Rethinking Latin Big Bands and Machito
Afro-Cuban Jazz: The Journey
Marco Rizo Ayala
More Thoughts About JazzTimes And Latin Jazz Coverage From Bobby Sanabria
Clave Chronicles is part
Born Prudencio Mario Bauzá on April 28, 1911 Bauzá was raised in the Pogolotti neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. His father was a cigar maker and local baseball scout and his mother was a homemaker who was bed ridden. Bauzá was raised by his godfather, Arturo Andrade. Andrade was a cultured man who knew the art of solfege and taught local youngsters piano and music. Andrade noticed that at the age of six the precocious youngster could play on the piano whatever his students could sing. This led him to tutor Mario on music and he began his studies on oboe and bass clarinet. By the age of twelve he was performing with the Havana Philharmonic. By the age of sixteen he was playing with the legendary Cuban pianist and composer Antonio Maria Romeu in his charanga orchestra (Cuban flute and string ensemble) in 1927. It is with this group that he first came to the US to record in New York City.
This proved to be fortuitous. Bauzá discovered Harlem and the culture and music of black America. He also saw Paul Whiteman's Orchestra at the Paramount Theater in NY. The featured saxophonist was Frank Traumbauer - who's virtuosity was featured on the Gershwin commissioned piece "Rhapsody in Blue." Bauzá went back to Cuba but vowed he would return to NYC to play Jazz.
He married his childhood sweetheart Estela, the sister of his boyhood friend Francisco Raul Gutierrez Grillo a.k.a. Machito. He retumed to NYC in 1930, and on the same boat was the Don Azpiaz? Orchestra, the group that came to the US to introduce Cuban music to the American public. When they got to NY Azpiaz? went downtown to perform and record EI Manisero/The Peanut Vendor. Bauzá went uptown to live with his cousin trumpeter Rene Endreira in Harlem. He began playing saxophone at house parties with pianist Lucky Roberts and began absorbing Black American culture. The same year yet another twist of fate would change his life and the course of jazz history. Antonio Machin, the vocalist with Azpiaz? needed a trumpeter for his own quartet who was about to record for RCA Victor. Bauzá volunteered his services and learned how to play trumpet in 15 days.
These early recordings mark the beginning of Bauzá's career as a trumpeter. By 1933, he became the lead trumpeter and musical director for Chick Webb's Orchestra. While there he discovered and brought to the band vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. He composed and recorded with Webb, "Lona" which became the basis for Edgar Sampson's "Stomping at the Savoy." On the original Webb recording Bauzá is featured soloing on trumpet and clarinet! During this time Duke Ellington asked him to join his orchestra and Mario consistently refused. In 1938, he joined Cab Calloway's Orchestra replacing Doc Cheatham as the lead trumpeter.
It was here that Bauzá would bring to the band a young trumpeter by the name of Dizzy Gillespie. In 1940, Bauzá formed the Machito Afro-Cubans with his brother-in-law Machito. This orchestra was the first to combine authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms with virtuosic Jazz improvisation, harmony and arranging. Although club owners consistently wanted to take the word "Afro" out of the band's name Bauzá remained steadfast stating "Afro-Cuban music is what we represent, every black man comes from Africa. I have nothing to be ashamed of. Either you keep the name or we don't play here."
Thus, Bauzá in his own way was not only a champion of civil rights, but of black consciousness years before anyone else. The Machito Orchestra championed integration by having Blacks, Jews, Italians, Latinos, etc, as part of the band, another milestone in the Civil Rights movement. By the mid 40's every major Jazz soloist wanted to record and or play with the Band Bauzá's 1943 composition "Tanga" is acknowledged as the first true fusion tune perfectly marrying Afro-Cuban rhythm with Jazz.
In 1946 Bauzá introduced Cuban conguero Chano Pozo to Dizzy Gillespie thus furthering Dizzy's education in Cuban rhythms. That same year, Bauzá led the Machito Orchestra in a concert at Town Hall that blew away the Stan Kenton Big Band. Kenton stated "This is the music of the future". In 1948 the Orchestra recorded the first Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite commissioned by Norman Granz and composed by Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill which featured Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich and Flip Phillips. They also began an 18 year reign at the famed Palladium Ballroom; the home of the Mambo on West 53rd and Broadway.
It was common for the beboppers who frequented Birdland at West 52nd and Broadway to check out Machito. This further strenghtened the ties between Jazz and Afro-Cuban music influencing artists such as Art Blakey, Max Roach, Horace Silver, and a whole generation of "bopers and mambonicks". Other extended works were recorded including the "Manteca Suite" and "Gillespiana."
In the early 60s the Machito Orchestra traveled to Japan bringing clave conciousness with Jazz to a new audience. Their sophisticated blend of complex Cuban rhythms and Jazz influenced others including a young alumni of the band, Maestro Tito Puente.
By the 80s Bauzá had retired; his contributions forgotten in the Jazz and Latin community due to ignorance, racism and downright lack of respect for the past. But a new generation of players like Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff, Richie Cole, Bob James, Jerry Dodgion, Rene McLean, Chico Freeman, Ronnie Cuber, the late keyboardist Jorge Dalto and acknowledge masters like Doc Cheatham and Cannonball Adderley to name a few had passed through the ranks of the Machito Afro-Cubans under Bauzá's leadership.
In the late 80's, through the efforts of Dr. Martha Moreno-Vega and vocalist Sandra Rodriguez, Mario formed a new orchestra made up of the best younger and older players on the scene to bring the Afro-Cuban Jazz tradition back to the public eye and its proper place in Jazz history. In 1990 he recorded "Tanga," a prolific five movement treatment of his 1943 composition. This led to 3 European tours and numerous stateside appearances.Mario's great legacy was finally started to be known and acknowledged by the general public. Two subsequent recordings followed; "My Time Is Now " and "944 Colombus Avenue". Along with "Tanga" these recordings are considered to be the three finest examples of Big Band Afro Cuban Jazz to date. In 1993 after years of obscurity he finally graced the cover of DownBeat magazine at the ripe young age of 83.
© 1997 Little Cho' Music - Bobby Sanabria and Jazz Corner. Any reproduction or use of this material is by permission only, gracias.