Jazz Caliente: Meet the Rhythm Makers, Part 7

Nov 17, 2017

The Latin jazz world lost a great musician and supporter last weekend.  Drummer Bobby Matos died on November 11, after fighting cancer for a couple of years.  A dedicated performer and educator, Bobby Matos and his music touched many lives.

Born in the Bronx, Robert "Bobby" Matos started out banging on pots and pans as a child, but was initially more interested in dancing than playing an instrument. 

After lessons from the conga drum masters Carlos "Patato" Valdes and Mongo Santamaria, Bobby also took up the timbales, encouraged by Willie Bobo and Tito Puente.   With such prominent mentors, he was poised to become a bandleader in his own right.  In 1968, just in time for the Salsa explosion, he released his debut album My Latin Soul.

Album cover, My Latin Soul by Bobby Matos and the Combo Conquistadores, 1968
Credit Cubop/Ubiquity Records

After that, Bobby decided to focus on percussion rather than bandleading, and he worked as a sideman for about 20 years.  In the 1980s he moved to California, and by the 1990s he was back in the leader's chair and regularly recording Latin jazz.

Proud of his Puerto Rican heritage and a serious jazz fan, Bobby developed his Afro-Latin Jazz group and his Heritage Ensemble.  One reviewer commented that Bobby excelled at "exploring the past and inventing the future."  He became a well-loved and highly respected presence on the West Coast music scene.  

Bobby Matos was at the forefront of the protests against the Recording Academy in 2011-2012, speaking out against the proposed reduction and consolidation of the Grammy Award categories, which resulted in the loss of 31 distinct genres, including Latin Jazz.

"Latin Jazz is the greatest music in the world! Beautiful melodies and passionate rhythms.  It’s all about real music played by real musicians who care passionately about what they do.  Latin Jazz is my life." -Bobby Matos

Listen for Bobby Matos and his Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble this week on Saturday Jazz Caliente, with a great version of Horace Silver's "Señor Blues", and a tune called "Café con Bagels".  Until then, enjoy this video of the band from 2015.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.  The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.