Jazz Caliente: Meet The Rhythm Makers, Part Two

May 26, 2017

Francisco Aguabella was one of the Conga Kings, raised in the drumming tradition of Matanzas, Cuba, an area dedicated to preserving African traditions.

He played batá drums for religious and folkloric ensembles, and conga drums for the popular styles of mambo, rumba, son and Latin jazz.  

Dizzy Gillespie called Aguabella the "John Coltrane of the conga drums."

Aguabella left Cuba to tour Europe and South America with Katherine Dunham's dance troupe.  In the 1950s he emigrated to the U.S.  He composed big band mambos for Tito Puente's orchestra and appeared in the 1954 film "Mambo."

Settling in California, Aguabella taught Afro-Cuban drumming at UCLA, and performed with his own Latin jazz ensemble.

poster for "Mambo"

He enjoyed an extensive performing and recording career, and in 1992 he was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

After his death in 2010, the seven remaining members of Francisco Aguabella's Latin Jazz Ensemble elected to continue as a performing unit as a tribute to their leader.  Now known simply as Aguabella, they released "Nuestra Era" in 2011 and "Baker:  Gateway to Death Valley" in 2012.  

We'll hear Aguabella's version of Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing" on Jazz Caliente this week.

Here's Francisco Aguabella with his Latin Jazz Ensemble playing "Yesterdays."

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