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Tribute to the Masters: Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez

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Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez

Pedro Juan Rodríguez Ferrer, better known as Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, was a consummate sonero (vocalist), dancer, and showman. His good looks, coiffed hair, chic attire, and regal deportment earned him the moniker, “El Conde” (The Count).

His primary influences were Cuban: Pedro Ortíz Dávila (Davilita), Miguelito Cuní, Cheo Marquetti, Abelardo Barroso, Benny Moré, and the trumpeter Felix Chappotín y sus Estrellas. For this reason, Rodríguez was known by Cuban connoisseurs as, “the most Cuban of Puerto Rican soneros.”

Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez
Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez

Rodríguez was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1933, the second of three children to Emiliano Rodríguez and Anatilde Ferrer Colón. He grew up in the barrio La Cantera. At an early age, he played the bongos with his father’s quartet, El Conjunto Gondolero.

At thirteen, Rodriguez moved to New York and lived in Spanish Harlem (El Barrio). He graduated from Patrick Henry High School and The New York School of Printing and worked in the field briefly before he was drafted by the U.S. Army.

From 1953 to 1956, Rodríguez served as a paratrooper and was stationed at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg in the southern part of the United States, where racial segregation was rampant.

After discharge, he returned to New York. There, he honed his “chops” with La Oriental Cubana, followed by Los Jovenes del Estrella de Cuba (1958-1961), directed by the trumpeter, singer Roberto Rodríguez. The internship led to his first recording.

Rodríguez was also a member of Willie Ellis’s Típica Novel (1961 to 1962). Also, he Chivirico Dávila and Monguito (El Único) replaced Rudy Calzado and Elliot Romero in Johnny Pacheco’s charanga, which led to the hits “Suavito” (1963), “Alto Songo” (1964), “Guachinango” (1965) and “Soy del Monte” (1965), among others.

Due to friction between him and Monguito, Rodríguez left the group and joined pianist Roy Roig’s group (1964-1966). When Monguito joined Larry Harlow’s band, Rodríguez returned to Pacheco’s charanga. During this period, Rodríguez and Pacheco recorded some of their most successful albums including Cañonazo (1964), Pacheco at the World’s Fair (1964), La Perfecta Combinación (1970), Los Compadres (1972), Tres De Café y Dos De Azúcar (1973), and Pacheco y El Conde con Celia Cruz (1980).

Johnny Pacheco and Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez

As a member of the Fania All-Stars, Rodríguez and the all-star cast traveled the world and took the genre to its highest level. In 1979, 1980, the group traveled to Cuba to record the album, Havana Jam. The trip was significant because Rodríguez was able to meet his idols Miguelito Cuní, Félix Chappotín, Tito Gómez, and Pello El Afrokán among others, shortly before they died.

In 1974, Rodríguez left the Fania All-Stars and embarked on a career as a soloist. During this period he recorded some of his most memorable and socially conscious works: El Conde (1974), Este Negro Sí Es Sabroso (1976) and A Touch of Class (1977).

Pete Rodríguez El Conde – Este Negro Sí Es Sabroso

In 1980, Rodríguez and his family settled in Puerto Rico, however, the merengue and salsa erótica crazes made it difficult to find work. Consequently, the family returned to New York.

Between 1983 and 1989, Rodríguez recorded several albums, including the Grammy-nominated Salsobita, with Johnny Pacheco.

On September 8, 1996, Johnny Pacheco, Papo Lucca and La Sonora Ponceña, Andy Montañéz, Ismael Miranda, Bobby Valentín, Camilo Azuquita, Los Guayacanos de San Antón, Ruth Fernández, Cita Rodríguez and Pete Jr. gathered at Ponce’s Teatro La Perla to celebrate “35 Years of Royalty.” It was one of the most memorable and significant events of Rodríguez’s career (the event was recorded for posterity).

Rodríguez recorded two acclaimed albums in the 90s: Generaciones (with Cita and Pete Jr.) and Pete and Papo (Lucca, 1995), which featured Rodríguez as a formidable ballad (bolero) singer. Also, in 2000, Rodriguez participated in the release of Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri’s Masterpiece – La Obra Maestra at the Tito Puente Amphitheater in San Juan, and he toured South America with Richie Ray and Bobby Cruz.

Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez Generaciones – Pete & Papo

On December 1, 2000, at 67, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez died in his sleep. The official cause of death was cardiac arrest. He is buried in Bayamón’s National Cemetery.

In Ponce, the neighborhood where Rodríguez grew up was renamed in his honor. Also, his legacy survives through his daughter, Cita, a vocalist (sonera) and creator of the one-woman show El Conde y La Condesa, which tells the story of her relationship with her father.

Also, the trumpeter Pete Rodríguez Jr’s highly acclaimed albums, Caminando con Papi (2014) and El Conde Negro (2015), celebrate his father’s music in a jazz context.

Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez was a Puerto Rican icon and a national treasure. Emerging salseros would do well to study his distinctive phrasing, timbre, swing, mastery of the Cuban son, and socially conscious lyrics.

REFERENCE

  • Lechner, Ernesto Pete El Conde Rodríguez Profile (Fania)
  • Kent, Mary – Salsa Talks, A Musical Heritage Uncovered (Digital Domain, 2005)
  • Ortíz, López Miguel Rodríguez, Article: Fundación Nacional Para La Cultural Popular.
  • Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez Biography – www.lost.fm/music
  • Wikipedia – Rodríguez, Conde, Pete,

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject.

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Tribute to the Masters

Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera

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Mario Rivera "El Comandante"

Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante"
Mario Rivera “El Comandante”

Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" the merengue-jazz - Guest: George Coleman - Groovin High
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” the merengue-jazz – Guest: George Coleman – Groovin High

Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.

Mario Rivera "El Comandante" and "The Salsa Refugees" - Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero - Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna
Mario Rivera “El Comandante” and “The Salsa Refugees” – Back row L-R: Mario Rivera, Andy González, Jorge Dalto, Jerry González, Papo Vázquez, Nicky Marrero – Bottom Row L-R: Elías Peguero, César Ozuna

Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.


We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”

Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.

Content source: James Nadal

Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”

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