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Jazz Caliente: Remembering the 'Complete Percussionist' Ray Mantilla

Percussionist and bandleader Ray Mantilla at Tuscia in Jazz Festival, 2008
Massimo Manconi
courtesy of the artist
Percussionist and bandleader Ray Mantilla at Tuscia in Jazz Festival, 2008

Percussion master and beloved bandleader Ray Mantilla died on March 21. He was 85.

A native of the South Bronx, where salsa music was born and Latin rhythms made jazz dance, Ray Mantilla grew up with Latin jazz masters Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto.

In the 1960s, Mantilla got a taste of international recognition when he replaced Barretto in flutist Herbie Mann's group. Legendary drummer Max Roach added Ray Mantilla to his famous M'Boom Ensemble for the "Freedom Now Suite" recording, and Ray toured Europe and Japan with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

Ray Mantilla was the first Latin musician from North America to play in Cuba since the 1950s Cuban Revolution, when he joined Dizzy Gillespie's tour in 1977.

Ray strove to be a "complete percussionist," a master of conga drums, timbales, bongos and a host of other percussion instruments. He also worked hard at being the kind of bandleader who encouraged and supported his band members, giving them the benefit of his knowledge and experience.

Ray's 10th album, "Rebirth," scheduled for release this year, was to have been a celebration of his surviving cancer two years ago.

Listen for three Ray Mantilla songs on this Saturday's Jazz Caliente.   

Here's Ray joining Tito Puente for "Mambo Diablo." 

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.