So well known and respected, his first name alone -- Candido -- is all that is necessary for jazz aficionados to know who he is. Credited with being the first percussionist to bring conga drumming to jazz, Candido Camero is also known for his contributions to the development of mambo and Afro-Cuban jazz.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1921, Camero first began making music as a young child, beating rhythms on empty condensed milk cans in place of bongos. He worked for six years with the CMQ Radio Orchestra and at the famed Cabaret Tropicana.
He came to the United States in 1946 with the dance team Carmen and Rolando, and very soon after was playing with Billy Taylor, who wrote in 1954, "I have not heard anyone who even approaches the wonderful balance between jazz and Cuban elements that Candido demonstrates." By the early 1950s, Camero was a featured soloist with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, with whom he toured the U.S. playing three congas (at a time when other congueros were playing only one) in addition to a cowbell and guiro (a fluted gourd played with strokes from a stick). He created another unique playing style by tuning his congas to specific pitches so that he could play melodies like a pianist. He became one of the best known congueros in the country, appearing on such television shows as the Ed Sullivan Show and the Jackie Gleason Show. He is a living encyclopedia of the history of Cuban music. Born in La Habana's colorful El Cerro neighborhood, Candido has appeared on hundreds of albums, including more than 50 as bandleader. He has worked with almost all of the great jazz masters, including Clark Terry, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Mongo Santamaria, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, and Tito Puente.