Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

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Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Sat Jan 20, 2024 5:30 pm

Happy New Year to everybody!

I am currently researching the musical period of Mambo and pre-Mambo in New York, initially being inspired by the Mambo Legends Orchestra. I have known the music of Machito and Tito Puente for long, but it was only now that I finally discovered Tito Rodríguez. I really like his band and his arrangements; great orchestra, great singer.

Now I'm checking out the likes of José Curbelo, Pupi Campo, Joe Loco and Pete Terrace, and finally came across the recordings of Anselmo Sacasas and his orchestra in New York for RCA Victor. While the arrangements are quite simplistic and the reed section hard to take, with all that sugar-sweet vibrato that was pretty common in white US-American swing bands in the 1940's, I couldn't believe what the bongo player was doing with that band. A real virtuoso, with a style that more or less predated the repique pattern that has evolved from the conjuntos to today's standard Salsa playing, incorporated by Johnny Rodríguez, among many others.

Does anybody know who that was?? Check out the following YouTube clips:

https://youtu.be/0qjPaUsFm34?si=VUm6Os015sufRrMb (El Cumbanchero)
https://youtu.be/umtqocMn7j0?si=BrWETflaNxNMTAPA (Rumba Negra).

... amazing ... reminds me a bit of the Don Azpiazú bongoceros, sometimes.

Greetings,
Thomas
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Sat Jan 20, 2024 10:24 pm

Sorry for the inconvenience ... I am answering my own question:

According to Díaz-Ayala, the bongocero on these recordings is José García. He played on Sacasas' recordings from January 1945 to August 1946.

Now who was José García?

José García is sometimes listed with his nickname only. It has been a mystery to many of us, who might have been that guy called "Bilingue"? His real name was José García.

According to Paul Austerlitz (Machito and His Afro-Cubans, Selected Transcriptions [2016:XXV]), García had been Machito's first bongocero for six months.

His son, Danny García has co-written a book entitled "Marines Don't Cry: Delivering the Message at All Costs" (NY 2016), where in the beginning he talks about his childhood and youth in Spanish Harlem, portraying his family and his father. I recommend reading the first chapter at Google Books. It's also nice to get an impression of how it has been to live inside the Latin music community around 1950, with Machito one floor below. According to Danny García, his father also performed with Xavier Cugat at the Copacabana club in NYC.

Mystery solved. What a drummer!

Thomas
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby jorge » Sun Jan 21, 2024 5:32 am

Hey Thomas,
I am not very familiar with Anselmo Sacasas and his bands and I agree the bongosero is great and really makes the songs. I found these notes from Cristobal Diaz Ayala at FIU.

file:///C:/Users/I/Downloads/S_ENG-1.pdf

Look on p. 2 where they list personnel in several of Sacasas' bands, then p. 3-4 for the song dates. The bongoseros is listed as Jose Garcia, who played on the 8/13/46 session which included Cumbanchero and the 3/8/46 session that included Rumba Negra. Interesting that Ruben Gonzalez was playing maracas and singing with that group, not playing piano.
By the way, I sent you an email, I plan to be in Hamburg in March.
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby jorge » Sun Jan 21, 2024 5:35 am

Wow, you found it too and our posts crossed!
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Sun Jan 21, 2024 12:50 pm

Thank you jorge,

yes that was funny. And I had not even hoped to get that information from Díaz-Ayala, because he does not always offer the musicians' names.

Bilingüe is also listed on a number of records with Noro Morales and his "Rhythm Sextet". However, only nicknames or first names were mentioned. So it takes some guesswork to identify "We Willie" as Willie Rodríguez (timb), Bobby (b) probably as Bobby Rodríguez, or Rudy, another bass player, as Rudy Ritchko "El Gitano". And Noro booked star vocalists like Tito (Rodríguez), Cuso (Octavio Mendoza), (Juan Ramón) Torres "El Boy" and Vicente (Valdés?) only to play maracas and claves on the recordings. Other names were congueros Davilita (actually there was a singer with this nickname) and Steve, whoever that was, or "Sonny" on timbales. Humberto, of course, was Noro's brother. Another bongocero mentioned was Radamés (no idea), or a bassist named William.

Maybe I should try consulting Díaz-Ayala.

