Chombo, Vicentico Valdés, Tito Puente's restaurant
Column: The Other Side Of The CD
by Al Santiago
Charlie Palmieri left us, Barry Rogers left us, Ray Maldonado left us, Frankie Malabe left us, Marcelino Valdés left us, Louie Ramirez left us, Kako left us, Chivirico left us and on July 2l, 1995, after nearly 2 years in the hospital, José 'Chombo' Silva has also left us. By us I mean the Alegre All Stars of which Chombo was a featured and prominent member.
I visited Chombo in '93 in Harlem Hospital. There were three José Silva's convalescing on that floor but only one Chombo. He was pensive, sad, depressed and not in a talking or jesting mood.
In '94 he was transferred to Bronx Lebanon Hospital. Fortunately, CEO Bob Sancho and V.P. Rene Lopez were able to keep their eyes on him. Chombo was known for his unique Latin-jazz tenor sax solos with The Cuban Jam Session Band, the Alegre All Stars, Cal Tjader, Mongo and Machito. His violin added much spice to Pacheco's Charanga and to Charlie Palmieri's Charanga Duboney.
Chombo played in France for a few years where he picked up the habit of wearing a beret. He loved cigars and put ice in his beer. He had a great sense of humor and loved to play gags on friends. There was an imported record from South America by Penarranda or Bovea, one of those Vallenatos, titled "Es La Misma Pendeja." Loosely translated it means, it's all the same shit. I asked Chombo why he wanted to buy that record and Chombo with a very mischievous smile answered, "I'm going to dinner at my stuffy-snobby school teacher girlfriend's house and look forward to her reaction when I play the record and she hears the coro:
Es la Misma Pendeja
Es la Misma Pendeja
Es la Misma Pendeja
Es la Misma Pendeja
At one of Pacheco's Charanga recording sessions (a stereo recording) Chombo got up from his chair, walked over to the vocalist's mike and yelled unexpectedly, "Agua caliente." We cracked up in the control room and of course I left it in. At another session he got up, interrupting and stopping the recording in progress, and looked at me in the control room and said through his mike, "Al, tomorrow is my birthday, I want you to give me a pair of white Champions (sneakers)." The following day he dropped in on Casalegre and we went Champion shopping. When the Alegre All Stars recorded the "Perdido" LP in '77, Chombo was in Europe and could not attend the session. Bobby Rodriguez subbed for Chombo and did an excellent job. We still wanted at least one long Chombo solo, so we left space for this solo and Chombo overdubbed it later. In the '70's and '80's Chombo was a permanent member of Steve Colon's Charanbrass Orchestra. It was convenient and pleasant, they picked him up, improvised at the gigs and took him home.
In the early '80's (I think it was) someone stole his tenor sax. A brand name new tenor sax cost about $5,000. A committee was going to form to throw a dance to raise Sax money for Chombo. He would not have it he was too proud.
Chombo's solos were smooth; beautiful and melodic long lines often quoting from other sources such as "Chicago, Chicago It's a Wonderful Town." He played extremely well and was also sometimes playful, childlike, naughty, funny and more than anything else-likable. What charisma! You could never forget Chombo and we won't.
The following friends paid their respects on Monday July 24th at the Grand Concourse Bronx, NY Ortiz Funeral Home: Johnny Pacheco, Orlando Marin, Victor Paz, Rudy Calzado, Angel Rene, Max Salazar, Tuffy, Ray of Broadway II, Steve Colon, Robert Moll, and yours truly. I am proud to have delivered Chombo's Eulogy which comprised most of what is written above.
I don't remember breaking bread with Vicentico Valdés, but we did share a table once at the Manhattan Center where he was splitting the bill with Tito Rodriguez ('64?). We may have bent elbows and we certainly bruised shoulders on occasion and exchanged mucho hello good-byes.
When V.V. recorded his LP with La Sonora Matancera in Cuba ('59?), Howard Roseff of Seeco Records asked if I would write the backliner notes. I readily agreed and was flattered by the request. I loved V.V.'s unique singing style and had even learned the lyrics to his "Decidete" recording...the only lyric I've ever learned besides Happy Birthday. I called V.V. and requested to see him for an interview. He lived about a mile east of Casalegre Music Shop. When the LP was released he complained to Seeco Records that my backliner notes were OK, but that I gave Sonora Matancera too much space and did not give his voice enough. He was right. He stopped talking to me for a few years. When he wanted to buy any records he would double park in front of Casalegre and ask Manny Oquendo or Mike Collazo or another pal to go in for him to buy the records he wanted. As time heals all wounds, this eventually passed.
I used to do a V.V. imitation at parties exaggerating his vibrato and generated many laughs. This was not done in any way to be disrespectful, to the contrary, this was my tribute to him over the years.
I cannot forget my favorites wow, "Tus Ojos," "La Gloria Eres Tu," "Penjamo, " "Soy Tan Feliz," "Los Arretes," "La Montaña" and "Si Te Dicen"...they stand out in my memory.
V.V. used to wear pin-stripe suits, business shirts and ties. He looked very distinguished. His long cigars were always lit. He was a Beau Brummel and his demeanor was such that we admired and respected his way of being.
His elegance added to his aura and dignity. His humor was proper and in good taste. He looked like a bank president or the chairman of some important board.
V.V. had a beautiful unique masculine baritone voice. Héctor Rivera says that V.V.'s unusual range was higher, believe it or not, than that of Tito Rodriguez and on par with Yayo El Indio.
At the wake, Monday June 26th 1995, many musicians, musicologists and singers came to pay their respects, as I did, including Celia Cruz, Pedro Knight, Hector Rivera, Eddie Zevignon, Mauricio Smith, Jimmy Centeno, Rene Lopez, Dr. Ken Rosa, Max Salazar, Joe Conzo and Domingo Echevarria. V.V.'s sons were there and of course were very gracious. V.V., like so many of our artists, has now joined the Celestial All Stars. R.I.P. V.V.
Tito Puente's Restaurant threw a successful VIP private party at his City Island opening on July 25, 1995. It was a lavish party mucho food, mucho class, mucho notables and mucho Puente. It was also all on the house including parking and the drinks.
There were also mucho police to direct traffic and keep order. They were very polite and efficient as were the car jocks. The delicious food included: pasteles, lechon, salchichas, arroz (of course), pollo, lobster, clams, shrimp and a whole bunch of other things I forgot.
There was an improvised all star group which included T.P., Celia, Graciela, Pacheco, Jimmy Sabater, Joe Santiago, Larry Harlow, Dr Billy Taylor, Lionel Hampton, Hilton Ruiz, and Rudy Calzado. They were great, had fun and made us want to dance, which was impossible because it was packed. The painted murals on the wall will be an attraction as will the memorabilia of LP covers and photos.
The notables included: Jose Feliciano, Rita Moreno, Paul Simon, Bronx Boro-President Fernando Ferrer, Andy Kaufman, Harvey Averne, David Diaz, Ralph Mercado, Pedro Knight, Joe Gaines, Domingo Echevarria, and Jack Hooke.
The staff was excellent and obviously mucho planning went into preparing this bash. We will get around to visit T.P.'s gift shop as soon as it opens. Congrats to Sammy and Sonia and may T.P.'s Restaurant be as successful as T.P.'s band, compositions and arrangements. T.P.'s opened to the public on August 8th.
For reservations call Sonia at (718) 885-3200.