; started making frequent UK appearances from '87. Besides those mentioned, he has gigged with Ismael Rivera, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaría, Monguito, Rafael Cortijo, Camilo Azuquita, Roberto Torres, Andy and Jerry González, others.