By Efrain Nieves
To write about Afro-Latin Jazz one must consider the influence from Jazz musicians of the United States. Nonetheless, when both distinct sounds fused, they created history that will forever connect Africa, the Caribbean and the U.S.
It started with the father of Afro-Cuban Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá. From the beginning the Cuban musician had talent attending the Municipal Academy of Cuba and at the age of nine he played the clarinet in the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1926 Bauzá made a short trip with Maestro Antonio María Romeu’s band to New York playing the clarinet on danzón recordings for RCA. This is when he first experienced Jazz in person and was inspired to learn alto saxophone and when he traveled back to Cuba, he studied and graduated from the Havana Municipal Conservatory.
Fastforward to 1930, Mario Bauzá moves back to New York and learns to play the trumpet within 2 to 3 weeks to play in the Don Azpiazú’s Orchestra. In 1933, he was hired as lead trumpeter and musical director for the Chick Webb’s Orchestra. While playing for the Orchestra he convinced Webb to hire the “Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald and met one of the greatest trumpeters of all time, Dizzy Gillespie. In 1938, Bauzá joined the Cab Calloway’s band and convinced Calloway to hire Gillespie. Bauzá kept working with Gillespie even after leaving the band in 1940 and both became life long friends.
In 1941, Mario Bauzá was hired by Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, better known as Machito, as the director and trumpeter of the Machito and the Afro Cubans. In 1942, he hired a young Tito Puentes, who we know now as El Rey de los Timbales. It is said that on the evening of May 29th 1943, in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Bauzá composed a song titled “Tanga” which is the first Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz song.
The new sound became popular and inspired Dizzy Gillespie. In 1947, Gillespie was in need of a percussionist and was introduced to the hot-tempered Santero Chano Pozo by Bauzá. Together, Pozo and Gillespie contributed to the new and popular Afro-Cuban Jazz music with “Manteca,” “Tin Tin Deo” (composed by Gillespie and Pozo) and George Russell’s “Cubano Be, Cubano Bop” which they played at Carnegie Hall.
Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz and the talented musicians behind its birth inspired many of the music and genres we hear today. If not for Afro-Cuban Jazz we would never have been blessed with the experience of listening to the rhythms of Tito Puente, Arturo Sandoval, Bobby Sanabria, William Cepeda and many more. This infusion brought together people from different cultures and gave the world the most beautiful gift of all, music.
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