Francisco Aguabella: Sworn To The Drum

Francisco Aguabella

“As I’m thinking about these things, I listen to what the conga is saying, and the main line of the song will come out of the drum. Then I come up with a bass line that fits into the rhythm of the conga, write it down and give it to the arranger.”

Aguabella learned how to read music and play bass after he came to Los Angeles from New York City in 1958. “I took classes at Los Angeles City College – music theory and bass,” Aguabella says. “I knew if I wanted to work with people like Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, I’d have to read music. Everybody has their own style, and they don’t have time to teach you, so you have to read music.

“The bass I learned because I thought it would give me more versatility. For a while I practiced the bass for five hours a day, then I’d go out and play drums until three or four o’clock in the morning, but eventually the conga came out on top. I love the drums, and the more I play them, the more I want to play.”

Aguabella usually uses three drums, tumba, conga and quinto in the standard tuning: D, D Minor and A. “If I need another sound, I may retune them, but mostly I use the standard tuning.”

Aguabella keeps his hands in shape by playing; but if he has a blister or some pain in his fingers, he may play with a drumstick. “Some of the African rhythms I play on the bembe require a stick, but unless I’m having some pain, I prefer to play with my hands. Playing is the best way to keep in shape.”

Aguabella should have plenty of opportunities to play in the coming year. The master recently inked a deal with Cubop, a division of San Francisco’s Ubiquity Records. Aguabella’s first release on Cubop will be a re-issue of Hitting Hard, a record from the mid ’70s recently rediscovered by acid jazz fans. It will be followed by other back catalog items, as well as a new recording featuring most of Aguabella’s current band with guest appearances by many of his friends and associates.

“I’m not afraid of hard work,” he says. “When I played with Malo, I played five congas, which had never been done before. Sometimes I’d lose ten pounds in one evening, because I’d sweat so hard.”

A Selected Francisco Aguabella Discography

Solo Album (on Cubop): Hitting Hard

With Tito Puente (on Rhino): El Rey del Timbal: The Best of Tito; (on RCA): Top Percussion; Yambeque: The Progressive Side of Tito Puente; (on Concord Jazz): Oye Como Va: The Dance Collection; (on Tico): El Rey

With Mongo Santamaria (on Fantasy): Mongo’s Greatest Hits; Yambu; Afro-Roots; Mongo

With Joe Henderson (on Original Jazz Classics): Canyon Lady

With Louie Bellson and Walfredo de los Reyes (on Original Jazz Classics): Ecue Ritmos Cubanos

With Eddie Palmieri (on Sony): Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo; (on Intuition): Sueno

With Santana (on Columbia): Swing of Delight; Spirits Dancing in the Flesh

With Bobby Hutcherson (on Landmark): Ambos Mundos

With Benny Velarde/Francisco Aguabella Orchestras (on Fantasy): Benny Velarde/Francisco Aguabella Orchestras

With Paul Simon (on Warner Bros.): 1964-1993

With Israel “Cachao” Lopez (on Crescent Moon/Epic): Master Sessions, Vol. 1; Master Sessions, Vol. 2

With Pete Escovedo (on Concord Picante): Flying South

With Emil Richards (on Interworld): Lutana

With John Santos (on Xenophile): Hacia El Amor

With Herb Alpert (on Almo): Passion Dance

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