Cándido Camero, a legendary Cuban drummer who was known as the father of Latin jazz, died at the age of 99 on Nov. 7 at his home in New York.
Camero was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1921. He is credited with being the first percussionist to bring conga drumming to jazz and was recognized for his contributions to the development of mambo and Afro-Cuban jazz.
Ellen Kodadek, executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall, said they were “deeply saddened” to learn of Camero’s passing.
“Like so many of his admirers, we are gratified that he lived such a long life and grateful for the music he played up until the very end,” Kodadek said.
Camero joined Flushing Town Hall in September 2019 to celebrate the season’s launch with a performance from Canadian Afro-Cuban artists Jane Bunnett and Maqueque. He then returned in November to perform in the once-in-a-lifetime Gathering of the Masters alongside fellow greats Paquito D’Rivera, Joanne Brackeen, Jimmy Owens, Jimmy Cobb, and Reggie Workman.
“We were amazed when, during his percussion solo at our concert last November, he played the melody to Dizzy Gillespie’s composition “Manteca” on his congas,” Kodadek said. “That was his magic and mastery.”
Incidentally, “Manteca” was co-written by another Cuban-born percussionist, Chano Pozo, who was also very important in establishing the Latin Jazz genre and surely an idol to Camero.
According to Kodadek, it was their first time presenting six NEA Jazz Masters together on stage — two of them Cuban-born, Cándido and Paquito.
“Cándido’s flying fingers defied their age and stole the show,” Kodadek said.
Camero is remembered as an extraordinary talent and innovator.
A pioneer of the Latin Jazz genre, Camero played with the best of the best, including Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, and Machito. He is noted for being one of the first percussionists to play multiple congas at the same time, with each conga tuned to a different pitch, enabling him to play not only rhythm but melodies.
“As a presenter of world-class jazz and global arts, Flushing Town Hall takes great pride in showcasing legendary artists like Cándido on our stage and ensuring their masterful work is accessible to all,” Kodadek said. “On behalf of Flushing Town Hall, we wish el maestro a peaceful rest and extend our condolences to his beloved family and colleagues around the world.”