Candido: Fountain of Youth
The Cuban dance team of Carmen and Rolando, who wowed audiences at Havana's famed Tropicana with their virtuosic rumba floor show, would bring Candido to New York in 1946. The full percussion section of two conga drummers could not be taken; Candido alone was chosen for his skill as a quinto playerthe drum soloist who dialogues with the dancers. "When we were at the airport, I brought with me a quinto and a conga and the promoter began to ask me 'Why do you have two drums?' I told him, 'Don't worry, you will see.'" Carmen and Rolando, accompanied by Candido, would be the featured performers in a musical revue called "Tidbits of 1946" at the Plymouth Theater but first would perform at the Cabaret Havana Madrid on 52nd Street and Broadway. In the house was Cuban Anselmo Sacassas' Orchestra, Puerto Rican Catalino Rolon's Orchestra and Mexican trumpeter Charlie Valera's conjunto. In the audience were the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. What happened next would astound the audience and New York's Latin music community. Carmen and Rolando exploded on to the stage, dancing to the propulsion of an up-tempo guaguanco. It sounded like several drummers simultaneously, but it was all being generated by one man, Candido. As the intensity grew, Candido would mark with the quinto, soloing in his right hand while he accompanied himself playing tumbao (repetitive rhythm) in his left. "The crowd went crazy and Carmen and Rolando began hugging me. The promoter who had asked me what was I going to do with that extra drum came over to me. He smiled and said, 'I see what you mean.'" The musicians surrounding Candido asked him how he had done it. He simply smiled and said, "Out of necessity."
Candido's first record date in New York was with the legendary Machito and The Afro-Cubans. "What impressed me was Machito's band. There was really nothing that you could compare it to in Cuba. They were so far ahead of everyone, very progressive with their combination of jazz and pure Afro-Cuban rhythm." Keeping pace with the forward thinking of Machito, Candido would demonstrate an even more spectacular innovation in percussion at the Apollo in 1950. While appearing with Puerto Rican pianist Joe Loco's (Juan Estevez) band, he was the first to perform on three congas, each tuned to specific pitches. "I had seen the New York Philharmonic perform and paid attention to the timpanist. I thought to myself, I can do the same thing with the congas. I began to tune them to a dominant chord so I could play melodies in my tumbaos and solos."
One of the disciples of the Machito Afro-Cubans was trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who had been friends with Machito's musical director Mario Bauza since their days in Cab Calloway's band back in the late '30s. Gillespie, the first jazz bandleader to utilize a conga drummer, had suffered a tremendous loss with the murder of Chano Pozo in 1948. "He told me to come down to the Downbeat club on West 52nd street to sit in with pianist Billy Taylor's house trio to play a set and see if I could swing the tumbao to fit in a jazz setting. I did and he told me to meet him, 'Manana,' which means tomorrow in Spanish. So, I came back the next night to the club and played another set thinking he would be there. What I didn't know was that he meant to meet him tomorrow at the train station, that they were going on tour with his big band. The club owner at the Downbeat offered me a one year contract to play with Billy's trio as a featured performer and I accepted. We accompanied everyone that was anyone including Charlie Parker who used to call me 'Dido.' That was my entrance into the jazz world and I haven't stopped since. When Dizzy got back, his pianist, who was Wynton Kelly, came looking for me. Wynton is Panamanian and so he began asking me in Spanish what had happened. I told him and he started to laugh out loud. He explained everything to me and then both of us started to laugh. I eventually did tour with Dizzy. I was disappointed that I didn't do that first tour but that association with Billy yielded my first appearance on a jazz recording and the experience of accompanying every star in the jazz world opened the door for me."