New York City was the mecca of mambo in the 1960’s. Clubs like the Palladium Ballroom on 53rd and Broadway presented spectacular mambo reviews and dance contests. Downtown, The Village Gate hosted lots of jazz, Brazilian, and Latin shows. On today’s Rhythm Planet show, we hear three sizzling live mambo tracks—two recorded at the Village Gate and one (I think) at the Palladium Ballroom (not be confused with the later Palladium, which became a rock temple and home of Studio 54).
The first song by Mongo Santamaría features a young Texas-born musician named Hubert Laws, who by day studied classical flute with Julius Baker, the 1st flutist with the New York Philharmonic and teacher at Juilliard. Laws circular breathes an incredible long solo on the piccolo. The song “Afro-Blue” scored a big hit for Santamaría, and we hear the longer and better version (versus the shorter one that Fantasy Records recorded).
The second song comes from the Cesta All-Stars, in a live session doing “No Hace Falta Papel” (No paper needed, i.e. sheet music). That’s because it’s what is known as a “descarga,” or an improvised jam session. Cuban violinist and sax player Chombo Silva gets everybody going with his tenor sax solo.
The final track, from a concert in May 1966 at the Village Gate, ranks as one of the greatest Latin recordings ever. The Tico All Stars personnel included a who’s who of Latin music: Tito Puente, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Candido, Johnny Pacheco, Jimmy Sabater, Barry Rogers, Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, Santos Colón, and so on. A line ran down the block of people hoping to get in. The piano sounds cheap and terrible, and Eddie Palmieri is groaning and mumbling through this solo, but who cares? It’s one of mambo’s most memorable nights.
Here is a clip of a late1950’s dance contest at the Palladium Ballroom, with Tito Rodriguez’s band supplying the music. We see in the opening clip one of the best dancers then on the scene, Pedro Aguilar, aka Cuban Pete. Dig the capri pants and armbands!
Rhythm Planet Playlist for 11/17/17
- Mongo Santamaria / “Afro Blue” /Mongo Santamaria’s Greatest Hits/ Columbia/Legacy
- The Cesta All-Stars / “No Hace Falta Papel” / The Cesta All-Stars Vol. 1 / Musical Productions
- The Tico All-Stars / “Major and Minor” / Descargas Live at the Village Gate 2 / Tico