Ramón "Mongo" Santamaría (April 7, 1917 in Havana, Cuba – February 1, 2003) was an Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist.
Santamaria's propulsive skill as a conguero was a trademark of more than four decades of recording and performing, and punctuates his classic 1963 cover of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man," an unlikely, pre-Beatles hit in 1963 that hit Number Ten on the pop charts. Santamaria may be better known in improvisational circles as the writer of "Afro Blue," a beautiful, melodic composition that worked its way into the repertoire of jazz mainstays from Dizzy Gillespie to John Coltrane. The latter took a particular shine to the song, using it as a touchstone for his developing sound: From early, faithful and pretty interpretations circa 1963 to a 1966 free jazz deconstruction in Japan.
Ramon "Mongo" Santamaria was born in Havana on April 7, 1922. He was nicknamed Mongo by his father (the word denotes a tribal chief in Senegal). He began learning violin, but quickly switched to drums and then congas, and left school early to work as a musician on the highly active local scene in Havana.
His professional start came in the city's legendary Tropicana Club in his twenties, before moving to New York in 1950. There Santamaria learned to swim in the deep end of the pool, first performing with legendary Cuban bandleader and King of the Mambo Perez Prado, followed by stints with fellow percussionist Tito Puente and vibraphonist Cal Tjader. Fusing the Latin rhythms that were practically his birthright with Americanized styles like R&B and jazz, Santamaria made his first recordings as a bandleader in the late Fifties with Yambu and Mongo.
He was an integral figure in the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B and soul, paving the way for the boogaloo era of the late 1960s. With the cover of "Watermelon Man," Santamaria found himself garnering the acclaim of his former mentors. He would even visit the pop charts once again - a feat that, among his mentors, only Prado ever accomplished - in 1969 with "Cloud Nine." And he recorded prolifically through the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, before slowing things down last decade. But with the success of 1996's Buena Vista Social Club album, more eyes turned to the music of Cuba.
Santamaria's music drew attention four decades after its start, with the release of several compilations, including Rhino's career-spanning, two-CD Skin on Skin: The Mongo Santamaria Anthology and Legacy's The Best of Mongo Santamaria, which put a light on his late-Sixties output.
His 1963 hit rendition of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.Although he never scored another hit of the magnitude of Watermelon Man, his other successes of the period included an energised version of La Bamba in 1964 and another big American success with his version of The Temptations’s Cloud Nine in 1969. He received several Grammy nominations in the Seventies and Eighties, and won the award in 1977 for his album Amancer.
In the early Eighties he returned to a more jazz influenced direction. He continued to perform into the early Nineties, and made further recordings even after he retired from concert appearances.
Mongo died of a stroke in a Miami hospital, Florida, February 1, 2003. He is buried in Woodlawn Park Cemetery and Mausoleum (now Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Park North Cemetery and Mausoleum).He is survived by his wife, Yolanda; six children, eight grandchildren, a great-grandchild and two sisters. (Info edited from Wikipedia & Drummerworld)
Mongo Santamaria -- Congas / Bobby Sanabria -- Drums / Sal Santamaria -- Percussion / E.J. Allen -- Trumpet
Sam Furnace -- Alto Saxophone / Tony Hinson --Tenor Saxophone / Bob Quaranta -- Piano / Eddie Resto - Bass