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Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love: ‘It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba’

A new compilation revives the once ubiquitous, now mostly forgotten Latin-Jewish connection of the 1940s to the ’80s

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“Watermelon Man,” by Mongo Santamaría
This 1962 pop hit was written by conguero Santamaría’s then-new pianist, Herbie Hancock. So, what’s the Jewish connection? The arrangements of Marty Sheller, that’s what. Sheller grew up in Newark, N.J. (and then lived in Newark, Del.), and was a drummer-turned-trumpeter who grew up with both jazz and latin. His trumpet solo and arrangement on “Watermelon Man” helped give birth to the Latin soul music known as “boogaloo.” It was another tune that had to be in the repertory of every band booked at either bar mitzvahs or weddings. It was also the precedent for many subsequent record label’s efforts to get Mongo another crossover hit.

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Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love: ‘It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba’

A new compilation revives the once ubiquitous, now mostly forgotten Latin-Jewish connection of the 1940s to the ’80s