Afro-Cuban Legend Cándido Honored

NEA Jazz Master Cándido Camero is among the last contemporaries of Cuban conguero Chano Pozo, who, in the late 1940s, emigrated to New York and invigorated the local jazz scene with the music of his native island.

A true innovator, 95-year-old Cándido is hailed as the first to use three conga drums tuned to different pitches in order to play the percussive melodies for which he was known.

On the occasion of his announced retirement, following a career spanning eight decades during which he has played with virtually every major figure in jazz and Latin music, as well as many luminaries from the worlds of pop and r&b, the renowned percussionist was feted at City College of New York’s Aaron Davis Hall on Nov. 18. The multifaceted affair was billed as Cándido: The Last Legendary Music Journey.

Sirius XM radio personality Nelson Radhames Rodríguez welcomed the crowd to the event, which began with the unveiling of a portrait of the honoree by New York artist Luis Alvarez Roure. The painting was part of a weeklong exhibition by Hispanic American painters called An Artist’s Tribute to Cándido, which was displayed in the hall’s lobby gallery.

After recounting Cándido’s storied history, Rodíguez introduced the show’s opening act, drummer Amaury Acosta with his (U)nity ensemble. The young Latin jazz-rock fusion quintet, with which Cándido has performed in the past, kicked things off with three energized numbers that featured potent solos from guitarist Nir Felder, alto saxophonist Max Cudworth, keyboardist Zaccai Curtis and electric bassist Joshua Crumbly, propelled by Acosta’s powerhouse drumming.

The concert’s next segment brought saxophonist/flutist Mitch Frohman and guitarist/tres player Benjamin Lapidus to the stage to receive the Latin Jazz USA 2016 “Chico O’Farrill” Lifetime Achievement Award. The two musicians, accompanied by tresero/sonero David Oquendo, began playing the opening strains of the Cuban classic “Son De La Loma”, as Cándido was escorted onto the bandstand to a roaring standing ovation.

With a broad smile, the nonagenarian took his place behind his signature white conga drums and, before playing a beat on his instrument, started singing the well-known Spanish lyric.

The energy level rose steadily, with Lapidus soloing on double-necked guitar, Frohman on flute and Kali Rodriguez on trumpet. Buoyed by Mauricio Herrera on bongo and cowbell, Cándido began playing sonrhythms, then soloed melodically with energy that belied his years.

The ensemble swelled to include (U)nity members Acosta, Curtis and Cudworth for “Tributo A Cándido,” a dynamic homage featuring Oquendo’s lead voice and a vocal coro.