Mates’ Crates, a series headed up by our friend Andrei Sandu, dives into the tales behind records and digs deeper into our connections to music. This time, some fiery latin jazz to warm your December.
Label: Prestige | Year: 1982 (Original 1954) | Discogs: The Billy Taylor Trio with Candido - The Billy Taylor Trio with Candido
It's rare that music catches me totally off guard. But hearing Billy Taylor and Candido's version of "Mambo Inn" for the first time was quite something. Having become known as "the Christmassy jazz one with the congas" amongst our friends, it felt like the right record to pick for a mid-December column.
Little did I know how how wide its web spread. So let's start at the beginning. Born in North Carolina in 1921, Billy Taylor is described as the world's foremost spokesman for jazz. A pianist, composer, activist and educator, he was taught the piano by Henry Grant, who taught Duke Ellington a generation earlier. Taylor was best known for "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free", later a civil rights anthem, he also founded the Jazz Foundation of America to support the US' elderly musicians.
His trio evolved several times over the decades, but at points featured the likes of Ben Tucker (composer of "Comin' Home Baby" and Grady Tate (percussionist for Simon and Garfunkel), and the legendary Charles Mingus. A legendary improviser, I was surprised that Mingus also he pioneered overdubbing and tape editing to perfect his recordings.
At the time this version of "Mambo Inn" was made, Taylor was working with drummer Percy Brice and bassist Earl May, who initially juggled late night performances alongside Miles Davis with his day-job in insurance. Most important on this album, though, is of course legendary Afro-Cuban jazz pioneer Candido, who sadly passed away in 2020 at the age of 99. After moving from Havana to New York in 1946, he soon recorded alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Frank "Machito" Grillo, credited as a creator of salsa.
"Mambo Inn" was written by trumpeter Bobby Woodlen, composer Grace Sampson, and Mario Bauzá, who is widely credited for introducing Cuban music to the US after bringing his musical styles to New York. A clarinet child-prodigy who joined the Havana Symphony Orchestra at the age of 11, his "Tangá Suite" is considered the first true Afro-Cuban record. The concentration of talent in the orbit of this record is astounding, perhaps tied together by the fact that Bauzá married Frank "Machito" Grillo's sister!
The original "Mambo Inn" is a nice little jazz tune, and the Billy Taylor Trio's take is just as pleasant. Then, after one minute and forty five seconds of toe-tapping, Candido dives in and things get truly special.
It is fitting that such a staggering performance was supervised by Prelude Records founder Bob Weinstock and recorded by Blue Note engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Before opening his own studio in 1959, Van Gelder recorded the likes of Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley in his parents' living room.
So as you hit play on Mambo Inn in your living room, I hope you're ready.