John Santos

Machete Ensemble & Educator


Five-time Grammy-nominated recording artist and USA Artist Fontanals Fellow, John Santos has been called "the Latin Music Renaissance Man" and "a spark plug of musical invention." His extensive exploration of Afro-Latin music has earned him performance and recording credits with Tito Puente, Cachao, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Eddie Palmieri, McCoy Tyner, Cal Tjader, Lalo Schifrin, Irakere West, Danilo Perez, Max Roach, Francisco Aguabella, Armando Peraza, Patato Valdéz, Giovanni Hidalgo, Pancho Quinto, Los Papines, Bobby Hutcherson,  Charlie Hunter, and Omar Sosa.

Santos, a lifelong resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, is an accomplished composer with over one hundred original compositions recorded and published (!  He is also a widely respected writer, bandleader and producer, and has served as faculty and/or resident artist/instructor at several renowned institutions including Stanford, Yale, UCLA, the Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA), the University of Michigan, Madison (WI), Monterey Bay, Tulane University (LA), La Universidad Interamericana (Puerto Rico), San Jose State University (CA), Jazz Camp West (CA), Humboldt State University (CA), and San Francisco State University as well as Boston's Berklee School of Music.

He is an associate resident Artistic Director of the San Francisco Jazz Festival and a member of the Latin Jazz Advisory Board of the Smithsonian Institution. He is also the founder and director of the Grammy-nominated Machete Ensemble (1985-2006), renowned for integrating traditional Afro-Latin forms with contemporary instrumentation and vibrant arrangements. The band performed its all-original repertoire across the country and at the Havana Jazz Festival and also released nine albums. Currently, John directs an exciting Latin Jazz Sextet under his own name, having released CDs on his own label in 2007 and 2008.

Santos' passion for Afro-Latin music and its place in history make him a sought-after author, teacher, and speaker (popular lecture topics include "Salsa for Social Change" and "The Anatomy of Latin Jazz"). He serves on the faculty of the College of San Mateo (CA) and the Jazzschool (Berkeley, CA), and conducts clinics worldwide on Afro-Latin polyrhythms.

"My family's house was always filled with music and celebration," says Santos, whose parents, grandparents, and many uncles and cousins were musicians. Though he played clarinet first, by age twelve Santos was more interested in congas, and his first gig was with his grandfather's Puerto Rican and Cuban style dance band. He was also influenced by the family record collection, which included many great artists from Puerto Rico and Cuba as well as the great jazz artists.

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Bata Drumming by John Santos
Bata Rhythms on Congas by John Santos
Giovanni Hidalgo and John Santos on Congas
John Santos - Improvisation with Rhythm and Melody
Playing Maracas with John Santos
John Santos Solo and Finale  55th Monterey Jazz Festival Tri
John Santos - Feel it
John Santos Sextet and Friends perform at Eastside Center