A seven-time Grammy®-nominated percussionist, US Artists Fontanals Fellow and 2013-14 SFJAZZ’s Resident Artistic Director, John Santos is one of the foremost exponents of Afro-Latin music in the world today.
Born in San Francisco, he was raised in the Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean traditions of his family, surrounded by music. The fertile musical environment of the San Francisco Bay Area shaped his career in a unique way.
His studies of Afro-Latin music have included several trips to New York, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Brazil and Colombia. He is known for his innovative use of traditional forms and instruments in combination with contemporary music, and has earned much respect and recognition as a prolific performer, composer, teacher, writer, radio programmer and record/event producer whose career has spanned four decades. John has performed and/or recorded with acknowledged, multi-generational masters such as Cachao, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Bebo Valdés, Max Roach, Eddie Palmieri, Chucho Valdes, Buena Vista Social Club, Joe Henderson, Regina Carter, Chester Thompson, John Faddis, Ed Thigpen, Poncho Sanchez, Oscar Castro Neves, Arturo Sandoval, Nestor Torres, Pete Escovedo and Carlos Santana, among others.
John is widely respected as one of the top writers, teachers and historians in the field and was a member of the Latin Jazz Advisory Committee of the Smithsonian Institution. He is currently part of the faculty at the California Conservatory of Jazz (Berkeley, CA), Laney College (Oakland, CA), and the College of San Mateo (CA). He has conducted countless workshops, lectures and clinics in the US, Latin America and Europe since 1973 at institutions of all types including the Smithsonian, the Adventures in Music program of the San Francisco Symphony, the Berklee School of Music in Boston, UCLA, Yale, Stanford, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Michigan, among others. He has contributed to the international magazines Percussive Notes, Modern Drummer, Modern Percussionist and Latin Percussionist.
John was the director of the Orquesta Tipica Cienfuegos (1976-1980) and the award-winning Orquesta Batachanga (1981-1985). He was founder and director of the internationally renowned, Grammy-nominated Machete Ensemble (1985-2006). He currently directs the highly acclaimed John Santos Sextet Latin jazz ensemble with five full-length CDs under their belt to date.
John received the Community Leadership Award from the San Francisco Foundation in 2011. He was featured prominently in the PBS American Masters documentary, Cachao: Uno Mas (2008), and is the subject of another PBS documentary by Searchlight Films (Oakland, CA), currently in progress. He is an advisory board member of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (NY) and the Oaktown Jazz Workshop (Oakland, CA), and a Trustee of SFJAZZ.