Update: According to his wishes, there will be no public viewing for Manny Oquendo. A funeral mass will be held at St.Margaret's Roman Catholic Church in Queens, NY on Wednesday, April 1st at 11 am. Interment will be one block away at St.John's Cemetery.
St. Margaret's RC Catholic Church
66-05 79th Place
Flushing, NY 11379
St. John's Cemetery
80-01 Metropolitan Avenue
Middle Village, NY 11379
Here's a musician's appreciation [more of these below, see updated post] of Manny Oquendo's legacy, and a detailed look at his career, from fellow percussionist Bobby Sanabria:
"Manny Oquendo was/is one of the last living ties we have to the past in terms of the majesty of Afro-Cuban-based dance music as it is performed in New York City. Majesty is the word. Manny was a big part of the development of that music.
He first started his early career in the band of violinist Juanito Sanabria (no relation) then, as many of you know, he replaced Francisco "Chino" Pozo on bongó with the early group of Tito Puente, then performing with the Vicentico Valdes, Marcelino Guerra and Pupi Campo Orchestras, just to name a few of the many well known groups he performed and recorded with at this time, the early to mid '50s. His work with Tito Rodriguez's orchestra solidified his position as a premiere bongocero, but he had started to come into prominence as a timbalero on the early recordings of Johnny Pacheco's charanga in the late '50s. His work on the Eddie Palmieri's La Perfecta recordings in the early to mid '60s solidified his legendary status amongst the cognoscenti of percussion in New York City and the world through the band's recordings and live performances where Manny was prominently featured as a soloist on timbales. These solos have become textbook examples of speaking in the language of clave as Manny transferred much of the quinto solo vocabulary of rumba to the instrument, making them perfect vehicles for dancers to express themselves. They are in fact compositions unto themselves that have been studied by generations of percussionists. But when asked about his style by poet/activist/radio host/TV reporter Felipe Luciano on his "Latin Roots" radio show on WRVR in New York City in the '70s, Manny wryly replied: 'Heavy-handed, but with finesse.'
Manny's skill as bongocero made him the choice of many bandleaders on recordings and that side of his prowess gets little to no attention. Work on seminal albums like Larry Harlow's Tribute to Arsenio Rodriguez are great documents of this; as Larry states, 'Phil Newsom was in awe of Manny. He shared the bongó duties on that album with him. I can't tell which is which because Phil studied his style so much. It's the ultimate compliment when a player does that.' It's only fitting. The word bongó means in the Efik language of Southern Nigeria, drum. But it is also a synonym for, the truth. Manny spoke 'La Verdad' in volumes on el bongó.
Manny's attention to detail and his extensive knowledge and record collection of Cuban music became a source of knowledge to many in the community, becoming an inspiration to bassist Andy Gonzalez. Manny's eventual forming of his own group Libre, in collaboration with Andy in the '70s, became a laboratory, spawning ground, and vehicle for expression for many talented players like Dave Valentin, Jimmy Bosch, Steve Turre, Willie Rodriguez, Jerry Gonzalez and Jorge Dalto to name just a few.
Manny was not one for giving compliments. Why would he. He was part of a generation of musicians who created this genre establishing extremely high standards of excellence. In terms of the Clave Police, Manny was Inspector Chief. So if you got a compliment from Manny, it was a unique, rare thing. Someone asked me last year the standard question, 'What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?' I replied, 'Getting a compliment from Manny Oquendo.'
A TRUE master of el tambor, native Nuyorican son of Brooklyn, rest in peace Maestro José Manuel Oquendo.
Ibae y aché,
--Originally posted on 3/26 in the Latin Jazz Yahoo Group; reprinted here with permission.