Mongo Santamaria (April 7, 1917 - February 1, 2003) was an internationally renowned and influential jazz percussionist and band leader who became famous during the 1960s for his Latin-flavored conga renditions of various popular R&B songs. His signature sound came from a fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B and soul, and his classic cover of the Herbie Hancock-penned "Watermelon Man" helped to launch the then-new Latin/R&B genre known as boogaloo. He is also famous for composing the jazz standard, "Afro Blue," as recorded by John Coltrane and many other artists.
Born Ramon "Mongo" Santamaria Rodriguez in Havana, Cuba, he grew up learning the rumba and assimilating other local musical elements that would later become part of his trademark style. He began in 1937 playing bongos with Septeto Belona and, during the 1940s, was a member of the house band of the famous Tropicana nightclub. After returning home from a tour in Mexico, Santamaria moved to New York City in 1950 where he played with such top artists as Perez Prado, Tito Puente, and Cal Tjader and had formed his own band by the early 1960s.
Santamaria debuted in 1963 with "Watermelon Man" which became a Top 10 hit on both the Pop/Rock and R&B charts. This smash was followed by several minor hits that included "Yeh-Yeh!/Get The Money" (1963) and "El Pussy Cat" (1965) before he had a Top 40 hit with his rendition of The Temptations "Cloud Nine" (1969). Other hits included "We Got Latin Soul" (1969) and his covers of Edwin Starr's "Twenty-Five Miles" (1969) and Joe Cocker's "Feeling Alright" (1969).
Santamaria continued performing and recording actively through the 1990s, amassing a huge worldwide following while serving as an influence to countless jazz artists. His groundbreaking "Watermelon Man" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
- The New York Times remembers Mongo Santamaria.
- Latin jazz musician Marty Sheller, who performed the trumpet solo on "Watermelon Man," recalls his time with Mongo Santamaria as a member of his band and discusses other topics in an interview with jazzwax.com.
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Mongo Santamaria is interviewed backstage at the 1st Annual Los Angeles Latin Jazz Festival at the Greek Theater in Hollywood, CA which was held in his honor (October 25, 1997).
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- Cloud Nine 1969
(This instrumental song was previously a hit for the Temptations (1969, sung version).)
- Watermelon Man 1963
(This instrumental song later also became a hit for Gloria Lynne (1965).)
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