Steve Berrios, the Afro-Cuban drummer who played the jazz drum and percussion together

Stephen Nartey March 30, 2023
Steve Berrios/Photo credit: My Drum Lessons

Steve Berrios was an extraordinarily gifted drummer, one whose talent was unmatched when it came to playing the jazz drum set and the Afro-Caribbean percussion. He could transport music lovers from jazz to Afro-Cuban rhythms without disrupting a party. Born in New York City in 1945, Steve grew up listening to various styles of music, including Latin jazz, bebop, and soul.

He inherited his love for music from his father, who was a percussionist with both Marcelino Guerra’s and Noro Morales’ bands in the 1940s. He started playing drums at a young age, giving friends and family around him a taste of his talent. This was because Steve’s home was always alive with music, as musicians trooped in and out. Fond memories of records by Duke Ellington, Tito Puente, and Puerto Rican folk music were etched on Steve’s mind.

It wasn’t surprising that Steve’s contemporaries did not only consider him as just a drummer, but as a man full of a variety of rhythms. He was well-versed in the history and techniques of various percussion instruments, including congas, bongos, timbales, and cajón. His knowledge of Afro-Cuban music was unparalleled, and he was widely recognized as a leading authority on the subject, according to modern drummers. Though he had training from home on playing the trumpet, he took formal lessons on it as well. During his schooling days, he took private lessons to perfect his skill.

He won several amateur contests at the Apollo Theatre. Over a period, Steve became famous for his ability to play two instruments at the same time, a feat that few drummers could accomplish. He often played congas and timbales simultaneously, producing complex rhythms and intricate patterns that left audiences mesmerized. His style was a unique blend of traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms and modern jazz; he was known for his ability to improvise and create on the spot.

He rose to the spotlight when he signed up with the Mongo Santamaria band, one of the biggest promoters of Afro-Cuban music. However, his most impactful legacy was the formation of a musical group with fellow trumpeter and percussionist, Jerry Gonzalez, in 1982 known as the Fort Apache Band. Throughout his career, Steve collaborated with many legendary musicians, including Tito Puente, Max Roach, and Willie Bobo. He recorded numerous albums as a bandleader and was a sought-after session musician in New York City.

Steve’s passion for Afro-Cuban music was contagious, and he dedicated his life to sharing it with others. He was a respected educator and mentor, and taught countless students the art of percussion. He believed that music had the power to bring people together and break down cultural barriers; he worked tirelessly to promote that message throughout his career. Steve Berrios died at the age of 68 at his home in Manhattan. He will always be remembered as a master drummer, a passionate advocate for Afro-Cuban music, and a true legend in the world of jazz.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 30, 2023


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