Armando Peraza: Percussionist who played with a host of jazz greats and worked with Carlos Santana for two decades


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The Independent Online

Described by Carlos Santana as "my greatest teacher, mentor and role model", the Cuban-born bongo and conga player Armando Peraza was a long-serving member of the Latin rock fusion group led by and named after the Mexican guitarist.

When Peraza joined in the spring of 1972, during the recording sessions for Caravanserai, the fourth Santana studio album, the band was in a state of flux after its emergence at the Woodstock festival three years earlier and the worldwide success of the Abraxas and Santana III albums. As Santana entered the most fascinating and experimental chapter in his storied career, collaborating with the British guitarist John McLaughlin on Love Devotion Surrender and the jazz vocalists Leon Thomas and Flora Purim on the Welcome album in 1973, Peraza remained at his side, a link to their Latin American roots, and the jazz greats he had toured with, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon and Dave Brubeck.

A nimble, powerful and expressive percussionist, he particularly excelled on the Santana albums Borboletta (1974); Amigos (1976), on which he composed and sang "Gitano"; Inner Secrets (1978); Marathon (1979); Zebop! (1981); Shangó (1982); Freedom (1987), containing his evocative instrumental composition "Mandela''; the Viva Santana! collection (1988), which Carlos dedicated to him; and he left after Spirits Dancing In The Flesh (1990). He occasionally guested with Santana, most memorably during the trilogy of concerts the guitarist gave at the Montreux Jazz Festival in July 2006.

Peraza was unsure of his date of birth and might have been older than the information he gave US authorities when he arrived in 1948. Orphaned by the time he was seven, he was brought up by relatives until his early teens and subsequently lived on the streets of Havana, selling fruit and vegetables. He also danced, boxed and played semi-professional baseball.

He taught himself percussion and, after deputising for the congocero in Alberto Ruiz's Conjunto Kubavana, gigged alongside Mongo Santamaria in local night-clubs. They became lifelong friends and moved to New York at the same time. "We took Latin percussion to Harlem. It's international now," said Peraza, who recorded with Charlie Parker on his second day in the Big Apple.

Peraza proved a flamboyant match for the entertainer Slim Gaillard, whom he backed on a tour which led him to San Francisco, where he met Santana's father Jose, a mariachi musician. In the mid-1950s Peraza helped both the British pianist George Shearing and the American multi-instrumentalist Cal Tjader develop an influential blend of jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms that has become a constant in popular culture, from the mambo craze of the 1950s via the acid jazz movement of the mid-1980s to the present. He suffered from diabetes and died of pneumonia in a San Francisco hospital.


Armando Peraza, percussionist, singer and composer: born Havana c. 30 May 1924; married (one daughter); died San Francisco 14 April 2014.