Carlos "Patato" Valdes was the most influential conguero of his generation. In addition to his unrivaled rhythmic and melodic sensibilities, he also created the tunable conga, virtually reinventing the instrument in the process. Valdes was born November 4, 1926 in Havana, where his father played guitar with local group Los Apaches. A child prodigy, he mastered a series of instruments and began playing professionally as a teen, earning the lifelong nickname "Patato" for his diminutive stature. At 12, Valdes began studying congas under local legend La Sultana, honing a melodic flair that quickly set him apart from his peers. In 1946, he replaced the ailing Valentin Cane in the group La Sonora Matancera, and a year later signed on with Alberto Ruíz. In 1952 Valdes first visited New York City on tour with Conjunto Casino, and returned for good two years later -- another soon-to-be legendary conguero, Mongo Santamaria, recommended him to bandleader Tito Puente, and Valdes soon emerged as one of the orchestra's premier attractions. A superb, indefatigable showman, Valdes somehow managed to dance on top of his congas in the middle of performances, but he remained most renowned for his instrumental virtuosity. His first studio session, trumpeter Kenny Dorham's 1955 classic Afro-Cuban, vaulted him to the frontlines of the Latin jazz movement, and the Puente LPs Cuban Carnaval and Puente in Percussion further boosted his profile. He even taught Brigitte Bardot the mambo in Roger Vadim's cult classic 1956 film And God Created Woman.