Performance Friday, February 19, 2016 | 9 PM

The Pedrito Martinez Group

Zankel Hall
Cuban-born Pedrito Martinez—a dynamic percussionist and powerful vocalist—is a modern proponent of the Afro-Cuban rumba tradition and the batá rhythms and vocal chants of the music of Yoruba and Santería.

Part of Late Nights at Zankel Hall.


  • The Pedrito Martinez Group
    ·· Pedrito Martinez, Percussion and Lead Vocals
    ·· Edgar Pantoja-Aleman, Keyboard and Vocals
    ·· Álvaro Benavides, Electric Bass and Vocals
    ·· Jhair Sala, Cowbell, Bongos, and Vocals

Event Duration

The program will last approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.


  • Pedrito Martinez

    Pedro Pablo "Pedrito" Martinez was born in Havana, Cuba. He began his musical career at the age of 11, performing as vocalist and percussionist with such Cuban legends as Tata Güines and Yoruba Andabo.

    Since settling in New York City in the fall of 1998, Martinez has recorded and/or performed with Wynton Marsalis, Paul Simon, Eddie Palmieri, Paquito D'Rivera, Chucho Valdés, Bruce Springsteen, James Tyalor, Issac Delgado, and Sting. In addition, he has contributed his talents to more than 100 albums.

    A consummate master of Afro-Cuban folkloric music, Martinez does not just play the obligatory handful of standard batá rhythms--he plays the monumentally complex "Oru seco" on each drum or on all three at once. He is also the world's first-call rumbero--playing, singing, and dancing with dozens of groups and contributing to or appearing in several films, including Calle 54 and Chico and Rita.

    Equally at home in popular music, Martinez's perfectly intoned tenor voice seamlessly combines pop and folkloric influences. His infectious energy, humor, charisma, and dance moves make him a formidable front man and percussionist.

    Martinez was a founding member of the highly successful Afro-Cuban / Afro-beat band Yerba Buena, with which he recorded two albums and toured the world.

    His career as a leader began in 2005 with the formation of the The Pedrito Martinez Group. The group's Grammy-nominated, self-titled first studio album was released in 2013 and featured special guests Wynton Marsalis, John Scofield, and Steve Gadd. Tracks for the group's new album, Havana Dreams, were recorded in Cuba last October; it is scheduled for release this spring on Motema Music.

    Honors that Martinez has received include first place at the Thelonious Monk International Afro-Latin Jazz Hand Drum Competition (2000), the Sphinx Medal of Excellence (2014), Modern Drummer's Readers Poll's Percussionist of the Year (2014), being named one of DownBeat magazine's "80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today" (2014), and the Jazz Journalists Association's Percussionist of the Year (2014 and 2015).

    Edgar Pantoja-Aleman

    Pianist, trumpeter, arranger, and composer Edgar Pantoja-Aleman has devoted his life to an intense passion for the piano. He was born in Santiago de Cuba. At the age of 11, he began studying classical music, motivated by his mother, who discovered in him innate musical interests, especially in Afro-Cuban rhythms. The trumpet was his first instrument and the beginning of a long journey, taking up the piano soon after. From 1994-2008, Pantoja-Aleman worked as a teacher in Havana and in Spain, instructing piano, brass, harmony, and percussion. He has lived in New York City since 2008, where he has performed with David Murray, Pedrito Martinez, and many others.

    Álvaro Benavides

    A scholarship from the Berklee College of Music brought bassist Álvaro Benavides to the US from his native Venezuela. He's a brilliant soloist with unshakeable timing that allows him to shoulder the entire groove when the rest of the musicians drop out, or to power the band to a devastating climax with wicked thumps, slaps, and slides that congeal and combust. Along with Pedrito Martinez's cajón, the two produce powerful and uplifting rhythmic surges that rival the largest and most aggressive Cuban bands.

    Jhair Sala

    Born in Peru and raised in New York, Jhair Sala spent his formative years studying intensively with Pedrito Martinez, whom he met when he was only 10 years old. He's now in high demand as a session musician and bandleader in his own right, but there's an uncanny magic when he plays with Martinez. Sala's touch, timing, and feel, are truly remarkable. With literally thousands of hours of studying, performing, and jamming together, Sala and Martinez seemingly perform as one.

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Lengua de Obbara

Jeff Tamarkin on Pedrito Martinez

Whatever else the recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba might bring, one beneficiary will be music fans the world over. Despite a decades-long ban on official communication with our southern neighbor, musicians from both the island and the US have always managed to influence one another profoundly. Now, finally, they can do so openly.

Pedrito Martinez, the 42-year-old Havana-born percussionist, vocalist, and bandleader is the quintessential creator of the kind of great art that results when Cuban musicians marry elements of the island’s native culture to sounds they absorb from the US.

“Our roots are very much in Afro-Cuban music-folkloric styles like rumba, the ceremonial music of Santería (or Yoruba, the original name of this African religion) and Timba, which is a relatively modern Cuban style of music that is very high-energy and powerful and has lots of American R&B and funk influences. There are also many jazz elements in our music, of course,” says Martinez, who arrived in New York City at age 25 and soon after took first place in the annual Thelonious Monk International Afro-Latin Jazz Hand Drum Competition.

Performing with Martinez at the Zankel Hall gig is Edgar Pantoja-Aleman (keyboard and vocals), Álvaro Benavides (electric bass and vocals), and Jhair Sala (cowbell, bongos, and vocals). “Everyone in the group is originally from Latin America: Álvaro is from Venezuela, Jhair is Peruvian, Edgar is from Santiago de Cuba, and I am from Havana. So we all share the same rhythmic vocabulary,” says Martinez, adding that the group performs “without horns, drums, or timbales. This is very unusual, but we all sing and we are very much in sync with one another every second. The consideration, love, and respect that we have for the music is what makes us sound so powerful.”

The Pedrito Martinez Group’s performance includes music from its new album, Havana Dreams, recorded at Havana’s legendary EGREM Studio. “Returning to Cuba was a dream come true for me,” says Martinez, who, in his New York years, has also maintained a prolific career as a sideman for everyone from Wynton Marsalis to Eddie Palmieri to Bruce Springsteen. “The music of the new album is so fresh, soulful, and deeply rich. Our chemistry is based on the years we have been together and on the fact that we are always listening very carefully to every moment of inspiration and responding in some way—even if that might mean making no sound in order to give the others space to speak. It’s a constant conversation that is going on between all of us.

“I think versatility is achieved only with great effort, hard work, and years of studying,” he adds. “Achieving this has been one of my goals since I arrived in the United States 18 years ago. I realized the importance of making the sacrifice because diversity is a great long-term benefit.”

—Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of
JazzTimes magazine. 

Program Notes


Pedrito Martinez: Conga solo

Jazz Night in America: Pedrito Martinez and Wynton Marsalis
This concert and The Shape of Jazz series are made possible by The Joyce and George Wein Foundation in memory of Joyce Wein.
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Absolutely Live Entertainment LLC.
This performance is part of The Shape of Jazz.

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