A jazz musician needs a full set of tools to drive their career in new and interesting directions, but there’s one quality that will open their career to many new fields: the ability to thrive among diversity. First and foremost this implies the ability to perform with a variety of groups, regardless of style or genre. While any musician has their stylistic specialty, they need to be able to bend their prior knowledge into something new and interesting. There’s more than technique required for that task – a musician needs to be able to approach the unknown with creativity and ingenuity. At the same time, a musician needs the cultural and artistic insight to look beyond the musical demands of a local scene and see what they can bring to their current environment. A well rounded musician has more to offer than just the sound of their instrument – they’ve got a broad knowledge of music history and the life experience to communicate it. Sharing this knowledge in their community makes a musician invaluable and admired in any area. Many of these qualities seem like mandatory job requirements, but it takes a rare individual to put them into full play.
Percussionist Johnny Conga has brought a diverse set of skills, knowledge, experience, and insights into a variety of musical situations. Growing up around music, Conga gained bongo skills from his uncle, before moving onto the congas as a teenager. Over the years, he studied with a variety of teachers that included some of the great salsa and Latin Jazz musicians. Percussionists Manny Oquendo, Nicky Marrero, and Ubaldo Nieto, among others, all spent time with Conga, passing on the subtleties of the style. As his understanding of Caribbean and South American music grew, so did the number of performing experiences coming his way. During his time as a musician in Los Angeles and Miami, Conga worked with a multitude of musicians, including Paquito D’Rivera, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’77, Mongo Santamaria, and more. His experience as a sideman left him in firm control of the style, which he applied as a bandleader in Miami with with the groups Caribe and Roots Of Rhythm. He brought these groups into the studio during his time in Miami, producing a strong effort filled with Latin Jazz and a number of percussion tracks. Originally released as Johnny Conga & Caribe + Roots Of Rhythm, this album featured some amazing musicians, such as bassist Eddie “Gua Gua ” Rivera and trombonist Juan Pablo Torres. It has recently been rereleased under the name Breaking Skin/Rompiendo el Cuero. Along the way, Conga also shared his knowledge for the music through his work as a broadcaster, producing shows with an emphasis upon Latin Jazz and salsa. After studying at the Columbia Broadcasting School in Hollywood, California, Conga worked as a host on shows at both KKLU in Los Angeles and WDNA in Miami. Now based in Seattle, Washington, Conga continues to share his diverse skill set with a number of performers throughout the area. His Latin Jazz group Loco Mambo performs locally and is currently finishing work on a new recording. Conga hosts a weekly radio show on KBCS 91.3 entitled Al Lado Latino/On The Latin Side, which currently airs on Saturday evenings. From performer to recording artist and broadcaster, Conga has brought a wide range of skills to the table throughout his career that have resulted in some strong musical statements.
There’s a lot to appreciate in Conga’s playing, so its great to see him performing in a variety of musical environments and performance settings; the video below present a great example of his diversity. The first clip finds Conga performing with his current group Loco Mambo in Seattle, performing the song “Soul Latino.” Alongside Conga, there’s a number of musicians from Seattle’s strong music scene, including Joe Cano on guitar, Andre Thomas on drums, Emanuel del Casal on bass, Ron Barrow on trumpet, and Nathaniel Paul on sax. The second video places Conga in a big band setting, performing the tune “Day Ride” with the Full Circle Jazz Ensemble. The next snippet brings something different and interesting to the forefront, as Conga plays in a group with a sitar and tambour, Anjuman. The last video features Conga in the midst of a heated solo with the Latin Jazz group captured on Breaking Skin/Rompiendo el Cuero, Caribe, performing in Miami. Conga is an artist with a wealth of knowledge and experience that sounds great in any setting, a fact you’ll hear in these videos – enjoy!
Johnny Conga And Loco Mambo Performing “Soul Latino”
Johnny Conga And The Full Circle Jazz Ensemble Performing “Day Ride”
Johnny Conga With Anjuman
Johnny Conga With Miami Caribe
Do you have a video to contribute to satisfy our weekly Latin Jazz video fix? If so, send it in – it’s time to feed our addiction. I’m looking for live performances, from any context. I’ll most likely be posting one video per week, but if you’ve got another idea, let’s talk. So come on Latin Jazz videographers, musicians, and fans – let’s share some of our memorable videos! Get my contact info HERE.
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