El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

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El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

I hope there is Salsa music in heaven, because the only way I can describe this stuff is heavenly.   Wayne Grosvenor

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El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, commonly known as El Gran Combo, is a Puerto Rican Salsa music orchestra. It is Puerto Rico's most successful musical group, and one of the most popular salsa orchestras across Latin America. The group received the moniker La Universidad de la Salsa (The University of Salsa) in Colombia, due to the sheer number of famous salsa musicians and singers who developed their careers with it, who started with the group (particularly Andy Montañez), or who were occasionally backed up by the band (including Celia Cruz, Héctor Lavoe and La India).

El Gran Combo was founded in May 1962,[1] by Rafael Ithier. Ithier is still nominally its musical director, and he and saxophonist Eddie "La Bala" Pérez are the only remaining members from the band's original lineup. as of 2010 Willie Sotelo, who joined the group in 2006 as pianist, has become the band's de facto musical director on tours, with Ithier conducting the group and playing occasionally in select live performances. They are still actively performing after 47 years together.[2]

History

Inception

Rafael Ithier had been a member of Rafael Cortijo's "Cortijo y su Combo" orchestra. After singer Ismael Rivera faced legal problems in Panama, some of the group's musicians departed, with Ithier relocating temporarily to the eastern Guedes, the Cuban-born owner of the Gema recording label (and brother of comedic actor Guillermo), needed a backing band to record an album for legendary Dominican merengue singer Joseíto Mateo. He asked Ithier for assistance, and Ithier responded by bringing in many of his former colleagues to the studio. For their first recording sessions, the orchestra included some musicians from Cortijo's original lineup, including saxophonist Hector Santos, trumpet player Rogelio "Kito" Velez, and percussionists Martín Quiñones, Miguel Cruz and Roberto Roena. Alvarez Guedes was told by Ithier that the name of the group was El Gran Combo, as to refer to the musicians' former affiliation, but addressing their regrouping as a "new and improved" version of Cortijo's orchestra. The album they recorded was titled Menéame Los Mangos, El Gran Combo con Joseito Mateo (the phrase translates as Shake My Handles or Shake My Mangoes, a play on words).

The group met again to define the foundations of a proper orchestra and chose singers Daniel Vázquez, Pellín Rodríguez and Chiquitín García (who later composed, among other major EGC hits, "No Hago Más Ná", or "I Don't Do Anything Else"). On May 21, 1962, El Gran Combo was heard for the first time on Puerto Rican radio. Later on, they became the in-studio musicians of the live television show, "La Taberna India", sponsored by India Beer.

After their live debut at Hotel La Concha in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Chiquitín García left the orchestra. Vocalist Sammy Ayala, who had also played with Ithier in the Cortijo orchestra, recommended the hiring of Andy Montañez. Felipe Rodríguez, a legendary singer of romantic music, also followed the group's career closely, sometimes even making suggestions to Ithier.