Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez Jr. is a salsa legend and world-renown, pioneering bongocero.
His “Dream Team” is currently regarded as the hottest salsa “conjunto” performing In New York City.
It is rare, and ever increasingly so, that a musician would spend a lifetime in a band. But percussionist Johnny “Dandy” Rodríguez Jr. who was a teenager when he was allowed to sit in with the Tito Puente Orchestra and be an apprentice for a few months before earning a place in its rhythm section, was also there at the end, playing alongside Puente until his death, after a concert on May 31st, 2000.
“I went from being a kid, coming into the band as a 16-year-old to being the man running the band at the end,” said Rodríguez, 70, in a conversation from his home in Las Vegas.
Between that beginning and end, Rodríguez also contributed, in prolonged stints, to the sound of the Tito Rodríguez Orchestra, Ray Barretto, his own band, Típica ‘73, and more.
The son of Johnny “La Vaca” Rodríguez Sr., a respected percussionist who also played with the Puente and Rodríguez orchestras, “Dandy” Rodríguez is one of those essential musicians who have created and shaped the sound of contemporary Latin Jazz yet are little known by the public at large.
While some of the great players in Duke Ellington or Count Basie bands have long been recognized for their contributions, their counterparts in the Latin orchestras, for the most part, have not. Rodriguez will be honored by Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra in their concert “Tribute to the Great Sidemen of Latin Jazz” alongside Sonny Bravo, Ray Santos, Papo Vázquez, Reynaldo Jorge, José Madera, Joe González, and Bobby Porcelli at Symphony Space, in New York City, January 29th and 30th.
“When they called me about the concert I thought it was such a great idea,” says Rodriguez.
“Usually people just know the name of the bandleader and it’s fine,” he says. “But they must remember that there is a good team behind that leader which makes him look so much better.
There’s a way of playing that music that makes it sound the way they wrote it and the way they wanted it and these guys knew it and they knew how to do it.”
Rodríguez grew up in Spanish Harlem, Manhattan, in a house with “a great music collection, a good, what was then called, hi-fi system and always full of musicians,” he recalls.
“It was great but I was interested in baseball, in stickball. I didn’t get involved with music until later, but the music was always in the background, in my house.” By the time he was in junior high, Rodríguez played bongos, congas, timbales, and set drums and, as he puts it, “started to get into it.”
“Remember, I lived in El Barrio and back in those days, in that area, there was a lot of music in the air.
There would be speakers outside the furniture store or the bodega or the record shop, and music would be playing. This shop would be playing this radio station, the butcher would have another, so walking one block you’d be hearing three different pieces of music. It was an environment full of music.”
Facebook: John Rodriguez(Dandy)
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