Another Maestro Passes: Steve Berrios 1945-2013

Aug 1, 2013

Master drummer and percussionist Steve Berrios died last week at age 68. He leaves a legacy of inspirational jazz and Latin music, and a large number of devoted friends who call him their musical father.

Starting out on trumpet while in public school, he was influenced by his father, a professional drummer, and his neighbors in Upper Manhattan: Tito Puente, Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria. At 16, he began winning talent and trumpet contests, including the famed Apollo Theatre competitions, in which he placed first no less than five times. Switching his focus to drums and percussion, he started touring and recording with Mongo Santamaria at age 19.

In the 1980s Steve Berrios joined Dizzy Gillespie's good-will tour of Cuba, and became a founding member of the Fort Apache Band, the popular Latin jazz ensemble led by Jerry Gonzalez. He appears on more than 300 recordings as well as numerous film soundtracks and drum instruction videos. He also led his own group, Son Bacheche.

Mr. Berrios was known as a master of both jazz and Latin drumming, and he specialized in combining the two. He was also an advocate for drummers of any genre. 

“Most people look at the drummer as an ignorant timekeeper that doesn't know anything about music or forms. But a drummer has to be as intelligent as the horn players. He has to know the vernacular, the history of the music. A horn player can take a break. A drummer never leaves. We’re like royalty.” --Steve Berrios, from an interview in 2007

Memorial Services for Steve Berrios will be held today, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 at 5 p.m. St. Peter's Church 619 Lexington Avenue New York, NY 10022. There will, of course, be music.

Berrios’ family has requested that anyone wishing to contribute to his funeral expenses to please make a donation to the Jazz Foundation of America via its website or by mail: Jazz Foundation of America, 322 W. 48th St., New York, NY 10036.

I'll play some of Steve Barrios' fine work with the Fort Apache Band today on Jazz Caliente, Thursdays at 2 p.m. on KPLU's Mid Day Jazz.