So Bilingüe José García seems to have played with all the big names in the New York Latin scene, and understandably so. The question is, why didn't he last as long, why is his name no longer remembered, and why was he replaced and eventually overshadowed by people like José Mangual, Chino Pozo, or Ray Romero? All great players, no doubt, but not clearly better than García. I assume that there must have been less acceptable personal qualities accompanying his musical talent, and his son's book gives some hints at that. He did not read music (not uncommon though), and he was obviously a rumbero-type party guy who not only loved drumming, but smoking and drinking as well, and his family ambitions were only temporary. To come back home from a tour to Venezuela with all his earnings spent and no money left, points at unreliability, a cliché that still stigmatizes Latin musicians to this day.

As to the bongocero actually "making" the songs, that can be said for other instances as well. I already mentioned Azpiazú's bongoceros (Alvarito de la Torre, José "Chiquito" Socarras). But when we listen to the song that reportedly started Tito Puente's career as a bandleader, "Abaniquito", we hardly hear anything of Tito Puente, and the composition by Bobby Escoto and José Curbelo wasn't that ingenious, either; a single-chord affair, a descarga more or less. The moñas are mostly in unison, one of them quoting "Manteca", and the piano montuno is just octaves. What captures my ear is Vicentico's singing, the coro (Machito & Graciela), and Chino Pozo's forefront soloing in the first 45 seconds. Without Chino's bongo playing, the song would be diminished to maybe 60% of its substance, in my opinion.

Were bongo players in the Latin music "industry" (oh how I hate this term) hired to save tunes from lifelessness?

I haven't paid too much attention to the pre-Mambo era so far. I wasn't familiar with Sacasas, either. Curbelo, Pupi Campo - who wasn't even a musician, but an actor, dancer and entertainer, who played some maracas and hired the right people (Joe Loco, Tito Puente, Johnny Rodríguez Sr. etc.) - all these men paved the way for the stuff that we all know, and it is amazing how much sabor and rhythmical finesse we can find there already, like percussion licks that I had assessed as modern and hip. Yes they are hip and funky, but they have already been hip for longer than I thought. Listen to Johnny Rodríguez Sr. "La Vaca", Dandy's father: Everything has always been there ...

Next I will check out Noro Morales and Enric Madriguera.

Thomas
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Wed Jan 24, 2024 9:59 am

Addendum: Steve, conguero with Noro Morales is most probably Steve Berrios Sr. (Stephen Berrios Gelly, 1925-1996), father of the Steve Berrios we know from Mongo or the Fort Apache band.

TA
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Thu Jan 25, 2024 8:28 pm

Dear Jorge,

Interesting that Ruben Gonzalez was playing maracas and singing with that group, not playing piano.


a short research for Rubén González on the WWW suggests that there were two of them; one the pianist we know from the Afro-Cuban All Stars, Arsenio etc., and the other one was actually the singer with Anselmo Sacasas, who had also been with the Conjunto Supremo and Conjunto Niágara before. Two different persons.

Thomas
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby jorge » Fri Jan 26, 2024 6:19 pm

Great catch Thomas! Your internet scholarship is right on target. Here is a picture at 0:40-0:45 of Ruben Gonzalez the singer with Anselmo Sacasas.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9T2tWfMDCw
Clearly a different Ruben Gonzalez from the pianist Ruben Gonzalez.
The singer Ruben Gonzalez actually sang in a group with my percussionist friend Mark Sanders in 1975-76 in New Orleans. Pictures of them here:
http://fidelseyeglasses.blogspot.com/20 ... photo.html
Thanks for correcting my too-quick assumption that they were the same person.
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Sat Jan 27, 2024 12:09 pm

Hi jorge,

I have a CD of the Conjunto Niágara for some years, which I had bought in order to study conjunto style bongó. It has Rubén González singing on one portion of the recordings, and I had been mistaken just the same. As a matter of fact, I never doubted that this was one and the same person until now, so that's why I made my investigation.

