Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


VALDEZ, Carlos 'Patato'

(b 4 November 1926, Los Sitios district, Havana, Cuba; d 4 December 2007) Master conguero, percussionist, composer. His father played tres guitar with son group Los Apaches; Carlos initially learnt marimbula (African-derived bass instrument, a wooden box with metal prongs sounding different bass notes when plucked); graduated to playing cajones (wooden box drums typical to rumba) at age twelve; played conga in parading comparsa carnival groups. Joined La Sonora Matancera briefly '46, switched to influential Conjunto Kubavana de Alberto Ruiz '47 (founded '37 by Ruiz: b 14 September 1913, Havana; d there 6 May 1978); Kubavana recordings featuring Patato collected on Rumba En El Patio '94 on Tumbao. He was a member of Conjunto Casino '49-54, founded '37 as Septeto Casino by Esteban Grau and renamed Conjunto Casino '40 when lead singer Robert Espí (b 26 May 1913, Havana) became leader: appeared with Casino on early Cuban TV show Mediodia; also worked with Pérez Prado, Beny Moré, others. He developed a method of tuning congas by tightening a metal ring with a key '50, facilitating a trailblazing melodic trademark style and a whole new market for tuneable drums. His nickname was Cuban slang referring to his small size. He was said to have taught Brigitte Bardot how to dance the cha-cha-cha on the set of the film And God Created Woman c.1956.

He had relocated to NYC in '54, and sessioned on the classic Kenny Dorham album Afro-Cuban '55 on Blue Note (Dorham first heard of Patato from Dizzy Gillespie). He performed with Tito Puente at Harlem's Apollo Theatre '55; played on classic Puente In Percussion '55 on Tico featuring just Puente's rhythm section including Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaría; sessioned on Mongo's Afro-Cuban roots LP Changó '55 (reissued as Drums And Chants) on Tico. He played on Puente's RCA albums reissued in Tropical Series '91 onwards including Cuban Carnival '56, Tambó '60, More Dance Mania '63 (recorded '59, reissued as Dance Mania Vol. 2 '92). Sessioned on Art Blakey's Orgy In Rhythm Vol. 1 '57 on Blue Note featuring Sabú Martínez, Herbie Mann, etc. Recruited to the Machito band by music director Mario Bauzá; performed on Machito's highly regarded Kenya '58 on Roulette (aka Latin Soul Plus Jazz). He was a member of Mann's group '59-67; toured Africa with them '60; LPs with Mann included St Thomas late '50s on United Artists, Right Now '59, Live At Newport '63, Standing Ovation At Newport mid-'60s, Monday Night At The Village Gate '66, all on Atlantic, and Latin Mann mid-'60s on CBS. He took time out to session on Charlie Palmieri's Alegre label debut Pachanga At The Caravana Club '61; Pupi Legarreta's jazz-inflected charanga debut Salsa Nova '62 ('New Spice'; reissued as Toda La Verdad '76) on Tico, featuring Patato's childhood pal from Los Sitios, Totico (Eugenio Arango), on lead vocals; Johnny Pacheco's descarga set Pacheco: His Flute And Latin Jam '65 on Fania; Willie Bobo's Uno, Dos, Tres 1.2.3 '66 on Verve; Sonny Stitt's Stitt Goes Latin '60s on Roost; also recorded with Gillespie, Art Taylor, Max Roach, Cal Tjader, Quincy Jones, others.

Patato teamed with Totico for the esteemed Afro-Cuban rumba workout Patato And Totico '67 on Verve (reissued on Mediterraneo '92), including tres guitar maestro Arsenio Rodríguez, legendary bassist Israel 'Cachao' López, singers, percussionists and composers Papaíto and Virgilio Marti (d '95); also on Verve, he sessioned on Chico O'Farrill's Married Well '67 and Miguelito Valdés's Inolvidables '67, the latter arranged and conducted by O'Farrill, including Machito, Graciela, Victor Paz. Sessioned on Cachao's revered cult LPs Cachao y su Descarga '77 Vol. 1 '76 and Dos, Vol. 2 '77 on Salsoul and important all-star charanga gathering Super Típica de Estrellas '76 on All-Art (reissued on WS Latino '95) directed by Don Gonzalo Fernández. Martin Cohen of percussion manufacturers Latin Percussion, who procured the rights to Patato's tunable conga early '70s and employed Patato for recordings on his Latin Percussion Ventures, Inc. (LPV) label '74-80, including the instructional LP Understanding Latin Rhythms Vol. I '74, Authority c'75, an album of Cuban improvisational music by Patato and his 'Latin Percussion Friends' included Papaíto, Marti, percussionist/vocalist Julito Collazo, tres guitarist Nelson González. Follow-up Ready For Freddy '76 had Patato supported by a full band included mentioned personnel from Authority plus pianist Alfredo Rodríguez, timbalero Orestes Vilató, veteran bassist Bobby Rodríguez, others, recorded impromptu in one take, the album said to be held in high regard by Cecil Taylor and Art Blakey. His LPV finale Bata y Rumba '80 showcased the sacred bata drum.

He also guested on José Mangual's Latin jazz set Buyú '77 on LPV sister label Turnstyle. Cohen conceived and marshalled the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble (LPJE) included Patato, Puente, pianists Eddie Martínez and Jorge Dalto (1948-87), others, which brought Latin jazz to European audiences '79-80; LPJE made Just Like Magic '79 and LPJE Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival 1980 '80 on LPV, the latter recorded during the group's fourth international tour. An aggrieved Patato quit LPJE after Puente was given top billing and settled in Paris for two years, performing there with other Paris-based Latin musicians including Alfredo Rodríguez and Camilo Azuquita; he toured '82 with a quintet including Rodríguez, flautist Artie Webb, alto saxist/flautist Allen Hoist; he and Totico performed on Rodríguez's solo debut Sonido Solido '83 (aka Alfredo Rodríguez. Patato. Totico) recorded in NYC. He toured with Dalto's Interamerican Band (recorded with them on Urban Oasis '85 on Concord Picante) and the Machito orchestra during mid-'80s. He appeared in The Cosby Show '86 as part of a group including Puente, Blakey, Percy and Jimmy Heath, Joe Wilder, Eric Gale; sessioned on Bauzá's Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban Jazz With Graciela, Mario Bauzá And Friends '86 on Caimán, as well as Tanga '92, My Time Is Now '93 and 944 Columbus '94 on Messidor by Bauzá's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, with whom he also toured. He appeared in the UK Dec. '89 accompanied by Roberto Pla's London-based Latin Jazz Ensemble; he guested on Rodríguez's live Latin jazz set Cuba--New York--Paris '91 on Bleu Caraïbes and trombonist Papo Vásquez's solo Latin jazz debut Breakout '92 on Timeless. His solo project Masterpiece '93 on Messidor was recorded in NYC '84-5, but remained on hold because of co-producer Dalto's death, personnel including Webb, Jerry and Andy González, Nicky Marrero, singers Vicentico Valdés and Orlando Watusi. The Grammy-nominated Ritmo y Candela/Rhythm At The Crossroads '95 on Redwood captured a rare encounter between Afro-Cuban percussion giants Patato, Orestes Vilató and Changuito (José Luis Quintana) with a small group in a studio Latin jam session (descarga) recorded in San Francisco; followed by Ritmo y Candela II/African Crossroads '96 on Round World Music.