Last night I went to a 90th birthday celebration up in Harlem.
I was one of about 400 people who filled the auditorium at one of New York's best-kept secrets, the Manhattan School of Music, to celebrate the birthday of a true living legend of Latin Jazz -- Candido Camero, considered the father of modern conga drumming. Cuban-born, Candido came to the U.S. from Havana in 1946 and became one of the most-recorded and most-respected conga players ever. He's played with and recorded with a who's who of Afro-Cuban jazz,straight-
ahead jazz and popular music -- Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Tito Puente, Machito, Billy Taylor, Ellington and Tony Bennett, to name just a few. He has about three dozen albums to his credit as a leader, and he's recorded with others on hundreds more.
The concert, by the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Band led by Grammy-winning percusionist Bobby Sanabria, who teaches at the school, was a tribute to Candido's long career, with music by some of the bandleaders he played with. Between songs, Sanabria gave tidbits of information about Candido and the music, putting into context and, as he always does, teaching the audience about the music he loves.
And then the real treat... For Dizzy's classic tune "Manteca," Candido used a cane to slowly hobble onto the stage and over to his white drums. As he told us, when he walks, he looks like he's 100 years old. But when he gets behind his beautiful drums, he said, he's 20 again. And he sounded it, doing things on the congas that few others would even attempt. And throughout his playing, he had a great smile on his face. After all these years, he truly loves the music and it's obvious to all that he loves making it.
It was a great celebration of the man and of the music that is truly America's unique art form -- jazz.
Que viva Candido!