Steve was born in uptown Manhattan in 1945 to parents who had just arrived from Puerto Rico. His father, Steve Sr., was a drummer with the major Latin bands of the era, including Noro Morales, Miguelito Valdez and Pupi Campo.

Steve was given a bugle at age eleven and soon began trumpet classes in public school. But his real musical education came from his father’s records (which included modern jazz like Ellington and Bird) and his father’s musician friends. On the percussion side, his two greatest early influences were Willie Bobo and Julio Collazo, the legendary master of the batá sacred drum. Steve became a percussion apprentice under Julio; at the same time, Julio became his spiritual mentor in santeria, the Yoruba-based rites that are the wellspring of all serious Afro-Cuban music.

At 16, Steve started winning competitions with his trumpet, including five Apollo Theater first places. In high school, he becoming friends with his Harlem neighbor, budding pianist Larry Willis; this was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and jazz collaboration.

At age 19, he got his first steady gig as house drummer with a hotel band in Manhattan thanks to his father’s recommendation. He joined Mongo Santamaria’s band a few years later, playing both traps and timbales.

In 1981, he became a founding member of the milestone Latin jazz group, the Fort Apache Band. He’s been a crucial ingredient in Fort Apache ever since. Great drummers like Max Roach and Billy Higgins regard Steve as the master of bridging the Latin and the jazz tradition, a unique drummer who’s completely authentic in both worlds.

Because of this mastery, Steve is now a veteran of more than 300 recordings and has played and recorded with an enormous range of greats including, among many more: Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Michael Brecker, Grover Washington, Hilton Ruiz, and Miriam Makeba.

He’s leader on a remarkable CD of santeria-based music on Fantasy, Son Becaché. In addition to his continuing work with Fort Apache, Max Roach’s M’Boom and a spectrum of first-rate New York musicians, he’s a longtime member of the Larry Willis Trio. With the Trio, he’s recorded at Mapleshade on Every Rung Goes Higher (Mapleshade 08232).


Sunshower (#08532) Every Rung Goes Higher (#08232) Afterglow (#02132)