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Ray Barretto: 1929—: Musician Biography

Became A Conguero, Ventured Into New Directions, Formed New Band

Ray Barretto: 1929—: Musician.

Ray Barretto has explored and expanded the possibilities of Afro-Cuban Jazz for more than five decades. In the 1950s he introduced the conga drums to bebop, and during the 1960s he spread the sounds of salsa while keeping a busy schedule as a session player. In the 1970s he began experimenting with fusion, and during the 1980s he successfully straddled the worlds of Latin music and jazz. John Storm Roberts in Latin Jazz commented, "Ray Barretto is not an avant-gardist but an experienced and intelligent musician with excellent tastes on both sides of the aisle, and a particular talent for picking young players." When Barretto began to feel that his music was growing stagnant in the early 1990s, he formed the adventurous New World Spirit. "Known for impeccable swing and a hard-hitting conga style," wrote Jesse Varela in Latin Beat Magazine, "Baretto is one of Latin music's most distinguished bandleaders. From salsa to Latin jazz, he has graced stages around the world and worked with a 'who's who' in both worlds."

Barretto was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Spanish Harlem. Early in his life he was drawn to Latin and big band music. During the day his mother played her Puerto Rican records, and at night, when his mother was attending classes, he listened to jazz. He fell in love with the swinging sounds of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James coming over the radio, and later recalled to Harvey Pekar in the Austin Chronicle, "It helped me survive spiritually." To escape the poverty of Spanish Harlem, Barretto joined the army at age 17 and was stationed in Germany. There he heard Latin rhythms and jazz merge together for the first time, in the music of Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca." Gillespie's secret ingredient was Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. "That song blew my mind," Barretto told Pekar. "It was the basis of my inspiration to become a professional musician."

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