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Carlos "Patato" Valdés 1926 - 2007

by John Child (

Master conguero, percussionist and composer Carlos "Patato" Valdés died in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday, December 4, 2007. In tribute, John Child offers a revised and updated version of a discographic profile first published in 1998.

Carlos "Patato" Valdés

Carlos "Patato" Valdés (b 4 Nov. '26, Los Sitios district, Havana, Cuba; d 4 Dec. '07, Cleveland, Ohio)
Master conguero, percussionist, composer. Father played tres guitar with son group Los Apaches; initially learnt marímbula (African-derived bass instrument: wooden box with metal prongs sounding different bass notes when plucked); graduated to playing cajones (wooden box drums typical to rumba) at age 12; played conga in parading comparsa carnival groups. Joined La Sonora Matancera '46 for a brief stint; switched to influential Conjunto Kubavana de Alberto Ruiz '47; Kubavana recordings featuring Patato collected on Rumba En El Patio '94 on Tumbao. Performed at the glamorous Sans Souci nightclub with Conjunto Azul led by Chano Pozo. Became one of the stars of Conjunto Casino '49-54, appearing with them on early Cuban TV shows Ritmos Tropicales and El Show de Mediodia broadcast by CMQ (Casino sides featuring Patato compiled on Mambo con Cha-Cha-Cha 1953-55 '96 on Tumbao); also worked with Pérez Prado, Beny Moré, others. Credited with developing a method of tuning congas by tightening a metal ring with a key '50: facilitating his trailblazing melodic trademark style. However, Ned Sublette casts doubt on the accuracy of this accreditation in his book Cuba and its Music '04, Chicago Review Press.

After a tour to NYC with Casino in '53, he relocated there the following year; sessioned on LP Afro-Cuban '55 on Blue Note by Kenny Dorham (who first heard of Patato from Dizzy Gillespie) with Art Blakey, Percy Heath, Horace Silver, others. 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 incl. Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaría; sessioned on Mongo's Afro-Cuban roots LP Changó '55 on Tico (reissued as Drums And Chants c. '66, '78 and '94; also collected on Mongo Santamaría And His Afro-Cuban Drum Beaters '03 on Caney); performed on Puente's RCA albums reissued in Tropical Series '91 onwards, incl. Cuban Carnival '56, Tambó '60, More Dance Mania '63 (recorded '60, reissued as Dance Mania Vol. 2 '92). Sessioned on Blakey's Orgy In Rhythm Vols. 1 & 2 '57 on Blue Note (both vols. collected on one CD '97) featuring Sabú Martínez, Herbie Mann, etc. Recruited to Machito band by mus. dir. Mario Bauzá; performed on Machito's highly regarded Kenya '57 (aka Latin Soul Plus Jazz '73 on Tico) and With Flute To Boot '58 (aka Super Mann on Trip), both on Roulette. Member of Mann's group '59-67; toured Africa with them '60; LPs with Mann incl. Flautista! Herbie Mann Plays Afro Cuban Jazz '59 on Verve (reissued '98), Brazil, Bossa Nova & Blues '62 and St. Thomas '62 on United Artists, Right Now '62, Live at Newport '63, My Kinda Groove '65, Standing Ovation at Newport '65, Monday Night at The Village Gate '66, New Mann at Newport '66, The Beat Goes On '67, all on Atlantic, and Latin Mann '65 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; Grant Green's The Latin Bit '62 on Blue Note (reissued '96); Sonny Stitt's Stitt Goes Latin '63 on Roost; vibist Dave Pike's stone classic Manhattan Latin '64 on Decca (reissued '04); Johnny Pacheco's descarga set Pacheco: His Flute And Latin Jam '65 on Fania; Cal Tjader's Soul Burst '66 on Verve (reissued '98); Willie Bobo's Uno, Dos, Tres 1.2.3 '66 and Juicy '67 on Verve; Johnny Lytle's Swingin' At The Gate '67 on Pacific Jazz; also recorded with Gillespie, Art Taylor, Max Roach, Charlie Rouse, Candido, Duke Pearson, Michael Longo, others.

He teamed-up with Totico for the esteemed Afro-Cuban rumba workout Patato & Totico '67 on Verve, incl. tres guitar maestro Arsenio Rodríguez, legendary bassist Israel "Cachao" López, singer / percussionist / composer Papaíto, singer / composer / percussionist Virgilio Marti (d '95); also on Verve, he sessioned on Chico O'Farrill's Married Well '67 and Miguelito Valdés' Inolvidables '67, latter arr. and conducted by O'Farrill, incl. Machito, Graciela, Victor Paz. Played on Lo Ultimo En La Avenida '71 on Tico by Ismael Rivera with Kako y su Orquestra and Esto Fué Lo Que Trajo El Barco '72 on Tico by Rivera with his band Los Cachimbos and co-wrote a track for each album with Totico. Features in Candido Con Arsenio Rodríguez y Estrellas '95 on Faisan, a collection of Arsenio tracks with Puerto Rican singer / guitarist Candido Antomattei on vocals. Sessioned on El Bigote '74 on Sound Triangle in Miami by popular Cuban expatriate bandleader Luis Santí (complied with Santí's '76 Sound Triangle release Con El Cuchillo En La Boca in Luis Santí: Musica Original De Cuba '06 on Universal / Empire). 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 manufacturer Latin Percussion, who procured the rights to Patato's tuneable conga early '70s, employed Patato's services for a series of recordings on his Latin Percussion Ventures, Inc. (LPV) label '74-80, incl. the instructional LP Understanding Latin Rhythms Vol. I '74, Authority '76, an album of Cuban improvisational music by Patato and his "Latin Percussion Friends" incl. Papaíto, Marti, percussionist / vocalist Julito Collazo, tres guitarist Nelson González. Follow-up Ready For Freddy '76 had Patato supported by a full band incl. mentioned personnel from Authority plus pianist Alfredo Rodríguez (1936-2005), timbalero Orestes Vilató, veteran bassist Bobby Rodríguez (d '02), others, recorded impromptu in one take; LP said to be held in high regard by Cecil Taylor and late Art Blakey. His LPV finale Batá y Rumba '80 showcased the sacred batá drum. 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) incl. Patato, Puente, pianists Eddie Martínez and Jorge Dalto (1948-1987), 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, latter recorded during group's fourth international tour. He played batá drum on Puente's big band release Ce' Magnifique '81 on Tico with Panamanian vocalist Camilo Azuquita.

