José Antonio Curbelo, a Cuban pianist, bandleader and eventually manager and concert promoter who was sometimes described as "The last mambo king," died Sept. 21 in Miami. He was 95 years old. The cause of death was congestive heart failure, according to the New York Times.
Born in Cuba, Curbelo moved to New York in the 1940s and played with a broad array of orchestras, including Xavier Cugat's, before creating his own band. With his group, Curbelo became a fixture in New York's Latin scene, becoming one of the Apollo Theater's house bands for a time and featuring a series of musicians that would go on to become some of the biggest in Latin music, including Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez.
In 1959, following the demise of the many dance halls that had served as spotlights for big Latin bands, Curbelo became a manager and booking agent, launching Alpha Artist of America.
"There was no future," he said in a 2006 interview with blog cubanosinfronteras.com. "Everything went down. I had to reduce the orchestra to six musicians to play jazz clubs in other states and I didn't like that."
With Alpha Artist, by the 1960s Curbelo represented numerous Latin bands, including the orchestras of his former musician, Tito Puente, and Machito, and later, more avant garde acts like Charlie Palmieri. He was known as a tough negotiator on behalf of his musicians.
In the 1980s, Curbelo and his wife, Orchid Rosas, moved to Miami, where he retired. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son.