I was 13 when I met Andy. He came into Hartford to do a concert with a local band, and our band opened up for him, so that’s how I was able to see him. He talked to us afterward, and he also came by our house to have some dinner. I’m fortunate to have parents that are very social and welcoming. My mom loves to cook, and once the food was mentioned, Andy was like, “I’m there.” [Laughs]
At that age, the only things of his I was listening to were probably with Hilton [Ruiz], Manhattan Mambo and Heroes, and I just remember focusing in on that bass and being like, “Who the heck is playing this bass?” So when I got a chance to meet him, I was like, “Wow, this is the guy that’s on all these records!”
The following year, it was around my birthday, and at the time I was renting a bass from a local place. I wasn’t too cautious with that bass, so the sides got all scratched up. When I brought it back to the company, they were like, “We can’t rent this to you anymore because of the condition it’s in.” So they took it away from me. Well, Andy found out. And sure enough, on my birthday that same year, he came with a bass that he had. He said he had an extra one lying around. I still have that bass to this day; it’s not the one I play but I have it back at my parents’ place. That was life-changing, and it just heightened my love for the instrument.
Further down the line, every three or four months Andy would take a trip up to Connecticut from New York and just hang with us for a Saturday. I recently found a VHS tape of my first lesson with him, and it’s amazing. I’m like, “Man, I still need to work on this, I’m still not doing what he’s telling me to do.”
I think he’s the most important musician in the Latin jazz, or instrumental mambo or whatever you want to call it, of that era. What he was doing, nobody else was really doing—staying true to both the jazz aspect of it and the Latin side of it. His records with Ray Barretto are priceless. And when I hear his sound, it brings me to a place that no other bassist does. Subconsciously, I guess … no, I know that I’ve stolen as much as I can out of him. But he was willing to teach me and let me have a lot of his stylistic tendencies.
Two years ago I got my master’s from Rutgers and I decided to do my final paper on Andy. I’d never gotten a chance to really interview him about things that I’d always wanted to ask him, and this was an excuse to do that. So I went to his house with all these lists of questions to ask him and, you know, tape recorder out. He must have said maybe five words. For the rest of it, he just played recording after recording, video after video. I must have been there for four or five hours, just absorbing information. Whenever I would ask him a question, it would be like I’d broken up the vibe of what was happening. So then I got the hint and I was like, “All right, let me lay back and focus in on what he’s trying to give me right now.” And it was amazing. No words. He just wanted to share knowledge all the time.
[as told to Mac Randall]