An obituary by Ben Ratliff for The New York Times.
Chocolate Armenteros, a Cuban trumpeter who was a standard-bearer of the Afro-Cuban musical tradition for almost seven decades, died on Jan. 6 in a nursing home in Mohegan Lake, N.Y. He was 87.
The cause was complications of prostate cancer, his son, Alfredo Armenteros Jr., said.
As Afro-Cuban dance music progressed from the 1940s onward, modernizing and gaining influence in New York and the rest of the world, Mr. Armenteros could often be found at the center of the changes, playing with innovators and popularizers including Arsenio Rodríguez, Cachao Lopez, Benny Moré and Eddie Palmieri. He was a strong, clear soloist who phrased as a singer does, with an organized narrative sense.
“For me, a solo is like a letter,” he told the musicologist Isabelle Leymarie. “In a letter there is the date, the name of the person it’s being sent to, the usual greetings, the content and the ending. There has to be a complete structure.”
Alfredo Armenteros was born on April 4, 1928, in Ranchuelo, in the Villa Clara province of central Cuba, where his father, Lazaro Alfredo Armenteros, who had been a trombonist in his youth, owned farmland and a grocery store. He was taught in his early years by Eduardo Egües, a teacher and dance-band leader who was a tenant on his father’s land, and who brought him into a children’s band at a local school.
After moving to Havana in 1949, Mr. Armenteros made his recording debut on the song “Para Niñas y Señoras,” with the singer René Alvarez’s Conjunto Los Astros, that May. Speaking of his elegant, aggressive improvising on that record, the bassist Andy Gonzalez told the historian Richard Davies that if music students “study that solo, they will know what the ‘swing’ of son is.”
Mr. Armenteros also recorded in 1949 and 1950 with the musician and bandleader Arsenio Rodríguez, a foundational figure of modern Cuban dance music.
He performed and toured with the band Sonora Matancera, with the pianist Bebo Valdés’s group in 1952, and, from 1953 to 1955, with his cousin Benny More, the popular Cuban singer. (It was around this time that he gained his nickname, for his resemblance to the Cuban boxer Kid Chocolate.)
In 1957 Mr. Armenteros performed in New York with Machito and His Afro-Cubans, probably the pre-eminent Cuban dance band in the city at the time. A year later, he returned with a group led by the flutist José Fajardo to play at a private dance for a campaign event for John F. Kennedy at the Waldorf Astoria.
It was a charanga-style band, characterized by the sound of the flute and two violins, and the band’s appearance in New York drew the attention of the manager of the Palladium ballroom, who subsequently booked it for a sold-out Thanksgiving dance — a central event to the growing popularity of the style in New York. By 1960 he had relocated to the city permanently.
Through the ’60s and ’70s, Mr. Armenteros worked with Machito and most of the other major Latin-music bandleaders of the day, including Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Larry Harlow and Mon Rivera.
With Mr. Palmieri, the pianist, he was the crucial link to an older Afro-Latin tradition in some groundbreaking works of early-’70s salsa, including Mr. Palmieri’s albums “Superimposition” and “Vamonos Pa’l Monte.” In 1975 he took part in the freewheeling past-meets-present sessions organized by the musicologist Rene Lopez, resulting in the landmark album “Concepts in Unity,” under the ensemble name Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorkino.
He also began making his own albums, including “En El Rincón” (1976), “Chocolate Dice” (1982) and “Caliente” (1998), and he recorded with the bassist Israel Cachao López on both volumes of the “Master Sessions” albums, the first of which won a Grammy Award for best tropical Latin album in 1995.
Mr. Armenteros lived in East Harlem. In addition to his son, his survivors include his longtime companion, Betty Ramos; two granddaughters; and six daughters in Cuba, although the family has been in contact with only one, Anacatalina Armenteros.