You guys in the U.S., and particularly in New York, are really fortunate to have all the greats around you, and if they aren't around anyway, they'll end up coming to your country. I became conscious of that once more when I started listening to the Mambo and Pre-Mambo stuff recently. I'm sitting here in Hamburg, a city with a long tradition in commerce and shipping, which in turn has never really grown up culturally, reading and listening about the stuff that was and is actually happening for real in the place where you live. You get to hear the best musicians and eventually even play with them, just because they are the ones who are there. This is something I occasionally envy you for. To have a person with a legacy like Rubén González singing in your band is quite something. It connects you to that tradition. Of course I know Mark as well; I had been at his home in Manhattan, and he was gracious enough to let me play one of the chékeres that his father had made, plus he presented me with two DVDs full of Cuban music, records that may be hard to find even in the U.S.A..

Mark stated that Alfredo Boloña was the bongo player on some of the Niágara recordings. I suppose he got that information from Rubén. That's amazing. One of the earliest Son recordings I have is with the Sexteto Boloña, where he played the tres. I knew he was also a bongo player, but I associated him with the sexteto period only, not the conjuntos. I have to listen to that CD again.

Hope to see you soon over here,
Thomas
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Chtimulato » Sat Jan 27, 2024 3:20 pm

Hello everybody.

Interesting discussion and nice links.

@ Thomas : I've got several recordings of Tito Rodríguez. If you want to visit me to listen to them, you're welcome... :)
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Mon Mar 04, 2024 11:46 am

@ FidelsEyeglasses:

Thanks for your PM. I tried to answer you, but your in-box is blocked, which results in a one-way-communication only. I'll check the old email address I have. Otherwise I'm sorry.

Thomas
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Fri Mar 08, 2024 7:59 pm

I'm about to finish my "study course" on pre-Salsa Latin-New-York music by reading Max Salazar's book "Mambo Kingdom" - probably the central publication on the subject. The dance music from that time (talking about ca. 1940-1965) really makes me feel good, like being musically at home, perhaps even more than Salsa and certainly more than Timba.

I listened to Noro Morales, his orchestra as well as his combo stuff ("His Piano and Rhythm"). He was a very strong piano player for sure, a mean-what-you-say type of musician. I would like to advert you to two rumbas - real, fast rumbas - that feature the bongos. The first one is a combo number produced or supervised by Gabriel Oller for the Coda label, called "Bangin' the Bongo": https://youtu.be/MC9rvhv2svc?si=Jm8faeZpGfYJ32dy. This is from a set of shellacs called "Rumba Improvisations", and credited as bongocero is again José García "Bilingüe" (as "Bilingui").

noro-rumbaimprovisations-cover1.jpg
Coda cover


Gabriel Oller was a very important figure for Latin music in New York at the time. He had a record store called the "Spanish Music Center", and later produced records with the musicians he thought artistically relevant. He founded his own record company called S.M.C. Pro-Arte. He recorded ensembles led by Julio Andino, René Hernández, Tito Rodríguez ("Mambo Styles") or Noro Morales. He produced one of the first Afro-Cuban Percussion recordings, with Chano Pozo and Carlos Vidal Bolado, and he brought together Arsenio Rodríguez and Chano Pozo, Machito and Tito Rodríguez, re-published on CD by Tumbao Cuban Classics as "Legendary Sessions".

The other Noro Morales rumba that features bongos is "O La-La", this time with orchestra and chorus: https://youtu.be/7f23Ax978zk?si=1LyUNiRgE9ZXGap-. In a CD booklet it says that Noro used the top bongoceros of the time: either Chino Pozo, Bilingüe, John Rodríguez Sr. or Little Ray Romero, so it's hard to tell for sure who was the one hired for a particular recording session, and I am not familiar enough with the styles of all these drummers to clearly identify who played on "O La-La". However, my ear tells me it could very well be Bilingüe again. I find it very similar to the other examples, stylistically, rhythmically and sound-wise.

That's it, so far ...

Thomas
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Re: Bongocero w/ Anselmo Sacasas in NY

Postby Thomas Altmann » Sat Mar 09, 2024 9:15 pm

P.S.: In fact, Gabriel Oller was already the owner of Coda records, and even before that, he recorded local artists on his own Dynasonic label. - According to Max Salazar, he founded Coda in 1945 and SMC Pro-Arte in 1947. The above mentioned Noro Morales records were Coda's first production.

As expected, Salazar's book, which is rather a compilation of articles he had written in the 1990's for the Latin Beat magazine, is terrific. Great, first hand information from serious research ... Anyone interested in the music scene from that era will be best served with it.

TA
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