Les Moncada Chats with Latin Percussion Legend Pablito Rosario

Pablito Rosario
Pablito Rosario

 

There are great percussionists in Latin Music. Some Latin percussionists styles can be copied, some cannot. Some musicians flocked to Cuba to see a new hot percussionist, Jose Luis Quintana aka Changuito, when his new style came out. Some today emulate Changuito’s style and it is very obvious. When it comes to Pablo Rosario, his style varies so much that it is difficult to copy his style of playing since his art of drumming is close to perfection and very consistent.

 

Pablito Rosario in Venezuela playing timbales
Pablito Rosario in Venezuela playing timbales

 

Pablito’s Latin percussion style just seems to flow with the music that is being played, whether live on stage or on a recording. Pablito is a favorite to quite a few of the legendary Latin percussionists I know.

 

Pablito Rosario performing with Mongo Santamaria at Jazzmobile in New York City, 1984
Pablito Rosario performing with Mongo Santamaria at Jazzmobile in New York City, 1984

 

Also known under his birth name, Pablo Rosario Jr., Pablito has an incomparable record of historical dates with legendary conga master Ramón Mongo Santamaria. Pablito was Mongo’s sideman, second Latin percussionist in Mongo’s Orchestra.

 

 

Pablito’s interview was in Spanish so I translated it to English, without losing the essence during the translation process.

When the creator made a true Latin percussionist he made it in Pablito Rosario and it shows in his playing, performance and his in demand status with the greats of Latin music. Whether it’s mambo, salsa or folkloric, Pablito is right there with the beat!

 

Young Pablito Rosario: "My very first gig with Ricardo Ray and his brother Raymond Maldonado, March 17, 1959 (St. Patrick’s Day Party at Colony House Community Center, 197 Dean St., Brooklyn NY). Julio Simon brought me to the gig. I was playing “How High Is The Moon” with brushes on timbales. Got paid $3.00."
Young Pablito Rosario: “My very first gig with Ricardo Ray and his brother Raymond Maldonado, March 17, 1959 (St. Patrick’s Day Party at Colony House Community Center, 197 Dean St., Brooklyn NY). Julio Simon brought me to the gig. I was playing “How High Is The Moon” with brushes on timbales. Got paid $3.00.”

 

Pablito’s resume is amazing! If I was hiring a Latin percussionist, I would have to do “somersaults. He has performed or recorded with:

Tito Puente, Chico O’Farrill, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Jorge Millet, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Marty Sheller Ochestra, Willie Colón, Mon Rivera, Héctor LaVoe, Rubén Blades, Cheo Feliciano, Hector Casanova, Ismael Quintana, Richie Ray, Joe Quijano, Markolino Diamond, Johnny Pacheco, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Justo Betancourt, Celia Cruz, Tito Allen, Mario Román, Mario Ortiz Orchestra, Bobby Rodríguez & La Compañía, Joe Santiago (Saravanda Orchestra), Chivirco Davila, Bobby Valentín, Juancito Torres Orchestra, Johnny Conques, Andy Harlos, Larry Harlow, Belmonte & His Afro Latin 7, Ismael Miranda, Junior González, Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound, Dimensión Latina, Menque, Santtos Colon, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Victor Manuelle, Máximo Torres, Salsa Fever, Justito Rosario Orchestra, José Mangual Jr Orchestra, Cachete Maldonado & Los Majaderos, Tito Rodríguez Jr. Orchestra, Eguie Castrillo Palladium Traditon Orchestra, Maria Bauza, Camilo Azuqita, Fankie Dante, Orquesta Broadway, Ernie Agosto & La Conspiración, Kim De Los Santos, Viti Ruiz, Descarga Boricua, Louis Garcia, Batacumbele, Miguelito Valdés, Van Lester, Giovanni Hidalgo, David Bowie, Carlos Alomar & Robin Clark, Luther Vandross, Noel Pointer (jazz violinist), Nat Addaley Jr. (Jazz Pianist), Juanita Fleming (female jazz vocalist), Denisse De La Pena (Brazilian female jazz vocalist), Delmar Brown (Sting’s pianist), Felz Cavaler (lead singer for The Young Rascals), the Gypsy Kings Family (2009), Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, Danny Rivera, Chucho Avellant, Juno Faria, Iris Chacón, Lucecita Benítez, José Nogueras, Nydia Caro, Lissette, Cuco Pena, Pedro Rivera Toledo, Quique Talavera, Carmita Jiménez, Gilberto Monroig, Daniel Santos, Ruth Fernández, Joe Valle, Wilkins, Blanca Rosa Gl, Antonio Caban Vale “El Topo”, Pedro Guzmán & Jibaro Jazz, Roy Brown, Alberto Carron & Lucecita Benítez (Concierto Tributo a Julia De Burgos & Luis Pales Matos-University of Puerto Rico 1978) Elba Lugo &Paseo Taino and others.

