And the beat goes on … for over 80 years

University of Dayton Arts Series and Cityfolk present “Cuban Connections”

 By Joe Aiello

When I was in my teens, I had my first run-in with a set of bongo drums. You know, the kind that are in a pair, stave-constructed of wood, about eight inches high, joined together by a small slab of wood, with two natural-hide heads of different diameters you tune by inserting a standard drum key into tuning lugs.

A great conversation-starter at parties championed by Desi Arnaz and a character in the TV series “The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis,” bongos were – for a while at least – ubiquitous. For that very reason, perhaps, many did not consider them a serious musical instrument. After all, how hard could they be to play? And whatever could you do with them to make them anything more than portable beat-keepers?

What, indeed?

On Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. in the Sears Recital Hall of the University of Dayton’s Philips Humanities Center, Arts Series and Cityfolk will present “Cuban Connections.” And you will see – and hear – how one man has elevated the playing of percussion instruments to the heights of musical artistry. His name is Candido Camero, and he began playing when he was only four years old.

87 years ago!

His uncle – a professional bongo player – made him a pair of bongo drums out of two empty condensed milk cans. And his grandfather taught him how to play a bass guitar by ear, because as Camero stated, “I don’t know nothing for do-re-mi.”

Yeah, sure.

Camero may not know how to read music, but he knows how to do more than just keep the beat to it with drums; he knows how to turn bongos and conga drums into truly “musical” instruments. He has used his fertile imagination to pioneer the use of multiple drums tuned to specific pitches, coordinated independence (doing one thing with the left hand and a different thing with the right hand), and multiple percussion (three congas) all played at the same time by one person.

And Camero knows jazz. He’s performed with just about every single jazz great of his era: Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Lena Horne, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, Tito Puente, Buddy Rich, Sonny Rollins, George Shearing and Sarah Vaughn.

Camero has played on over 1,000 albums, making him the most recorded conga drummer in the history of music. In 2008, he received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz

Masters Award.

Joined by Cuban piano legend Hilario Duran and Canadian saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett, Candido will provide the heartbeat of an evening of Latin/Cuban jazz.

Cited as one of the world’s most innovative creators of Afro-Cuban music and Latin jazz, 59-year-old Cuban pianist, composer, arranger, orchestra leader, educator and recording artist Hilario Duran immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 1998. In just over ten years, he had been named one of the ten most influential Hispanic Canadians.

Duran won two JUNO Award 2010 nominations for the Hilario Durán Trio album Motion (Alma/Universal Records), named Best Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year and Number 1 Latin Jazz Best Recording of 2010 by Latin Jazz Network. He earned a Grammy nomination in 2007 for his Latin Jazz Big Band album, From the Heart, (Alma/Universal Records) featuring Paquito D’Rivera and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.

He was also honored with the prestigious 2007 Chico O’Farrill Lifetime Achievement Award in Miami for his outstanding contributions to Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin jazz. And he won the “Premio EGREM” for Best Arranger of the Year 1982-83, one of Cuba’s most prestigious music prizes.

Duran has performed with Cuba’s legendary Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna and accepted former leader Chucho Valdés’s invitation to replace him as pianist when Valdés started the famous group Irakere. For nine years, Duran toured worldwide as arranger, pianist and musical director for Arturo Sandoval. In his career, he has performed with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Michel Legrand, to name only a few.

Duran also serves as Adjunct Piano Professor and Ensemble Director on the jazz faculty at Humber College in Toronto, Ontario.

Canadian saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett has been twice nominated for Grammy Awards (Best Latin Jazz Recording 2002 for Alma de Santiago and 2003 for Cuban Odyssey), and is a fixture of nominations for Canada’s Juno Awards.

What’s so special about Cuban music, anyway?

“Its authenticity, and genuineness,” Bunnett remarks. “Such amazing, beautiful voices. And the diversification of music on the island, there’s always another genre to discover, so many styles of music. Then there’s the quality of the music, the tightness of the groups is really impressive – they practice all day long. It’s highly competitive, but in a nice way. It’s like baseball for them.”

If what Bunnett says is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then suffice it to say that the trio of Camero, Duran and Bunnett should hit one out of the park …

The UD Arts Series and Cityfolk present “Cuban Connections” on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Sears Recital Hall of the University of Dayton’s Philips Humanities Center, 300 College Park Dr. Doors at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are $25,  $23 for seniors, military, faculty and staff and $10 for students. Call Cityfolk at (937) 496-3863, or purchase online at

Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at

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A member of the Writers Guild of America, native Daytonian Joe Aiello is the author of numerous screenplays, non-fiction books, novels, TV sitcom pilots, news features, magazine articles, and documentaries. He fills his spare time coaching College, A, AA amateur and semi-pro baseball teams; answering trivia quizzes; and denigrating himself attempting to play golf. Reach Joe at

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