In 1956, a young mechanical engineer and avid photographer from the Bronx named Martin Cohen happened upon New York's famous Birdland jazz club. He walked in and was immediately captivated by the sounds of Cal Tjader's hot Latin jazz. Cohen was so taken with the infectious music that he became a regular at the Monday night jam sessions, which were headed by flutist Herbie Mann and featured percussionists like Candido and Jose Mangual, Sr. Cohen was particularly inspired by Mangual.
Because of the government-imposed trade embargo against Cuba, finding high quality Latin percussion instruments in the United States was a difficult prospect at best. This obstacle did not derail young Cohen's passion and he put his engineering skills to use to create his own set of bongos. Using photos of Johnny Pacheco's bongos, he created his first prototype. Of course, practice makes perfect, and this first attempt was not exactly flawless.
"This was the beginning of my learning," Cohen said. "I knew nothing about machining or about wood or metal working. The first wood bongo shell was cut on Friday, and by Monday it was a quarter of an inch smaller. I didn't realize it was wet wood which was cut and that it had to dry first."
Eventually Cohen received a contract to make cowbells for Rogers Drums and continued to sell bongos on consignment. He made a set of claves for Charlie Palmieri and he designed wood blocks and sound effects for Carroll Sound.
Cohen was introcuded to Bob Rosengarden, who was then the drummer for The Tonight Show. Rosengarden asked Cohen to create an instrument that would replicate the sound of the traditional horse jawbone with rattling teeth. Cohen's modern-day version of the jawbone, called the Vibra-Slap®, became the company's first patent. Rosegarden also asked Cohen to make a sturdier cabasa, as the traditional instruments were made from coconut shells covered in a fragile wire lattice. Using a textured material from the wall of an elevator rolled onto a cylinder, Cohen wrapped a bead chain around it and then attached a handle. This became the LP Afuche®Cabasa, the company's most successful patent.
Cohen's commitment from the beginning has been combining authenticity of sound with strong modern design. Today professional musicians and people play Latin Percussion instruments from all walks of life. Cohen himself still travels to clubs around the world, taking photographs and talking to musicians, gathering feedback from those who use LP instruments.