Friday, May 14, 2010

NYT: Francisco Aguabella & Rob McConnell

Francisco Aguabella, Percussionist Who Crossed Genres, Dies at 84
by Larry Rohter
New York Times, May 13, 2010

Francisco Aguabella, a Cuban-born master percussionist whose impeccable rhythmic sense and drive enriched the recordings and live performances of jazz, salsa and pop artists for five decades, died on May 7 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 84.

The cause was cancer, said his daughter Menina Givens.

Mr. Aguabella's main instrument was the conga drum, on which he showed remarkable versatility. Of the scores of recordings on which he played, Paul Simon's 1990 album "The Rhythm of the Saints" is probably the most celebrated. But he proved to be equally comfortable playing with Frank Sinatra at Caesars Palace or with the Dizzy Gillespie and Machito band at jazz festivals.

Born in the Matanzas province, Mr. Aguabella received instruction as a child in playing the sacred double-headed bata drum, often used in Santeria ceremonies. He moved to Havana in the late 1940s and worked in clubs there until the mid-1950s, when the American choreographer Katherine Dunham, who incorporated Caribbean rhythms in her work, brought him into her troupe and took him on tour to Italy, where he played on the soundtrack for the film "Mambo," starring Shelley Winters.

After that, Mr. Aguabella's services were in great demand in a variety of settings and styles. Arriving in New York, he promptly recorded with the Latin music stars Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria and toured with Perez Prado and Rosemary Clooney. He spent much of the 1960s as a member of Peggy Lee's band, but also did studio work with Ray Charles, Benny Carter, Nancy Wilson, Dinah Shore and others.

By the 1970s Mr. Aguabella was also much sought after, for both recording sessions and live shows, by rock and fusion groups looking to beef up their rhythm sections. Carlos Santana and Weather Report were the best known of the artists with whom he worked during that period, but early in that decade he even played on tracks by the Doors and Three Dog Night.

Mr. Aguabella began to slow his pace in the 1980s and eventually formed his own group and began to teach Afro-Cuban percussion at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In 1992 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him one of its National Heritage fellowships, meant to honor outstanding folk and traditional artists. In 1995 he was the subject of the documentary "Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella," made by Les Blank, who called him "a virtual Rosetta stone of African culture."

Mr. Aguabella is survived by two daughters, Ms. Givens and Martica Jenkins; two sons, Marco and Mario Aguabella; and seven grandchildren.

Rob McConnell, Musician and Big Band Leader, Dies at 75
by Peter Keepnews
New York Times, May 13, 2010

Rob McConnell, a jazz trombonist, composer and arranger who led one of the few successful big bands to emerge in the 1960s, died on May 1 in Toronto, where he lived. He was 75.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Anne Gibson.

Mr. McConnell's ensemble, the Boss Brass, was unusual in several ways. For one thing, it was a critical and financial success despite being formed in 1968, long after the heyday of big bands had ended. For another, it was based in Canada, a country better known as the birthplace of jazz musicians who gained fame elsewhere.

The instrumentation of the Boss Brass was uncommon as well. Unlike virtually every other big band in the annals of jazz, its original configuration consisted entirely of trumpets, trombones, French horns and a rhythm section, but no saxophones. Mr. McConnell later added a five-piece saxophone section, giving his ensemble yet another distinction by making it considerably bigger than the average big band.

Mr. McConnell and the Boss Brass recorded prolifically, mostly for the Concord Jazz label, and were probably best known for the two albums they made with the singer Mel Torme. Mr. McConnell won the last of his three Grammy Awards in 1996 for his arrangement of "I Get a Kick Out of You" on his second collaboration with Torme, "Velvet and Brass."

Robert Murray Gordon McConnell was born in London, Ontario, on Feb. 14, 1935, and was a busy studio musician and arranger in Canada before forming the Boss Brass. In 1997 he broke up that band and formed a 10-piece ensemble, with which he continued to work until 2006. The Boss Brass briefly reunited in 2008; its last concert was at the Toronto Jazz Festival on July 1, 2009 -- Canada Day.

Mr. McConnell's first wife, the former Margaret Bowman, died in 2005. In addition to Ms. Gibson, he is survived by a son, Brian; two daughters, Jennifer Vaandering and Robin McConnell; a brother, Dan; a sister, Marion Bienvenue; and seven grandchildren.

No comments: