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Playboy Jazz Fest Jam
Remembering Willie Bobo
Willie Bobo performs with Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Cosby at the Playboy Jazz Festival in 1982.
Willie Bobo was born William Correa on February 28, 1934 and grew up in Spanish Harlem, New York City. The nickname Bobo is said to have been bestowed on him by pianist Mary Lou Williams in the early 1950s. He made his name in Latin Jazz, specifically Afro-Cuban jazz, in the 1960s and '70s, with the timbales becoming his favoured instrument. He met Mongo Santamarķa shortly after his arrival in New York and studied with him while acting as his translator, and later at the age of 19 joined Tito Puente for four years.
His first major exposure was when he joined George Shearing's band on the album The Shearing Spell. After leaving Shearing, Cal Tjader asked Bobo and Santamaria to become part of the Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quintet, who released several albums as the mambo craze reached fever pitch in the late '50s. Reuniting with his mentor Santamaria in 1960, the pair released the album Sabroso! for the Fantasy label. Bobo later formed his own group, releasing Do That Thing/Guajira with Tico and Bobo's Beat and Let's Go Bobo for Roulette, without achieving huge penetration.
After the runaway success of Tjader's Soul Sauce, in which he was heavily involved, Bobo formed a new band with the backing of Verve Records, releasing Spanish Grease, of which the title track is probably his most well known tune. Highly successful at this attempt, Bobo released a further seven albums with Verve.
In the early 1970s, he moved out to Los Angeles. He again met up with his long-time friend Richard Sanchez Sr. and his son Richard Jr. and began recording in the studio. Bobo then worked as a session musician for Carlos Santana among others, as well as being a regular in the band for Bill Cosby's variety show Cos. In the late '70s, Bobo recorded albums for Blue Note and Columbia Records.
After a period of ill health, he died at the age of 49, succumbing to cancer on September 15, 1983.
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