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Jazz Caliente's Rhythm Makers Part 17: The Ebullient Sammy Figueroa

Percussionist Sammy Figueroa
Daniel Azoulay
courtesy of the artist
Percussionist Sammy Figueroa

Learn more about the multi-talented percussionist Sammy Figueroa, as Jazz Caliente marks his 71st birthday this Saturday.  

The Bronx-born musician is as well known for his humor and enthusiasm as he is for leading the outstanding group called Latin Jazz Explosion, and his exploration of all styles of music. 

In his autobiograpy "My Sax Life," Cuban saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito d'Rivera (who above all loves to laugh) calls Figueroa "...a phenomenal percussionist, half Puerto Rican and half Cuban, and entirely and impetuously demented."  

Miles Davis heard Sammy playing on a Chaka Khan song, and got him hired for one of Miles' comeback recordings in the 1980s. Miles went on to accuse Sammy of deliberately hiding the trumpet's wah-wah pedal, but he got over it.

Sammy toured the world with veteran saxophonist Sonny Rollins from 2010 to 2013. Knowing that Sonny's sense of humor leans toward the style of Mad Magazine, I have to imagine they spent a good deal of their time together trying to crack each other up.

Recognized for many years as New York's premiere percussionist, Sammy actually started as a bandleader and pursued the rich variety of Latin jazz after he moved to South Florida in 2001.  

Two of Sammy's albums have been nominated for a Grammy, he's twice been selected as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) Percussionist of the Year, and the Jazz Journalists Association has recognized him as a top percussionist in their annual music awards. His most recent album, Imaginary World from 2015, is a Jazz Caliente favorite.

Listen for "Together" from Sammy Figueroa and his Latin Jazz Explosion this week on Jazz Caliente!

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 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.