Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie once said, "Ignacio Berroa is the only Latin drummer in the history of American music who intimately knows both his native Afro-Cuban music as well as jazz." Gillespie should have known, Berroa was his drummer for 12 years.
Berroa was born in Havana, Cuba, where his father was a well-known violinist. As a child, he too played violin - till the fateful day he heard his dad's records of Nat "King" Cole and Glenn Miller, deciding then and there to be a jazz drummer. He began percussion lessons at age 12, but because of the government-imposed limitations on jazz performance in Cuba at that time, only classical studies were available to him. ("Everything I know about pop is self-taught," he says.)
He went on to graduate from the National School of Arts in Havana and became one of the busiest professional drummers in Cuba. But his yearning to play jazz - freely and publicly - continued, and figured largely into his 1980 decision to migrate to the US. It proved to be a fortuitous move: just months after Berroa's arrival, bandleader Mario Bauza heard him play and introduced him to Dizzy Gillespie. Soon the "Father of Bop" invited Berroa to join his band, and the two played together untill Gillespie's death in '93.
Berroa has recorded and played with an impressive list of other jazz greats, including: Wynton Marsalis, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Freddie Hubbard, Clark Terry, Jackie McLean, Ron Carter, Randy Brecker, Jaco Pastorius, and Tito Puente ("Ignacio's the only drummer I know," says Puente, "who plays Afro-Cuban rhythms on a trap set!"). This year Berroa will be touring Japan, Europe, and the US with the Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio, and recording a CD with the McCoy Tyner Superband.