IAJE Annual Convention 2008 Candido Camero: Hands on Fire receives 2008 NEA
Jazz Master Award Toronto, January 2008
Written by Jamie Baum, flutist/composer
The U.S. National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master Awards is an annual event
honoring individuals in the jazz community recognizing their important contributions,
whether as performing artists, educators, composers or arrangers. Traditionally
this award is given at the IAJE Convention during its gala concert and this year,
held in Toronto from January 9th – 12th, the honors went to
(1931 – 2007), Quincy Jones, Tom McIntosh, Gunther Schuller,
Joe Wilder and Candido Camero.
As is often the case, some of the awardees are
featured in panel discussions or clinics during one of the four days to highlight
their contributions, discuss a particular work, or talk about some of their life
experiences while touring. I was lucky to have a chance to attend one with the Cuban
percussionist Candido Camero, who was recently the subject of the
2005 documentary Candido:
Hands on Fire.
Aptly organized and conducted by the soprano saxophonist and Toronto native
Jane Bunnett, the hour with the legendary conga player gave a glimpse into this
vibrant and charming innovator. A
spry 87 year old, he inspired everyone when asked which of the hundreds of CDs he's
recorded was his favorite, answering, "the next one."
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1921, he played bongos, bass and the tres (a Cuban
guitar) switching to congas in 1940 to join a desired band. By 25 he had moved to
the States and began to have opportunities playing with Dr. Billy Taylor
and other jazz musicians. Famous for having developed coordinated independence on
the congas, he began playing three of them at a time when others were only playing
one. The story goes that when Candido came with a band from Havana to the U.S. in
1946 to play at the Tropicana, the band was offered a 6-month tour.
"There was no budget for both a quinto player and a conga player, and at that
time, the quinto player had to play the rhythmic figure of the specific dance while
the conga player played the basic rhythm, keeping time. I offered to do both if
they would pay me something extra," Camero said. He not only began playing both
parts, but also improvised and sometimes played cowbell and guiro.
The Batanga, Mambo and Afro-Cuban jazz rhythms, were some of the rhythms
developed by Candido and some of the other percussionists he worked with. Sometimes
by necessity and sometimes through experimentation they combined African, Cuban,
jazz, classical and various other rhythms to create many of the rhythms used today,
Another innovation attributed to Camero was the practice of tuning the
congas to specific pitches to be able to play melodies. He mentioned that he had
loved classical music and had been inspired to do this after seeing a timpani player
tune his drums to fit a particular piece.
Candido has recorded and performed with such jazz luminaries as Charlie
Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington,
and Bilie Holliday. When asked how he was so successful at being able to
adapt and play with so many different types of players, he responded, "My ears
are like radars, no matter who I play with I go with what I hear, with the feeling
of the music, I just listen."
Candido ended the hour by singing and playing the congas, demonstrating
several rhythms including the Bolero, Mambo and cha-cha while highlighting the differences
of each. His sound and feel mesmerized the audience, making it clear why he is a