Best Percussionist - 2006
What was it like to work with Miles Davis? "Working with Miles was outrageous, eccentric, and wonderful. He taught me how to play more by playing less. He also taught me to be myself and not a bullshit artist," says Sammy Figueroa, the percussionist whose 2005 debut album, And Sammy Walked In, was nominated for a Grammy. Figueroa was born in the Bronx and began drumming when he was a young boy after seeing a local drummer perform live. "I forgot who it was, but I caught the bug. I started imitating him," he says, "and my mother got tired of me constantly banging on tables, so she bought me some drums." His professional career began years later when he was eighteen, when he was invited to play percussion for bassist Bobby Valentin's band. Figueroa quickly earned a solid reputation and subsequently has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Chet Baker, David Bowie, Marc Anthony, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion, as well as Miles Davis, with whom he toured for eight years all over the world. You can hear Figueroa's work on an assortment of pop hits, including Chic's "We are Family" and the Luther Vandross hit "The Night I Fell in Love." Throughout his career, Sammy has been a sideman to the greats, until he came to Miami, where he was embraced by the Van Dyke Café-centered jazz community and became the frontman of his own band, Sammy Figueroa and His Latin Explosion. Upstairs at the Van Dyke (846 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach) is where the Latin Explosion can often be found, and check out www.donwilner.com for more info about Sammy and his congas.