Legendary Afro-Cuban percussionists Francisco Aguabella, Candido Camero and Carlos “Patato” Valdes gathered this past week to celebrate fellow Conga Master Ray Barretto’s 75th birthday at New York’s famed Blue Note. This rare event, organized by impresario Charles Carlini, featured some of New York’s leading jazz and Latin musicians including Eddie Palmieri, Nicky Marrero, Myron Walden, Luis Perdomo, Joe Magnarelli, Vince Cherico, Hans Glawischnig, Dave Valentin, and Kenny Garrett.
One of the first true crossover artists to blend latin and jazz rhythms, Barretto’s artistry has graced more recordings than virtually any other conguero of his time. Known to his peers as “Hard Hands” because of his hard, driving and compelling playing, Barretto, born of Puerto Rican stock in New York in 1929, started playing congas while stationed in Germany during a stint in the Army. Upon his return, he began working on the New York jazz scene and eventually replaced Mongo Santamaria in Tito Puente’s band, in which he laid down a contagious beat for four years. He recorded on the Riverside label and in 1967, moved over to Fania, later becoming the director of the dynamic Fania All-Stars. In the 70s, he began to incorporate rock and funk influences into his music while recording for Atlantic. In 1981, he released La Cuna, a critically acclaimed album on CTI, with special guests Tito Puente, Charlie Palmieri and Joe Farrell. Then, in 1992, he unveiled his new Latin jazz sextet, New World Spirit, and took the music scene by storm.