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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mario Bauza & His Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra

Mario Bauzá (28 April 1911 – 11 July 1993) was an important Cuban musician. He was one of the first to introduce Latin music to the United States by bringing Cuban musical styles into the New York jazz scene. While Cuban bands had popular jazz tunes in their repertoire for years, Bauzá's composition "Tanga" was the first piece to blend jazz with clave, and is considered the first true Afro-Cuban jazz, or Latin jazz tune. Trained as a classical musician, he was a clarinetist in the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra by the age of nine, where he would stay for three years. Bauzá traveled to New York in 1925 to record with Maestro Antonio María Romeu's band, a charanga, shortly after his fourteenth birthday. Bauzá returned to Cuba but moved back to New York in 1930 and reputedly learned to play trumpet in just over two weeks in order to earn a spot in Don Azpiazú's Orchestra. This was in need of a trumpeter to play on recordings for RCA Victor. Bauzá had been hired as lead trumpeter and musical director for Chick Webb's Orchestra by 1933, and it was during his time with Webb that Bauzá both met fellow trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie and discovered and brought into the band singer Ella Fitzgerald. Importantly, Bauzá introduced the young Havana virtuoso Chano Pozo to Dizzy, when the latter wanted to add a Cuban percussionist to his band; though Pozo was killed in a Harlem bar fight just a year later, he left an indelible and long-lasting mark on Dizzy's playing and compositions, co-writing several legendary compositions such as "Manteca" and "Tin Tin Deo". In 1938 Bauzá joined Cab Calloway's band, later convincing Calloway to hire Dizzie Gillespie as well. Bauza continued to work with Gillespie for several years after he left Calloway's band in 1940. The fusion of Bauzá's Cuban musical heritage and Gillespie's bebop culminated in the development of cubop, one of the first forms of Latin jazz. In 1941, Bauzá became musical director of Machito and his Afro-Cubans, a band led by his brother-in-law, Machito. The band produced its first recording for Decca in 1941, and in 1942 Bauzá brought in a young timbales player named Tito Puente. "Cubop City" and "Mambo Inn" Followed the success of "Tanga." Machito's Afro-Cubans, often played straight-ahead big band mambo music. Many of the numbers were covers of recordings which had proved popular in Cuba. The band played mambo-style dance numbers at venues such as Manhattan's Palladium Ballroom. Bauzá kept his post as director of the Afro-Cubans until 1976. After this he worked sparingly, but was always highly respected. He recorded a few Cuban jazz albums which had limited sales. His last band made a guest appearance on a 1992 episode of The Cosby Show.

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