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My Gig with Yomo Toro

By Mark Towns
Published: March 28 2001, JazzHouston

When I woke up Saturday morning (3/24/01), I had no idea that that evening I would be onstage playing with one of the legends of salsa in front of thousands of screaming fans.

The day began innocently enough. I checked my email. I had a message from my friend, percussionist Will Cruz, who mentioned that he would be backing up the legendary Yomo Toro, maestro of the ‘cuatro’ and former Fania All-Star. Cool. I had no gig that night, so I figured I’d go check out the show. I called Will to see who else was in the band. He told me his pianist, Armando Crespo, was having to play keyboard bass with his left hand. (They had done it this way Friday night.) So, I volunteered for the job as bassist.

Will had first tried using an inexperienced bassist who could read, but didn’t know - or couldn’t follow quickly enough - the tunes that Yomo would pull out of his hat at random – sometimes in the middle of another tune. Yomo didn’t use any charts anyway. So the ability to play lots of Latin head tunes and to follow by ear landed me the gig.

Will had video taped Friday night’s show, so he brought over the tape so I could see what they were doing. They did one short set, and I knew most of the tunes already. The ones I wasn’t sure about, I played along with the video a couple of times – no problemo!

I even made an audio cassette tape of the video and listened to it in the car on the way to the gig. So I’m thinking, hey I’m ready. Well, I get to the gig (an outdoor Puerto Rican festival with several bands – Yomo Toro is the headliner), and find Yomo and the guys hanging around back stage. Will comes up to me, and the first thing he says is, "Forget that video tape, Yomo wants to do all new tunes tonight." Uh, ok. I tell them, as long as the pianist knows the tunes, I can follow anything. Yomo seems satisfied with this answer. No charts, no rehearsal, no sweat. So what if it’s in front of a few thousand people?

So we’re finally on stage, the curtain goes up, people are standing, crowded around the front of the stage, yelling, cheering. Yomo begins with an intro by himself, then establishes the rhythm, and we’re off! Call it intuition, big ears, musical ESP, or whatever, but somehow, I nailed the whole gig, anticipating (correctly) the different vamps, breaks, and endings, too.

After the show was done and the curtain closed, Yomo came over to me and said, "So I got to play with Mark Towns." Wow - this legend, this maestro, this icon is saying this to me!

"It was an honor to work with you," I said.

He asked me for my card, saying, "I might need you again sometime."

Any time, Yomo, any time.

Visit the Yomo Toro Web Site

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