Pablito has taught at Drummers Collective NYC 1982-1983; Johnny Colon School of Music 1975; Boy’s Harbor School of Music 1985-1986; Art Music Corporation, Caguas, Puerto Rico 2005-present; Clinics throughout USA, Canada, countries in Central & South America, Europe, Japan & Mexico. Additionally, Pablito has been on Off Broadway plays, jingles, TV appearances, and movie appearances.

 

Venezuelan TV show with Louis Kahn on trombone, Leopordo Pinela on t-bone (trombone), Jose Rodriguez on t-bone, Milton Cardona on congas, Johnny Almendra on timbales, Eddie Resto on bass, Professor Joe Torrez on piano, Ruben Blades on vocals, Willie Colon on bass trumpet and Pablo Rosario as Don Diego De La Vega, El Zorro at the time.
Venezuelan TV show with Louis Kahn on trombone, Leopordo Pinela on t-bone (trombone), Jose Rodriguez on t-bone, Milton Cardona on congas, Johnny Almendra on timbales, Eddie Resto on bass, Professor Joe Torrez on piano, Ruben Blades on vocals, Willie Colon on bass trumpet and Pablo Rosario as Don Diego De La Vega, El Zorro at the time.

 

Les Moncada – Pablito, where were you born and where did you grow up?

Pablito Rosario – I was born in Brooklyn, New York on October 9th, 1948; I was raised in Brooklyn until July of 1966, when my family moved to Puerto Rico.

 

Pablito Rosario at his very first show in upstate New York at “El Rancho Grande Resort”. "My father played guitar and sang with Angelo Marrero. That night my uncle Justito and I played a rumba with me on quinto. I also sang “Granada”. Standing behind me is Delfin Pérez who played trumpet with the Sonora Ponceña for more than 25 years. In the middle is the owner of El Rancho and his daughter Diana, my uncle Justito and someone at the show. Two months short of my 12th birthday."
Pablito Rosario at his very first show in upstate New York at “El Rancho Grande Resort”. “My father played guitar and sang with Angelo Marrero. That night my uncle Justito and I played a rumba with me on quinto. I also sang “Granada”. Standing behind me is Delfin Pérez who played trumpet with the Sonora Ponceña for more than 25 years. In the middle is the owner of El Rancho and his daughter Diana, my uncle Justito and someone at the show. Two months short of my 12th birthday.”

 

LM – Pablito, can you tell me when was the first time you heard a cowbell, bongo or timbales and what were your thoughts?

PR- My father, Pablo Rosario Ruiz (June 4th, 1928-June 6, 2009) played the guitar and was a vocalist. My oldest memory is of a rehearsal of a group where my father was the musical director. The rehearsal was in the home of a cousin of my father’s, Manuela Chiclana at 139 Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn. Her brother Gilberto Chiclana was the timbales player, Orlando “El Gordo” played congas, Kiro played bongo and cowbell, Julio Durán played trumpet, Daniel “El Ciego”, the tres guitar and my father played the guitar and voice. I was around 4 years of age (at that time I did not think anything of my future, just enjoyed the rehearsal and to visit family.

 

 

We all have a purpose in life; some are doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. But someone has to play the percussion and God picked me to be for that. That’s why I say that mine, the gift to play Latin Percussion, was a gift from God, Amen.

 

Pablito Rosario at Toros y Salsa Festival in Dax, France with Edgard Rodriguez’s group Ibace in 2003.
Pablito Rosario at Toros y Salsa Festival in Dax, France with Edgard Rodriguez’s group Ibace in 2003.


When did you make the decision to play Latin percussion and with which instrument did you start with?

PR- I started at 8 or 9 years of age with a student of my fathers, Julio Simón. He played the guitar and would perform the vocals at the “fiestas” (parties) of family members. We recorded a record at a Penny-Arcade booth for 35 cents in 1956 and at 6 or 7 years of age my father’s youngest brother, Justito Rosario, arrived from Puerto Rico and became a part of my father’s band. He played the conga. Uncle Justito showed me how to play the conga.

 

Pablito Rosario on the bongos in 1977
Pablito Rosario on the bongos in 1977

 

LM – If you look back, Pablito, to the first time that you started to play Latin Percussion and you look at yourself today, with all that you have accomplished, what do you think of your achievements to this date?

PR- Looking back at when I started and around the age of 12 or 13 years, I knew that I wanted to be a professional musician. I also was the lead vocalist in an a capella group, doo-whop, The Mellow Tones. Later I recorded a 45 rpm record with the titles “Judy My Love” & “Ain’t That Ashame”, I never thought that someday I would be recording with Wille Colon and Hector Lavoe, Mongo Santamaria, Larry Harlow, Chico O’Farrill NYC Latin Jazz Big Band, Batacumbele, David Bowie, Luther Vandross, Felix Cavaleri from The Young Rascals and many, many more. I consider myself blessed by God, Amen.

