Afro-Cuban & Afro-Cuban Jazz legendary bassist
Composer, Arranger, Bassist
Alfonso Panamá / 1958
(New York, NY)
~ PROFESSIONAL MUSIC BIOGRAPHY ~
Alfonso Panamá, also known as "Alfonso El Panameño" was born Alfonso Joseph in the Republic of Panama, and immigrated to New York at 11 years of age, where he studied music and became one of the forefront bassists of Afro-Cuban legendary bands include Arsenio Rodríguez, Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, Machito, and others.
His musical career began in the mid-1950s, learning and playing guitar with many Latin-American "conjuntos" and playing diverse rhythmic variations of Afro-Cuban music. He replaced the guitar strings with electronic strings and used the guitar as a bass, playing only the last four strings. With this convention, he became a bass player. Soon after, he graduated to Fender bass guitar and an Ampeg bass amplifier. Joseph was one of handful of bass players at that time, who introduced and popularized the bass guitar in the Latin, Jazz, Latin/Jazz and R&B venue.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Alfonso performed at the Palladium and Roseland Ballroom, two of New York City's most famous venues. He also played bass at Birdland, a famous NYC club where all the jazz and Latin Jazz greats have performed, at Hunts Point Palace, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and others.
As a bassist and vocalist, Joseph accompanied, recorded and performed with some of the most popular and prominent bandleaders and musicians during the heyday of Latin music and Afro-Cuban Jazz. Historians and fans of this era as well as the older generation of Latinos, will remember most of these artists such as Arsenio Rodríguez, Candido Camero, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Machito, Johnny Pacheco, Yomo Toro, Cachao, Miguelito Valdéz, Doc Cheetham, Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, Mauricio Smith, Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz, Mongo Santamaría, Marcelino Guerra and many others.
During the early 70's, Salsa dance icon Eddie Torres on two occasions performed in the Bronx with Tito Puente and Machito - with Alfonso accompanying on bass.
Arsenio Rodríguez was a tres guitarist, a renowned master of Afro-Cuban music and in particular is regarded as the originator of the MSon-Montuno rhythm, and a pioneer of the Mambo and Guaguancó Solar rhythms. Rodriguez personally taught Alfonso the intricate techniques of Afro-Cuban bass rhythms and syncopation. Joseph performed with Arsenio at Carnegie Hall and recorded with Rodriguez on his last two albums: Ansonia Records Arsenio Rodríguez y Su Conjunto, (Vol.2) and Tico Records (Arsenio Dice... Arsenio Says).
Cándido Camero, the great Cuban Latin-Jazz percussionist, also personally coached and trained Alfonso on Afro-Cuban bass rhythms and syncopation. Alfonso recorded with Candido as a vocalist, with Tito Puente conducting and playing vibes and timbales and he often substituted with Cachao on bass, (Tico Records, Candido's Latin McGuffas Dust).
After the death of his mentor, Arsenio Rodríguez, Alfonso joined the Machito Orchestra and the Johnny Pacheco Orchestra before undertaking a different musical direction: composing and orchestrating. He conceived the vision of employing his knowledge, skills and technique as acquired from Afro-Cuban and Classical music into one form. He composed, arranged, and scored eight full 49-piece symphony-orchestra arrangement. Through his son, Josué Joseph, they recorded with the Vilnius Symphony Orchestra in 2012 and also with a violin soloist and cello solist - both from Poland - merging all this with congas, bongos, timbales, guiro, clave, and Afro-Cuban bass tumbaos.
~ AWARDS / CREDITS ~
Joseph attended the Lyn Oliver Jazz Studios (New York) and the Hartnett Manhattan School of Music (New York) majoring in composition harmony and theory during the 1960's, and was a student of Lisle Atkinson and Rector Bailey.
After years of many professional collaborations, recordings, and television appearances with the bands of the times, he semi-retired. In 2011 he won the "Song of the Year" award by London Global Vybz World Music for "Vale Mas" - one of the songs from the soundtrack of the award-winning film Part I La Epoca - The Palladium Era which features many of the legends of Mambo and Salsa before they departed us. Alfonso contributed his bass-playing, arrangement, and knowledge on the entire soundtrack.
In 2010, the same film won "Film of the Year" by the Stuckies Awards by Earl Rush from StuckOnSalsa. The film was also a feature selection at the Orlando Hispanic Film Festival, as well as the Virginia Tech University Hispanic Month Film Festival.
The Arsenio Rodriguez Conjunto with Marcelino Guerra (center), Alfonso Panama (center), and Arsenio Rodriguez (right)
Other musicians unknown / photo by Orinta Fotoexpress (May 2012)
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