His daughter Rhynna Santos said the cause was complications of congestive heart failure.
In the 1950s and ’60s, if you were at the Palladium or one of the other nightclubs in New York where Latin jazz was played and elegant dancers tried the newest Cuban-inspired steps, there’s a decent chance that you heard Santos. He was a mainstay in bands led by luminaries like Tito Puente, Machito and Tito Rodriguez, often called mambo’s Big Three.
In an interview with the blog Jazz Wax in 2009, Santos said that all three of those bandleaders “could go off the deep end” when they felt musicians were not playing their best. “Machito was low key when he was angry,” he said. “But Puente and Rodriguez would pull out the whip. The whole band would get it.”
As an arranger, conductor and teacher – he earned the nickname El Maestro – Santos took a more measured approach.
Wynton Marsalis, the managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, who invited Santos to conduct concerts there in the 1990s, described him in an interview as an “extremely astute musician” who was able to catch the smallest error in an ensemble, but who was “collegial” in his approach to musicians.
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