 

The Mellow Tones at Hotel Bossart in Brooklyn, New York, 1962. Pablito Rosario, Ray Echevarria, John Zervos, James Mingo and Peter Ward. “We had a full house.”
The Mellow Tones at Hotel Bossart in Brooklyn, New York, 1962. Pablito Rosario, Ray Echevarria, John Zervos, James Mingo and Peter Ward. “We had a full house.”

 

LM – Pablito, tell us about your Latin music performance history. Who have you played with?

PR- Justito Rosario y Su Combo, Charlie & Eddie Palmeri, Salsa Fever, Rie Akagi, a jazz fusion flute player from Japan, Justo Bettancourt, Chivirico Davila, Mark Diamond, Frankie Dante aka Belamonte and His Latin 7, Latin pianist Larry Harlow, and many more recordings. Also Ismael Miranda, Joe Quijano y su Conjunto “Cachana”.

 

Pablito Rosario on the pailitas (small timbales) in 1973.
Pablito Rosario on the pailitas (small timbales) in 1973.


Pablo, can you tell me some of your favorite recordings and what are some of the favorite shows you have performed?

PR- Some of my favorite recordings and shows are: The Opera Hommy with Larry Harlow, live at Carnegie Hall NYC in 1p73, Mongo Live at Yankee Stadium in 1974, David Bowie Live at The Tower Theater 1974, “Con Un Poco De Songo” with Batacumbele in 1980 and several more.

 

Pablito Rosario Live at Madison Square Garden in 1973 with Larry Harlow; Eddie Gua-Gua Rivera on bass; Junior Gonzalez on vocals; , Tony Jimenez on conga; Larry Spencer on trumpet, and Pablito on pailitas. “This was the very first Salsa Festival and we were the first group to play. What an honor!”
Pablito Rosario Live at Madison Square Garden in 1973 with Larry Harlow; Eddie Gua-Gua Rivera on bass; Junior Gonzalez on vocals; , Tony Jimenez on conga; Larry Spencer on trumpet, and Pablito on pailitas. “This was the very first Salsa Festival and we were the first group to play. What an honor!

 

LM – Pablito, can you tell us who are your favorite timbaleros, conguero and bongoseros of all time. Whom do you admire?

PR- For timbal: Tito Puente; Willie Bobo; Mike Collazo was the first timbalero that I saw reading music charts with the Orchestra of Tito Rodriguez (Sr.); Orestes Vilato; and Nicky Marrero.

For congas: Mongo Santamaria; Tommy Lopez; Ray Barretto; and Cachete Maldonado.

For bongo: Lil Ray Romero; Armando Peraza; Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez; Chucky Lopez; and Jack Costanzo.

 

 

 

LM – What have do done professionally recently with music and also with you daily life?

PR- Recently I have been doing freelance performing work. I have been performing with Batacumbele, performing with my own jazz group “Orinoco”. I also give private classes in my home. I am also involved in Christianity, Amen.

 

 

LM – What are the future plans for Pablito Rosario?

PR- My plans are to return to the United States to El Paso, Texas. There I have residing one of my sons, Pablo Rosario III, with my grandchildren Sofia and Jose.

 

 

LM – And for your students, what is the advice that you give them for their future in the percussion field?

PR- Practice so that you can dominate your principal instrument, conga or timbal or bongo. You have to play with other musicians not just practicing alone in the house with records or videos. To know the other percussion instruments, such as drum set, vibraphone (vibes), piano, which is a stringed percussion instrument and absolutely the minor percussion, guiro, cowbell, maracas, claves. (Pablito remarked that the piano and claves were very important).

To study music in general, composition, arrangements, orchestration etc. And lastly now, you should learn to play other instruments apart from percussion. For example, bass, stringed instruments, wind instruments, reed instruments, voice. The voice is important for your tuning pitch when singing solo.

Well Les, I hope that I’ve been useful a little in assisting all the young musicians and your readers and audience.

LM – Thank you Pablito for your patience, great assistance and sharing you time and knowledge with us!

Author: Les Moncada

Les Moncada is a Latin Jazz orchestra leader and conguero for over 40 years. He was born in Oakland, California and currently resides in Sacramento, California.

Les Moncada is a student of conga and batá master Francisco Aguabella, a friend of the late promoter Bill Graham, vibraphonist Cal Tjader, Latin Jazz band leader Pete Escovedo, conguero Mongo Santamaria and many, many more.

He has been writing for many years for World Music Central.

Les has several Facebook sites: Timbales and Congas Bongo Bata & bells; Conguero, Professional Conguero & their Instrument; Bongocero, Professional Bongocero their Instrument; Alambres Dulces, Tres, Cuatro & Laud

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