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Steven Kroon: Looking Beyond

By Published: August 26, 2008
AAJ: That seems like you would have a big respect for music. I read as well that your Dad was a big Latin music fan?

SK: Well my father was a music lover. And us being Puerto Rican, my father was first generation, he and my mother. He loved his music, and he was so well versed in it, he would buy all the top records at the time. I mean he had Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Machito. Since he was a merchant seaman, he was traveling to places like Brazil and Cuba, and he would come back with those records. Then he went to Cuba, he came back with some records by Beny More, I mean real incredible stuff. My father passed about a year and a half ago, and I got his collection—some 78s are amazing, just incredible. When he saw that we were interested in the Latin music, he really started buying all kinds of stuff; he wanted us to know about our culture.

AAJ: Are there any particular albums that you heard from that era that stand out as particularly influential?

SK: Back in that time, my father, when he brought home his records, the first one that really knocked me out was Tito Puente, man. He had all these records, with "Babarabatiri," "Oye Como Va," (the original)—Dance Mania (BMG, 1958)! That's a classic—the thing about Dance Mania, every song is a hit. That album really stood out to me. And also when Cachao came out with Descargas [Cuban Jam Sessions] In Miniature (Panart, 1957)—I think that just changed the whole world, you know. The rhythms and the tumbao...and he had Tata Gȼines playing conga—I mean, this guy spoke a whole different thing. Everybody was used to Mongo, Armando Peraza, and Patato...this guy just came out and...what is this? That's another language, man.

So, at that time there was so much good music. We used to go out—my father took us to the Palladium when we were 16—he put our suits on and dressed us up. I'll never forget the first time that he took me—I walked up the stairs, and I hear this big orchestra...I ran to the stage, and it was Machito! Can you imagine seeing Machito as the first band you've ever seen? It was incredible.

When he saw that we liked it so much, he took us to a show that I'll never forget. Symphony Sid used to give these incredible shows—every once in a while he used to put together these "spectaculars." He'd do it at different places, but this one he did at the Apollo. I'll never forget—Mongo Santamaria had just left Cal Tjader's band and started his own band, and he put out that album with "Watermelon Man" on it, and he had La Lupe singing with him. He had that band—that was the one that I saw. Tjader was there; Tajder had his new conga player who was Armando Peraza. Willie Bobo had his own band there, and his conga player was Patato! And the Joe Cuba Sextet—I mean this show was off the chain. I'll never forget, my father told me, wait till you see Mongo, cause I saw Tito and I was crazy—he said, wait till you see Mongo Santamaria. And man, me and my brother flipped. I mean Mongo was like bigger than life, I mean the power, the sound, and then that big beautiful smile—the guy looked like he loved what he was doing.

AAJ: A little later you started studying percussion with Tommy Lopez, right?

SK: Yeah man, 'cause Tommy played with Eddie and La Perfecta. I used to watch him play—he played with one drum, and what he got out of it. He was just such a masterful player—not flashy, I mean, just a gut player.

I'll never forget the day that I walked up to him and said, "I want to study with you." He said, "OK, fine, I have classes at Skin on Skin on Thursdays." It was a class, but I wanted private lessons. He said, "Man, I don't give private lessons." I came back the next week and said, "Man, I want to study with you." He said, "You're a persistent guy aren't you? OK, I'll do it." Not only did I get to play with him, but I hung out with him, and he took me to some different places—rumbas with all the top cats man—Patato, Totico and all these guys. He took me where they used to go and just sit around and play man. And I saw some incredible stuff with Tommy, man

AAJ: He was such an influential part of that Afro-Cuban scene in the sixties and seventies right?

SK: Besides all the great Cuban drummer that we had—Mongo and Potato, Peraza, and Tata—you had (Puerto Rican drummers) Tommy Lopez and Frankie Malabe. I mean they had some great Puerto Rican drummers—they really had an incredible sound, incredible groove, very knowledgeable. I'd say that New York developed its own kind of Latin Jazz sound too—and it's own Latin too. Pacheco, Charlie Palmieri, Alegre All-Stars, Joe Cuba, they did some marvelous stuff man, and that was New York. When you heard that, you knew that it was New York.

AAJ: During that time you studied with Dom Um Romão too?

SK: What happened is that I got meet him and I was so fascinated—I just fell in love with Brazilian percussion. I don't know what it was that drove me there, but I just liked the fact that these guys had so much freedom with sound. This was in the early seventies. I got meet Dom—we played one time; he had a nice little set-up in his house, in the basement. We started jammin' and he said, "Hey man, you've got a real good feel for this, come on back!" So we would play a couple of times a week and just jam. He gave me some great insight in what you look for with the colors...and the proper way. There's a proper way of playing almost everything. You know, even a's supposed to be a round sound, you know. I learned so much with him.

He was starting his own group, which was called Hotmosphere. He told me, "Hey man, you play in the group. I'll be the drums and you be the percussion." At that time, all these guys were coming from Brazil. Portinho came into town, Claudio Roditi came to town, Dom Salvador, the pianist, and Savuka, the accordion player. When I got together with all these guys, I was like, "Wow, look at this." Actually at that time, the only non-Brazilians that were playing with them were myself, Stevie Thornton, and Ray Armando.

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