Remembering Ray Mantilla

June 22, 1934 – March 21, 2020


A tribute to the versatile percussionist

Percussionist Ray Mantilla passed away on March 21, 2020 at the age of 85.

Raymond Mantilla was born in New York City on June 22, 1934.

His childhood friends included percussionist Ray Barretto, pianist Eddie Palmieri, percussionist Manny Oquendo, and flutist Johnny Pacheco.

Mantilla began playing congas and Latin percussion as a youth and was busy working at sessions and making recordings while still quite young.

He gained recognition as a member of Herbie Mann’s Afro-Cuban band during 1959-63, and then became very busy in the jazz and Latin music worlds.

Mantilla appeared on hundreds of recordings in his career including with Ray Barretto, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Gato Barbieri, Joe Beck, Walter Bishop Jr, Mose Allison, Kenny Burrell, Richie Cole, Larry Coryell, Joe Farrell, John Hicks, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Jeremy Steig, and Cedar Walton.

Mantilla was also a member of Max Roach’s all-percussion group M’Boom where he had the opportunity to display his versatility on a variety of percussion instruments, and he visited Cuba in 1977 as part of Dizzy Gillespie’s historic visit.

A bandleader since 1978, heading a group called the Space Station, he led nine albums and became notable for performing Afro-Cuban jazz in unusual time signatures.

Here is Ray Mantilla leading Space Station in 2012.

-Scott Yanow

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