Bongocero José Mangual performed with nearly all of the American musicians who were discovering Latin rhythms from the 1940s through the 1970s, including Count Basie, Miles Davis and Erroll Garner. He was also a huge inspiration to the founder of the one of the most popular percussion instrument manufacturing companies in the United States.
Born in Puerto Rico in 1924, José Mangual came to New York at age 14. A master of the bongos, he worked for years with the Machito Orchestra, was part of the legendary Chano Pozo's Percussion Quintet, and performed and recorded with the revered Cuban tres virtuoso Arsenio Rodriguez.
With such an extensive discography, it's a little surprising that Mangual ("Buyú" to his friends) only recorded one album under his own name: Buyú, in 1977. He did also record with his sons, Jose Jr. and Luis, who both made names for themselves as percussionists in the Salsa world.
Buyú was produced by Martin Cohen, who first met Mangual in 1956 during a Monday night jam session at Birdland.
Cohen was a 17 year-old college student at the time, and he became fascinated by the artistry of Mangual's bongo playing. After he graduated and had landed his first engineering job, Cohen went in search of a pair of bongos for himself. He couldn't find the bongos he wanted, the kind that Mangual played, because of the US trade embargo of Cuba in the early 1960s. So he designed his own.
Martin Cohen went on to become the founder of Latin Percussion (LP). The company he started in his garage turned into America's best-known percussion instrument maker. Cohen even received a Special Recognition Award from the Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Listen for José Mangual Sr. this week on Saturday Jazz Caliente!
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.