Master conga player Carlos "Patato" Valdes, the man that Tito Puente once called "the greatest conguero alive," died in New York last night (Dec. 4) of lung failure. He was 81.

Master conga player Carlos "Patato" Valdes, the man that Tito Puente once called "the greatest conguero alive," died in New York last night (Dec. 4) of lung failure. He was 81.

Valdes, who was born in 1926 and left Cuba for New York in 1954, has been described as the most melodic of percussionists, and is credited with developing the first tunable congas, a revolutionary development from the traditional instrument, which was tuned by heating.

Valdes' model, where the skin was fixed to a metal ring, was subsequently manufactured by conga maker Latin Percussion, with his LP Patato Model Congas becoming one of the top-selling congas of all time.

A slight, stylish man, who always sported a trademark beret, Valdes was a dynamic performer whose stage presence earned him comparisons to Sammy Davis Jr. In his 60-plus-year career, Patato played, toured and recorded with the likes of Miguelito Valdes, Damaso Perez Prado, Beny More, Machito, Herbie Mann, Cal Tjader and Puente.

He performed to the very end, and as recently as this year was touring with "The Conga Kings," a trio of percussionists that included Candido Camero and Giovanni Hidalgo.

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