Stories of Standards: “Afro Blue” by Mongo Santamaria
Tune in weekday mornings for Stories of Standards to hear our favorite versions of ” Afro Blue.” Rodney Franks presents Stories of Standards Monday through Friday at 7:50 and 8:50 a.m. starting Monday, October 28!
“Afro Blue” (1959) by Mongo Santamaria, built on a 3:2 African cross-rhythm (“hemiola”), was the first jazz standard to use this pattern, in which the bass plays six cross-beats per measure of 12/8 with 4 main beats played by marimba and flute.
Mongo Santamaria (April 7, 1917 – February 1, 2003) was born Ramón “Mongo” Santamaría Rodríguez and raised in Havana, Cuba, and came to the United States in 1950. He had grown up with rumba, a Cuban genre of music encompassing dance, percussion and song, where his mentor was Clemente “Chicho” Piquero. Santamaria started playing with Septeto Beloña in 1937 and with the house band of the Tropican nightclub in the 1940s. When in the late 1940s Chicho could not play with a tour, he recommended Santamaria for the position, which he followed by moving to New York City in 1950, where he became Tito Puente’s conga player before joining Cal Tjader’s Latin jazz combo in 1957. In 1960 Mongo recorded two albums in Havana with Willie Bobo before returning to New York City and forming the charanga orquestra La Sabrosa, with Chick Corea on piano. When Chick Corea left, Herbie Hancock filled in and introduced Santamaria to the song “Watermelon Man” which was an immediate hit. Santamaria asked if he could record it; the response was “By all means”. Santamaria’s recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.