Mongo Santamaria (1917, Havana Cuba – 2003, Miami FL)
Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría Rodríguez, in the 40’s was one of the specialists in congas and bongos in Cuba.
Born in the Havana neighborhood of Jesús María in 1917, percussionist and conguero Ramón Santamaría left his studies at a very young age to devote himself to the timbales.
But his musical triumphs would begin to materialize in 1948, when he traveled to Mexico and joined Damaso Perez Prado’s orchestra, with whom he traveled to the United States a year later.
In 1949 he moved to New York with his friend Armando Peraza where Mongo Santamaría, the name by which he would be known artistically forever, lived and practiced his career for four decades.
In 1951, Mongo joined Tito Puente’s orchestra, with whom he recorded two classic Afro-Cuban percussion albums: “Puente in Percusión” (1955) and “Top Percusión” (1957). However, his international fame would come after he left Puente’s orchestra, and became associated with vibraphonist Cal Tjader, from 1958 onwards.
Together with Tjader and bongosero Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaría makes history in San Francisco for four years, but at the same time he does not neglect the solo recordings of the music he is interested in. After “Tambores y Cantos” (1955), he recorded “Mongo” (1959), an album that contains the theme “Afro Blue”, perhaps his most memorable composition.
In 1960 he travels to Cuba and records two true gems: “Mongo en La Habana”, with Carlos Embale and Merceditas Valdés, and “Sabroso”, with tresero and composer Andrés Echeverría, nicknamed “El Niño Rivera”.
It was precisely upon his return to the United States in 1962 that Mongo’s heterodox charanga began to move naturally toward jazz.
Among the musicians he hired at that time for his jazz forays were figures of the stature of pianist Chick Corea, flutist Hubert Laws and trumpeter Marty Shéller, who would become close collaborators of Santamaría and arranger of the band.
Later, he also plays bossa nova with Elis Regina.
Since 1961 he begins to lead his own groups incorporating musicians like Joao Donato or Chick Corea.
He also played with Dizzy Gillespie and Jack McDuff.