Jimmy Sabater, Sr.,, American Latin musician died he was 75
Jimmy Sabater was a Latin musician of Puerto Rican ancestry, who was a three-time winner of the ACE Awards died he was 75. He was a singer and timbales player, who primarily worked with The Joe Cuba Sextet.
Sabater was the son of Néstor Sabater and Teresa González of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Born Jaime Sabater in Harlem Hospital, New York City, he grew up in East Harlem, the Spanish Quarter of New York City
known as “El Barrio”. Like most teenagers in the neighborhood, he
played stickball, flew kites, and harmonized the tunes of the popular
R&B groups and vocalists of the day such as Nat King Cole.
He was inspired by percussionists such as Willie Bobo,
Uba Nieto, Papi Pagani, Monchito Muñoz, and Willie Rodríguez. With
encouragement from many of these same drummers who were from “El
Barrio”, Sabater practiced playing the timbales,
the standing drum kit made famous by the “Rey del Timbal”, Tito Puente.
It was during a 1951 stickball game between the Devils and the 112th
Street Viceroys that Sabater’s life would make a historic turn. A young
man named Gilberto Calderón of the Devils met Sabater and invited him to
a party. The two became fast friends. They had a lot in common. Both
wanted to be musicians after being influenced by the music of Machito, Marcelino Guerra, Noro Morales, Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez.
1954 saw the Joe Panama Sextet as one of Spanish Harlem’s most
popular music groups. When Panama’s conguero, or conga drummer, left the
group, Sabater recommended his friend Gilberto for the job. Soon after,
bandleader Joe Panama fired his sidemen and replaced them with others.
The now unemployed musicians, which included vocalist Willie Torres and
pianist Nick Jiménez, formed a group which included bassist Roy Rosa,
vibraphonist Tommy Berríos, Sabater, and conguero Gilberto Calderón (who
had been selected by the musicians to direct the band).
One evening, the group appeared at La Bamba Club in midtown Manhattan
under the name of “The Joe Panama Sextet”. When Panama’s mother
threatened to sue Gilberto if he continued using the name, promoter
Catalino Rolón recommended that the group change its name to “The Joe
Cuba Sextet”. They played gigs in the clubs of “El Barrio”, as well as
upstate New York venues such as The Pines Resort.
The popularity of Cuba’s sextet began to rise when José “Cheo” Feliciano
joined the group. This occurred when José Curbelo’s vocalist Santitos
Colón replaced Gilberto Monroig in Tito Puente’s band. Willie Torres
then left Joe Cuba’s Sextet, and replaced Santitos in Curbelo’s
orchestra. This opened the door for Cheo with Joe Cuba. This worked out
perfectly for Cuba. Feliciano was selected to sing songs with Spanish
lyrics, while Sabater was selected to sing songs with English lyrics.
From the late 1950s and into the early 1960s the Sextet recorded on
the Mardi Gras label, constantly increasing their popularity. In 1962,
Seeco Records recorded Joe Cuba‘s
album “Steppin’ Out”. This album would become a “monster hit”, and
Sabater would become part of history, as on the album he sang “To Be
With You”, by Willie Torres. Nick Jimenez composed the melody, but
Cuba’s decision to have Sabater sing the lyrics thrust him into almost
immediate international recognition.
Cuba’s sextet signed with Tico Records in 1964. By showcasing the
smooth vocal style of Sabater, the group had achieved tremendous fame,
both in the United States and around the world. In 1966, they recorded
two albums, We Must Be Doing Something Right, and Wanted Dead or Alive. …Something Right scored big because of the hit composition “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back to Georgia)”. Wanted…
was a landmark recording because it was the first “boogaloo” style
album to sell one million records. This happened largely because of
another smash composition of Sabater and Jiménez called “Bang Bang”.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Sabater also had a flourishing career as
a soloist, releasing the albums The Velvet Voice of Jimmy Sabater, El Hijo de Teresa, and Solo.
In 1977, Sabater left the Joe Cuba Sextet. From 1977 to 1981, he was the lead vocalist for Al Levy. In 1980 Sabater recorded Gusto on the Fania Records label. In 1982, he co-led “El Combo Gigante” with Charlie Palmieri
until the latter’s death in 1988. On November 12, 1997, Sabater became
the recipient of an award from the City of New York for his
contributions to the quality of life in the city, and in appreciation of
his work since 1956. He was also the recipient of the “Outstanding
Musician of the Year” award from the Comptroller of the City of New
York, Alan G. Hevesi.
In 1998, Sabater became the lead vocalist of the Latin Septet “Son
Boricua”, led by Maestro José Mangual, Jr. Their first album, called Son Boricua,
was the winner of the ACE Award as best new Latin release of that year.
A second, and recently, a third ACE Award were awarded for the albums Homenaje a Cortijo y Rivera and Mo!.
Sabater died in February 2012, aged 75.
- The Velvet Voice of Jimmy Sabater (Tico, 1967), with Joe Cuba
- Solo (Tico, 1969), with Ray Barretto
- El Hijo de Teresa (Teresa’s Son) (Tico, 1970)
- Mano a Mano Melódico (Tico, 1971), with Bobby Cruz
- To Be With You (Mucho Love & Lotsa Boogie) (Salsa Records, 1976)
- Gusto (Fania Records, 1980)
- Mo! (Cobo, 2001) with José Mangual Jr.
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