Timbalero and composer Benny Velarde is utterly synonymous with Latin jazz in the Bay Area. Velarde came of age as San Francisco was developing an influential synthesis of modern jazz and Cuban percussion, and he played an instrumental role in the new sound’s birth. Born in Panama City, Velarde fell in love with Cuban music as a child. When his family relocated to San Francisco in 1945, he discovered Tito Puente and concentrated on learning congas, bongos and timbales. First recruited by Salvadoran pianist Alonzo Palio, Benny soon established himself during a long stint with legendary vibraphonist Cal Tjader from 1952-57. He later worked with the likes of Mongo Santamaria, Joe Henderson, Errol Garner, Stan Getz, Luis Gasca, Vince Guaraldi, Lalo Schifrin, Walter Wanderley and other giants. As a leader of his own bands since 1960, Velarde, now 81, has nurtured generations of local musicians and is a beloved Latin jazz ambassador. With John Santos in the group as percussionist and musical coordinator, Velarde will be honored on this date with the SFJAZZ Beacon Award for lifetime achievement.