Pivotal figure in the golden age of Cuban music, helping to develop mambo and Latin jazz. He brought Afro-Cuban sacred rhythms into dance music.
He developed his skills in Havana's nightclubs where he became a regular during the 1940s.
He was the leader of two well-known big bands and also served as one of the Tropicana Club's house arrangers.
He fathered five children by first wife Pilar, including future pianist Chucho Valdés.
He recorded with Nat King Cole during the latter part of the 1950s.