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Passings

Conga player a leader in Latin jazz

December 07, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Carlos Valdes, 81, a legendary conga player and a leading figure in Latin jazz in Cuba and the United States, died Tuesday in Cleveland of respiratory failure, according to the New York Times.

Valdes was hospitalized in Cleveland on Nov. 9 after becoming ill on a return flight to his New York home from a series of concerts in California.

Known as Patato, a reference from Cuban slang to his small size, Valdes was born in Havana and would later play with leading Cuban bands. He also starred on Cuban television in the early 1950s before moving to New York in 1954 and finding work with some of the leading names in jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Machito and Art Blakey. He played for several years with the innovative flutist Herbie Mann.

According to the Times, Valdes was known "for his fluid, improvisatory melodies . . . [and] tuned his drums tightly to produce clear, precise tones." He also popularized the use of multiple conga drums, playing "three, four or more to allow for a wider range of tones."

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