Patato Valdez

Conga Legend

NOV. 4, 1926 - DEC. 4, 2007

On December 4, 2007, a renowned musician, innovative conguero, and Latin Percussion design collaborator, Carlos Valdez, whom the world knew affectionately as “Patato”, died of respiratory failure. A Cuban of diminutive stature, born November 4, 1926, he generated an enormous tonal presence on congas that belied his modest size. And that rings especially true in light of his passing. Now we shiver when hearing recordings that display his monumental sound, the very thing death cannot claim.

As a youth, he was well known from Cuban television appearances, in which he combined a theatrical flare, sometimes dancing around and atop his congas, always maintaining solid musicality. Emigrating from Cuba to New York in 1955, co-sponsored by Candido and Mongo Santamaria, he quickly saw action with Kenny Dorham, Tito Puente, Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie, and most major Latin and jazz figures of the day.

His melodic intentions frustrated by traditional fixed-tension instruments, Patato pioneered the first tunable congas, which he put to good use accompanying the great band leaders with melodic lines in addition to the customary indigenous rhythms. Soon after he became a close friend of LP founder Martin Cohen and advised Martin on a variety of technical and design issues. The two were bound by an implicit trust and passion for Latin music. Their collaboration resulted in the LP Patato Model Congas, which became among the top-selling congas of all time.

Patato’s dramatic style garnered him a role in the classic Brigitte Bardot film And God Made Woman. Here Patato gives the film goddess a lesson in dancing the mambo.

Patato was also well-recognized for his contributions to Latin music and culture. The Puerto Rican Jazz Festival, the International Latin Music Hall of Fame, and the New York Hispanic Entertainment Journalists were three among a distinguished list of institutions that recognized Patato’s lifetime achievements with awards.

Many recordings, on the LP and other labels, showcase Patato’s musicality. Examples on LP are Ready for Freddy and Authority. But two revered ensembles most clearly express Patato’s legacy—his indelible touch, organic tone, and sense of musical communion. One is the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble, assembled by LP founder Martin Cohen, which immortalized another LP artist, the late Tito Puente, documented on the recording Live at Montreux 1980. The other is a later collaboration, The Conga Kings, in which Patato performed with fellow icons Candido Camero and Giovanni Hidalgo, recording several significant albums. It was with the Conga Kings that Carlos “Patato” Valdez performed his last concert.

His melodic musical contribution and dancing legacy live on, as do the LP congas bearing his name. Latin Percussion mourns his passing. Indeed, we shed a tear for our friend, collaborator and inspiration, Carlos “Patato” Valdez.

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Patato Memorial at St. Peter's Church-RUMBA