John Santos Sextet
“A Puerto Rico Mi Amor”

Tuesday, June 5
6 – 8 p.m., free
Healdsburg Plaza

A million years ago in Africa, some human or proto-human started banging on an object in a repeating pattern – a rhythm – and from that sprang all the world’s music. In the modern world, going back at least a couple of centuries, Africa remains known as the source of hundreds of the world’s rhythmic traditions, many of them that via multiple human diasporas found their way into jazz. The Latin varieties of Afro-based rhythms, whether they come from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Panama, Haiti, or any of the 25 or so countries considered Latin American, all inform jazz music.

It can take a lot of sorting out, which is one reason it’s great to have John Santos around.  A long-time friend of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, Santos is a part-Puerto Rican, part-Cape Verdean San Franciscan who has developed into one of the world’s experts on Latin Jazz. Now 61, he is a master percussionist who has played with all the greats of this music – Tito Puente, Cachao, Bebo Valdes, Pete Escovedo, Eddie Palmieri… the list goes on – and of straight-ahead jazz as well: Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Max Roach, George Cables, and dozens more.

Starting when he was 20, he created three bands that have been critical forces in Latin Jazz — Orquesta Tipica Cienfuegos,  Orquesta Batachanga, and the Machete Ensemble, which lasted 21 years and played the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in 2005. With posts at several area colleges, and many workshops under his belt, John is deeply committed to music education, with emphasis on the various African strains in Latin Jazz.

John returns to the festival this year with a sextet performing “A Puerto Rico Mi Amor” on the Healdsburg Plaza, a tribute to a vital U.S. territory that has been woefully neglected since being devastated by Hurricane Maria in September. This show will be personal for John, and for his bandmate Pedro Pastrana, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and plays the cuatro, a guitar that is the official instrument of his land. The other players include some of the best Latin jazz players in the Bay Area: bassist Saul Sierra, pianist Marco Diaz, guitarist-singer Jose Roberto Hernandez, drummer David Flores and Santos on his battery of percussion instruments.  And while it’s being driven into a frenzy of dancing, the audience might be lucky enough to get an earful from John on exactly what Puerto Rico has contributed to this music that we love.