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Al talks about Ray Santos, Mon Rivera and Aldemaro Romero

Column: The Other Side Of The CD

by Al Santiago

RAY SANTOS is a musician, a composer, an arranger, a conductor, a contractor, a sideman, a bandleader and above all a gentleman. He has played and arranged for Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Cesar Concepcion and many more. He has arranged and conducted for Mario Bauza and Eddie Palmieri. In the late 40’s he played with Noro Morales and also on occasion with the Chack-a-ñuñu Boys. He was staff arranger for the movie The Mambo Kings... and let’s not forget he is one of a select Latin few to graduate from the Juilliard School of Music. I can only think of Pete Terrace as another Latin Juilliard grad. Ray was an important music contractor in P.R. for many years. He also arranged and conducted for Gema Records that great big band album titled “Los Mejores Musicos de Puerto Rico.” Let’s write letters to the powers that be (Guillermo Alvarez guess?) and see if we can get them to release it on CD.

One of my biggest embarrassments in my producing years was due to a revelation that Ray Santos very calmly and without rancor made me aware of. We were sitting in a car in Santurce waiting for the rain to stop. We were reminiscing when I brought up the subject of the Tito Rodriguez LP Esta Es Mi Orquesta on which Ray played tenor sax (as he usually does). If need be he will play alto. I mentioned to Ray that I couldn’t understand why his solo on the title tune sounded so strange. He looked at me straight in the eye and asked me if I really didn’t know. I said, “No, I don’t know,” and Ray told me in his tranquil and friendly manner “there are 2 solos on separate tracks” and then it hit me, of course—-I was supposed to douse one track or the other. He was not angry and if it annoyed him originally, that had passed. He could have called me stupid, a jerk, inefficient, etc. but he didn’t. Ray Santos, the living legend, is too much of a gentleman for that.

On another note Mary Kent the photo-journalist is putting together a book based on about 50 interviews and her photos. This book will include her comments, opinions and the experiences that she has had with these Latin artists and creative peripherals. A book publisher who is serious enough to realize that this book will fill a void and make money too is needed. Do we hear any takers?

A recent Descarga newsletter (Vol. 1 No. 8, 4/93) made me aware that Mon Rivera’s originally titled Alegre LP #823 Que Gente Averigua was reissued as a CD under the title Mon Y Sus Trombones. I remember approaching Mon around 1962 with the idea of a band without trumpets or saxophones, just trombones —- 3 of ‘em. He liked the idea so much, he composed all the tunes and wrote all the arrangements. Mon also played guitar and clarinet (not on the record). He was also such a good baseball player he could have made the major leagues. In the Puerto Rican baseball league he was a very big star, great long ball hitter and defensive player. But getting back to the first trombone band, I called Barry Rogers who introduced me to Mark Weinstein. For the 3rd trombonist I called Manolin Pazo who had switched to bass but had previously played trombone with Machito, among others. He retrieved his “bone” from storage and started woodshedding. He got his chops in shape in time for the recording. Among the personnel the studio band included Charlie Palmieri and Kako. Eddie Palmieri played on two numbers, "Lluvia Con Nieve" being one of them.

There has been much discussion and some confusion about who was the first trombone band. Mon or Eddie? It was Mon and I should know. It was my idea and I recorded both Eddie and Mon. Some aficionados seem to think that since Eddie’s Alegre LP La Perfecta (his debut album) was catalog #817 and Mon’s was #823 that Eddie had the first trombone band. On the surface it does appear that way but the reality is that Mon’s 45 RPM Que Gente Averiqua was released before Eddie’s LP. More important than that is the fact that Eddie’s Vol. 1 contained three different instrumentations, none of which were strictly bones. One instrumentation was a four trumpet conjunto (without bones) another instrumentation featured Barry Rogers on bone and George Castro on flute. The third instrumentation was a combination of trombones and trumpets. The fact is that Mon was the first trombone band and, of course, Eddie will verify it.

Another item Eddie could verify is, if there is any truth to the story about him and his band and a particular club in Spanish Harlem. The way I heard it (and I think from Louie Ramirez) Eddie and the band were hired to play three Wednesdays in a row at this club, supposedly owned by the Rican Mafia. The first Wednesday neither the band nor Eddie showed up. The second Wednesday the band showed up but Eddie didn’t. The third Wednesday Eddie showed up but not the band. Luckily Eddie insisted on playing a solo concert which he did—mesmerizing the audience and the owners and he is still alive today to tell it. True or not? Eddie, what is your recollection?

I wish Jerry Masucci would get his execs at his Vaya Record Company to double check their credit info. When Mon and His Trombones was reissued in the late 70s they omitted my producer credits. In their 1993 CD release they gave me producer credits, which I thank them for, but why did they add a co-producer to my name? I’ve never met the gentleman. He probably was the reissue director.

While writing this column I’ve been listening to the Almendra CD by Aldemaro Romero and Chico O’Farrill which was mostly recorded in Cuba in ‘57. Wow, what a great album! A super big band..well, actually there are three super big bands. The personnel from the ‘57 big band included many of the personnel from the Cuban Jam Session Panart LP...among them El Negro Vivar, Generoso, and the Penalver brothers along with Richard Egues and possibly Chocolate Armenteros. A second band session recorded in New York City the last day of ‘53 included Bernie Glow, Leon Merian, Manny Oquendo and Ray Rodriguez. Another session two months before included Sol Schelinger and Willie Rodriguez. In the tune “Yo Te Quiero” the excellent vocalist Miguel de Gonzalo reminded me somewhat of West Coast singer of the 40s and 50s Andy Russell (a Latino). Andy sang ballads but de Gonzalo does that and uptempos too. Great voice, feeling and improvisations. I’m surprised I never heard of him before.

The instrumental cut #10 should have been omitted, it breaks up the continuity with its non-Latin flavor although it shows Aldemaro’s versatility as an arranger. If you like big bands, this CD is a must for you. The three bands, although studio “vente tu’s” sound tight, crisp, in tune and demonstrate unusual dynamics, and phrasing together as if they were a steady working band or as if they had rehearsed plenty, which is not likely. This is a fantastic bunch of musicians that sound as if they loved what they were doing and knew what they were doing.

I recommend this CD as a gift to anyone you know that likes big bands. My compliments to Domingo Echevarria and Harry Sepulveda for their concept and reissue efforts. As peripheral anecdotes I offer you these two: about the time of the New York City sessions in ‘53 I met Aldemaro at the musicians union. I needed a piano player for that Saturday and he was available and that’s how Aldemaro Romero played one night with my Chaka-ñuñu Boys band, It was at the Concourse Plaza Hotel on 163rd street near the Yankee Stadium. My crossway destiny with Chico O’Farrill was that after I sold my Alegre label to Tico records I went to work for them as staff producer..It was my good fortune to produce a La Lupe LP in ‘67 titled Mi Nombre Es La Lupe and Chico wrote all the arrangements for that super big band. We worked together on that project with a studio dream band. I was very honored to be on an assignment with Chico. I was aware of his arrangements for Stan Kenton and Benny Goodman and, of course, I knew his collaborations with Macho and Mario Bauza. My great friendship with Tito Puente got a little strained at that time. He did not like the idea that after he caused La Lupe to reach her zenith as a recording artist and performer I should be producing her LP with Chico and a studio band. It, like most things, passed and we continued our friendship.

Please send comments, questions, criticisms, etc. to the Newsletter. Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Eddie Palmieri called and said his recollection of the anecdote is: It was three Tuesdays, not Wednesdays.

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