The leader, pianist and music diector of El Gran Combo, Rafael Ithier has been one of the leaders of the Latin Tropical music scene for more than four decades. Forsaking the modern influences of Latin music, Ithier has remained committed to his traditional roots. According to Charlie Aponte, one of the band's vocalists, "People say that Gran Combo is about the rhythm, and as long as that hasn't changed, then, the same sound and style are there." Ithier first attracted attention as a member of El Combo De Rafael Cortijo in the late-1950s. Leaving the group, in May 1962, Ithier formed El Gran Combo with other former bandmates. Among the many hits that El Gran Combo recorded are "Un Verano En Nueva York," "Jala Jala," "La Calle Dolor," "Acangana," "La Salsa De Hoy" and "Milonga Sentimental," Despite enhancing their sound with the addition of a trombone to their horn section of two saxophones and two trumepts, in 1972, Ithier and El Gran Combo went through their lowest point in popularity in the late-70s. Tours of the Major cities of Latin America and the United States enabled them to rebuild their following. In 1992, Ithier and El Gran Combo were honored at the Festival De La Salsa during a concert that featured Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, Andy Montfiez, Orquestra De La Luz and Grupo Niche at Madison Square Garden in New York.
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