An aggrieved Patato quit LPJE after Puente was given top billing and settled in Paris for two years; performed there with other Paris-based Latin musicians incl. Alfredo Rodríguez and Azuquita; toured '82 with a quintet incl. 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. Sessioned on two albums by Jorge Dalto & Superfriends, Rendez-Vous '83 and New York Nightline '84 on Cheetah (reissued '07), and toured with Dalto's Interamerican Band (also recorded with them on Urban Oasis '85 on Concord Picante) and Machito orchestra during mid-'80s. Appeared in The Cosby Show '86 as part of a group incl. 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. Appeared in UK Dec. '89 accompanied by Roberto Pla's London-based Latin Jazz Ensemble. 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 incl. Webb, Jerry and Andy González, Nicky Marrero, singers Vicentico Valdés and Orlando Watussi. Played quinto (small conga drum) on Chocolate Y Amigos '95 on Caimán recorded in the '80s by trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros and his sextet including Sergio George, piano / arranger, Mario Grillo, drums, Andy González, bass, and Mario Rivera (1939-2007), baritone sax. Performed on pianist Bebo Valdés' comeback Bebo Rides Again! '95, also on Messidor (reissued '04 on Universal / Pimienta). 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 recorded in San Francisco. Follow-up Ritmo y Candela II / African Crossroads '96 on Round World Music garnered another Grammy nomination. Sessioned with a wind ensemble on the quirky Melodía Para Congas: Jungle And The Saxophone - Enrique Fernández And The Enriquillo Winds Starring Patato '97 on Mapleshade Productions. Made Unico y Diferente '99 on Connector in Germany headlining a small group featuring Marrero and Alfredo Rodríguez and appeared in Calle 54 '00, a full length film dedicated to Latin jazz, and accompanying double CD set on EMI / Chrysalis.

He teamed up with Candido and Giovanni Hidalgo under the name of The Conga Kings to make two CDs for the Chesky label: The Conga Kings '00, a rumba workout, and Jazz Descargas '01, featuring a mambo-jazz style big band with an impressive lineup, both directed by Ray Santos and recorded in St. Peter's Episcopal Church, New York. Reunited with Bebo Valdés for the Grammy winning piano and rhythm set El Arte del Sabor '01 on Blue Note with Cachao and reeds player Paquito D'Rivera guesting on three tracks. Joined the all-star Cuban Masters, a sort of US answer to the Buena Vista Social Club directed by Juan Pablo Torres (1946-2005) for the Grammy and Latin Grammy nominated Los Originales '01 on Universal / MusicHaus, featuring Cachao, Chocolate, José Fajardo and many others. His El Hombre '04 on Mambo Maniacs showcases smooth Latin jazz material recorded '97-8 with Dave Valentín guesting on one cut.

Returning home to NYC on Nov. 12 '07 after a concert with The Conga Kings in San Francisco, Patato became short of breath during the flight. As a precaution, the aircraft landed in Cleveland, Ohio, so that Patato could receive medical care. A statement at the time said he suffered from emphysema due to a lifetime of smoking and had been hospitalised for evaluation and would remain under observation until it was felt he was healthy enough to fly home. Just over three weeks later it was reported that the legendary conga master died in Cleveland on Dec. 4 of respiratory failure. Alfredo de la Fé was one of the first to pay tribute: "Today, the day of Changó, Carlos 'Patato' Valdés, a son of Changó, passed away at 10:10pm. One of the top percussionists in the world, Armando Peraza once told me that when la Comparsa El Cocuyé came by on the streets of Havana you could hear the quinto 20 blocks away before any other instrument. It was a small giant playing that quinto: 'Patato'. Today that quinto has silenced forever only to live in our memories, our hearts, and in that great legacy he left behind. I love you Patato and for me you will always be alive."

Check out this related article in The Descarga Journal Archives:

Obituary: Alfredo Rodríguez
by John Child, November 06, 2005
Cuban pianist, bandleader, arranger, composer, singer and percussionist Alfredo Rodríguez died in Paris on Monday October 3rd. "He had such a special charisma and presence and dedication to his craft," said UK Latin club DJ and promoter Dominique Roome. "I'm particularly sad because the concerts we organised at London's Bass Clef, HQ and Bar Rumba with him were so memorable in terms of atmosphere. He was a great character!" In tribute, I offer a revised version of a discographic profile I originally wrote in 1990, including an updated selection of his albums. The quotes are from an un-broadcast Aracataca interview Tomek and I conducted with Alfredo in 1990.
Continues here:

© and John Child, produces and selects the contents of the totallyradio show Aracataca , He is an editor and journalist for the Latin music website and a contributor to the MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music

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