Wynton Marsalis called him a genius. Quincy Jones says listening to this man's band makes him feel like a teenager. Let's meet Cuban-born percussionist Pedrito Martinez. He'll be at Jazz Alley in Seattle next Tuesday and Wednesday, May 1st and 2nd.
Pedrito settled in New York in 1998, and two years later earned the Thelonious Monk Institute Award for Afro-Latin Hand Percussion.
His time in Cuba as a working musician was a struggle. He earned one dollar a month playing conga drums at a Havana hotel that would not allow him to enter when he wasn't working. After the gig was over at 3 a.m., he'd have an hour's walk home, carrying the drums. When he got there, he'd be likely to find no electricity, or no gas, or no water in the house.
Lacking the connections to get into one of Cuba's renowned music schools, Pedrito turned to the Santeria religion as a way to learn about the music he grew up with, primarily rumba. He became a Santeria priest in 2010, but he's quick to point out that he's a musician first.
The Pedrito Martinez Group formed in 2005, and they spent the next decade becoming the band everyone wanted to party with. Eric Clapton and Derek Trucks were big fans; they brought other musicians to hear and sit in with the charismatic group.
The 2013 debut album Pedrito Martinez Group featured guests like John Scofield and Wynton Marsalis, and it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. In 2015, Pedrito went back to Cuba to record his most recent album, Habana Dreams.
Listen for the Pedrito Martinez Group this week on Saturday Jazz Caliente, and if you can, join their live party at Jazz Alley next week.
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.