On November 4, 1926 in the Los Sitios neighborhood of Havana, Cuba, Carlos “Patato” Valdés was born. Known as Patato, he is, quite simply, one of the best percussionists in the history of music.
Patato was born into a very santera and very musical family, his father was a tres player of Los Apaches, the port germ of two illustrious sonera groups: the Sexteto Habanero and the Sexteto Nacional.
He learned to play the tres and the botijuela before turning to percussion, first on the cajones and finally on the congas.
He was an extraordinary percussionist of outstanding participation with the “Conjunto Kubavana”, “La Sonora Matancera”, “Conjunto Casino” and the “Orquesta de Tito Puente”, among other groups, both Son and Latin Jazz.
Formed in rumbero gatherings and carnival groups, Valdés became a professional in the early forties, after trying his luck as a boxer and dancer.
He played with Conjunto Kubavana, La Sonora Matancera and El Conjunto Casino. He accumulated nicknames: Zumbito (for his performances at the Zombie Club), Pingüino (for a dance he did on television) and Patato (for his small size), and in those days, dedicating oneself to music in Cuba guaranteed hardship. Besides, Patato wanted to experiment and that was not possible playing for dancers or tourists.
In 1954, he emigrated to New York, like his leather friends: Cándido Camero, Armando Peraza, Mongo Santamaría and the pioneer Chano Pozo (murdered there in 1948).
He immediately began working with Tito Puente. His first recording in the United States was the album Afro-cuban, by trumpeter Kenny Dorham, which opened with the intoxicating Afrodisia. Those were good times for tropical music.
He was the first percussionist to improvise “Solos” with 3 or more Congas at the same time. In addition, he was the creator of the “Congas Afinables”, instruments on which he would ride to dance making them sound rhythmically.
Patato Valdes was an excellent musician, an unforgettable person. Nervous and diminutive, he spoke with an impenetrable Cuban accent; he dressed elegantly, hiding the necklaces and bracelets of Changó and other “orishas”. He looked like a living caricature, but when he hit the percussions he became a divine creature: he had power, spectacularity, sense of melody.
Those skills made him an ambassador of Afro-Cuban rhythms in the jazz world, although he will also go down in history for his extraordinary rumba recordings.
In 1956, Patato appeared in the film Y Dios creó a la mujer, teaching the dances of his homeland to Brigitte Bardot. A great moment, although an implacable Guillermo Cabrera Infante criticized the actress’s movements: “she seems to commit suicide by dancing a cross between mambo and chachachá, a really toxic cross between mambo and chachachá”.
A flexible musician, Valdés sounded as comfortable playing with Machito’s big band as with Herbie Mann’s group. However, he felt indebted to the “rumba de solar” and in 1968 he recorded a revolutionary album with his friend Eugenio Arango, alias Totico.
The exuberant Patato & Totico had genuine Havana flavor, but enriched the basic percussion instrumentation with Cachao’s contrabass and Arsenio Rodriguez’s tres.Patato expanded the creative possibilities for percussionists by playing with three or more congas.
He also made their lives easier by developing a tunable conga: fed up with the traditional method (heating the leather over fire), he installed a metal hoop and keys for tensioning.
The LP company mass-produced his model, which was to become the standard for conga players. To promote it, he formed the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble with Tito Puente, Jorge Dalto and Alfredo de la Fé, among others, an orchestra that would end up becoming Puente’s big band in the early 80s.
It was during this period with Dalto that the album we have chosen for today began to take shape. It was titled “Patato, Master Piece” and it synthesizes all of Patato’s genius.
“Masterpiece” is an album that travels first class through tango, jazz, descarga, guaguancó and bolero, always in a masterful way and with a luxury crew made up of names like Jorge Dalto, Artie Webb, Michel Camilo, Jerry and Andy González, Nicky Marrero, Ignacio Berroa, Joe Santiago, Néstor Sánchez, Vicentino Valdés, and Sabú Martínez, among others.
The Art of Flavor.
Unfortunately Dalto had already passed away when in 1993 the project was released by the venerable German label Messidor, the same label that had already financed some impressive sessions of Patato with Mario Bauzá or Bebo Valdés, with whom he would later record the famous El Arte del Sabor.
In fact, the great Argentine pianist had to be replaced for the last recording sessions that were made 6 years ago since his illness was too advanced, but he left us some incredible arrangements that were kept in the great majority of the themes.
Dalto left us in 1987 when he was only 39 years old. His replacement was nothing more and nothing less than a very young Michel Camilo.formed by 9 cuts among which we especially want to highlight the huge versions of Cute and Nica’s Dream, Masterpiece is an essential album for all lovers of Latin-jazz with capital letters and that is why we wanted to share it on a day as special as today.
Already recognized as a legend, Patato became more visible in the last 25 years: he had his own band, Afrojazzia, although The Conga Kings, with Cándido and Giovanni Hidalgo, turned out to be more popular.
He even made his way onto the modern dance floors, with a remix of San Francisco tiene su propio son. Just as he was returning from playing in California with the Conga Kings, his breathing began to fail.
The plane he was on had to make an emergency landing in Ohio to admit him to a hospital. The 81-year-old percussionist, a heavy smoker, was on his way to his beloved New York, but he would never get there. According to his relatives, he held out until December 4, the day of Santa Barbara, the Afro-Cuban equivalent of Changó, when the cables and tubes that kept him alive were removed.
Valdés died in Cleveland, USA, on December 4, 2007.
Imágenes: Martin Cohen de Congahead.com
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