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Jazz Caliente: Meet the Rhythm Makers, Part 8 - Willie Bobo

Percussionist Willie Bobo (1934-1983)  and his son Eric
courtesy of the artist
Percussionist Willie Bobo (1934-1983) and his son Eric

William Correa, best known as Willie Bobo, blended jazz, rock and Latin rhythms and was one of the of the prominent bandleaders of the 1960s Latin Soul movement.  He called it "the sound a Latin cat in Harlem would dig."

Willie started out as a professional dancer when he was 12, and was recording with bands as a bongo player by the time he was 14.  He studied percussion with Mongo Santamaria and Armando Peraza, and worked as a band boy for Machito in the 1950s.  At 19, he was working with Tito Puente's band.

Willie's first recording with George Shearing in 1955 gave him enough exposure to become the first-call percussionist for other jazz artists throughout the 1950s and 1960s.  During another recording session, pianist Mary Lou Williams gave him the nickname "Bobo," a reference to his clowning and generally being the "life of the party."

Willie Bobo's 1965 album Spanish Grease
Credit Verve Records
Willie Bobo's 1965 album Spanish Grease

Willie Bobo was featured on Cal Tjader's most successful album Soul Sauce, and he recorded his Latin Soul hit "Spanish Grease" soon thereafter.  In 1966 he formed a band in Los Angeles and performed his own mix of Latin jazz and pop music covers.  He also did session work with Carlos Santana, and he was in the studio band for Bill Cosby's TV shows.

Listen for Willie Bobo's version of Hugh Masekela's "Grazing in the Grass" this week on Saturday Jazz Caliente.  Until then, enjoy his take on "Also Sprach Zarathustra" by Richard Strauss.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.  The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.