|Persona Digital Music |
Ramón "Mongo" Santamaría Rodríguez was a rumba quinto master and an Afro-Cuban Latin jazz percussionist. In 1950 he moved from Cuba to New York were he helped create the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms with R&B and soul, creating the boogaloo era of the late 1960s. He is famous for composing of the jazz standard "Afro Blue", recorded by John Coltrane among others. His 1963 hit rendition of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
In 1963 Chick Corea had given notice and Santamaría needed a pianist to fill in for the upcoming weekend gigs. Herbie Hancock got the temporary job. Hancock recalls what happened the night that Santamaría discovered “Watermelon Man" the only tune of Santamaría’s to reach the top of the pop charts: "I started playing Watermelon Man… Mongo got up and he said, ‘Keep playing it!’ He went on the stage, and playing his congas. The bass player looked at my left hand for the bass line, and he learned that. The audience was getting up from their tables, and they all got on the dance floor. Pretty soon the dance floor was filled with people, laughing and shrieking, and was having a great time, and they were saying, ‘This is a hit! This is fantastic! So after that, Mongo said ‘Can I record this?’ I said ‘By all means.’ And he recorded it, and it became a big hit. That’s how it happened.”