Giovanni Hidalgo is one of the most gifted individuals to ever touch a drum. He is surely one of the greatest rhythmic genius' of any era or idiom. He'll be joining The Heavyweights Brass Band for a special concert on Saturday April 13th at Toronto's Koerner Hall as part of their Devoted to Dizzy series.
Giovanni's claim to fame is that he was Dizzy Gillespie's conga player. Dizzy was the bridge that first connected Latin music with jazz, he essentially creating the genre of Latin jazz with his first conga player Chano Pozo with whom he composed Manteca and Tin Tin Deo. Giovanni was the heir to this throne, joining Dizzy's band in 1988 and has been arguably the most important percussionist in the genre since. Check out this concert of a young Giovanni with Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nations Orchestra in 1989 at Royal Festival Hall in London. His virtuosic technique and individual voice on the congas is obvious from the opening credits.
Born in San Juan Puerto Rico in 1966 into a home that surrounded him with music and drums, he quickly flourished into a master percussionist. While still a teenager he went to Cuba with the Puerto Rican group Batacumbele and started an early association with the master of Afro-Cuban percussion Changuito. The story differs, some saying Giovanni was a student of Changuito's while others saying Changuito incorporated Giovanni's rhythmic ideas into Cuban music (songo). Maybe both are true.
While his mastery of Latin jazz is unquestioned, what makes Giovanni a truly special artist is his ability to sound authentic and original in a variety of contexts; a quality that will make his collaboration with The Heavyweights Brass Band so special. Here you can see Giovanni playing chekere in a Paul Simon video.
You can also hear him on the sublime album Rhythm of the Saints with Paul Simon
My personal favourite track that he appears on is D'Angelo's Spanish Joint from the R&B masterpiece Voodoo. From the count in Giovanni joins Charlie Hunter's guitar with congas and chekere giving the track deep roots. His congas percolate through the track beautifully filling in between Questlove's crisp snare.
April 13th is not going to be a night to forget and I urge you to pick up tickets now from the Royal Conservatory's website. We're sharing the concert with the Dave Young-Terry Promane Octet and their special guest Brazilian trumpet player and Dizzy Gillespie alumni, Claudio Roditi.
If you have a moment don't hesitate to look at all the programming The RCM is booking at Koerner Hall. Concerts are still happening in the Devoted to Dizzy series with Pancho Sanchez, Christian Scott, Danilo Perez and more. The diversity, quality and quantity of the jazz, world and classical music they're are presenting should humble the other festivals and venues in this city that claim to support this music. Toronto really needs to give a big thanks to their Executive Director Mervon Mehta for bringing so much to this city.