Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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LÓPEZ, Israel 'Cachao'

(b 14 September 1918, Havana, Cuba; d 22 March 2008, Coral Gables FL) Virtuoso bassist, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer, bandleader. One of the most influential of all Latin musicians, closely associated with the genesis of the mambo and a master proponent of descarga (Latin jam session); in fact his bass lines infuenced almost everything. The New York Times wrote in his obituary, 'The springy mambo bass lines Cachao created in the late 1930s — simultaneously driving and playful — became a foundation of modern Cuban music, of the salsa that grew out of it, and also of Latin-influenced rock ’n’ roll and rhythm-and-blues. For much of the 20th century, Cachao’s innovations set the world dancing.'

He came from a musical family, said to include at least 35 bassists; at age eight he played bongo with Conjunto Miguel De Seste, which also included future famed singer Roberto Faz (1914-66); he debuted '27 with the band of Ignacio Villa (1913-71, later known as Bola de Nieve or Snow Ball) providing music for silent movies; he played with the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra from age 13 until he was 44. Concurrently he worked with Marcelino González, Ernesto Muñoz, Antonio Maria Cruz and Orquesta Antillana; joined La Maravilla del Siglo '37 led by singer/composer Fernando Collazo (1909-39); following a quarrel with Collazo, the band members walked out '38 to form a co-operative led by flautist Antonio Arcaño (b 29 December 1911, Havana, Cuba; d 18 June 1994, Havana; he lost his lip '47), which soon became Arcaño y sus Maravillas, a flute, strings and rhythm section charanga francesa that interpreted the stately danzón, a Cuban ballroom dance evolved in 1870s from the 17th/18th-century French contradanza. The personnel included Cachao's brother, cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger Orestes 'Macho' López (b 29 August 1908, Havana; d Cuba). Cachao and Orestes composed most of Arcaño's repertoire of danzónes (up to 28 a week). They transformed the rhythm of Cuban music when they extended and accelerated the final section danzón into the mambo. 'My brother and I would say to each other, "Mambea, mambea ahí," which meant to add swing to that part,' he said in interviews with The Miami Herald. In 1937 it was a failure, he said, because it was too fast for dancing. 'People didn’t like it. When we slowed it down, then it became danceable.'

Orestes's danzón 'Mambo' in 1938, first performed on the radio station Mil Diez, is widely regarded as the earliest manifestation of the mambo rhythm; it took at least six months for the new danzón-mambo sound to be accepted, but by 1943 Arcaño's orchestra challenged Arsenio Rodriguez's conjunto as Cuba's most popular band. Cachao and Orestes feature on most of the RCA recordings by Arcaño y sus Maravillas collected on Danzón Mambo 1944-51 '93 on Tumbao.

Cachao retired in 1949 from the exhausting Arcaño routine to work in theatrical revues, opera, etc; he returned to the nightclubs '53 by joining José Fajardo's band, appearing with them at NYC's Palladium Ballroom '54; in '59 he re-formed disbanded members of Arcaño's orchestra to make two danzón LPs on Kubaney: Con El Ritmo De Cachao (reissued as Camina Juan Pescao and La Leyenda, Vol. 2) and El Gran Cachao (reissued as Cachao y su Tipica Vol. 2 and La Leyenda, Vol. 1), when other danzón orchestras had become charangas, playing cha cha chá and other rhythms.

The first descarga (literally: 'discharge') to be recorded in Cuba is presently understood to be 'Con Poco Coco' for the 10-inch LP Cubano ... Andre's All Stars '52 on Panart performed by pianist/ composer/ arranger Bebo Valdés (b 9 October 1918, Quivicán, Cuba; d 22 March 2013) and members of the Tropicana night club orchestra under the name of Andre's All Stars; the historic track was included on the compilation The Original Mambo Kings -- An Introduction To Afro-Cubop '93 on Verve; he made his recording comeback after 34 years with Bebo Rides Again '95 on Messidor. Panart organized a series of descargas from '56 with Cuba's best musicians, mixing Cuban idioms with extended soloing in a loose format: Cuban Jam Session (two vols) directed by pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer Julio Gutiérrez (b 18 January 1919, Manzanillo, Cuba; d 15 December 1990, New Jersey), Vol. 3 directed by tres player Niño Rivera (b Andrés Echevarria, 18 April 1919, Pinar del Rio, Cuba; d date unknown); Cachao did 'short jam sessions' as singles, then '57 album Cuban Jam Sessions In Miniature 'Descargas' -- Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente Vol. 4 (he received no share of the album's million-plus sales). Vol. 5 was by Fajardo and his All Stars '64. Cachao's other descarga recordings from this period included Jam Session With Feeling (recorded '58 but release delayed until '62), Cachao y su Conjunto -- Descarga '61, both on Maype, Cuban Music In Jam Session '61 on Bonita (reissued as Descarga Cubana '96 on Lucuso); he also played on 'Descarga Numero Uno' and 'Descarga Numero Dos' recorded c.'57 by Chico O'Farrill's Cuban All Stars, included on the collection Los Mejores Musicos de Cuba and Cuban Jazz c.'60-1 by percussionist Walfredo de los Reyes (who performed on Cuban Jam Sessions Vols 1 and 2), both on Gema.

The Panart Cuban Jam Sessions had a profound effect on the Latin scene in New York (inspiring descarga recordings by the Alegre All-Stars and others; see Al Santiago's entry), which Cachao joined '63 (via Spain), working with Charlie Palmieri, Fajardo, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Rodriguez (including LP Tito Tito Tito '64 on UA, featuring the tribute 'Descarga Cachao'), Candido, Eddie Palmieri (for nearly a year), Machito (for one or two years), and others. He participated in the classic Tributo A Noro '65 by Kako's After Hour Orchestra (effectively the Alegre All-Stars), Salsa All-Stars '68, both produced by Santiago, Tico All Stars' Descargas At The Village Gate -- Live '66 (three vols). He moved to Las Vegas, worked there with George Hernández, Pupi Campo and the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra; played on Tico-Alegre All-Stars Live At Carnegie Hall '74 back in NYC; then his own LPs: Cachao y su Descarga '77 Vol. 1 and Dos, Vol. 2 '77 (Cuban street scene painted by Henry Fiol on the cover) were co-produced with no commercial restraint by musicologist René López and Andy Kaufman to re-create Havana descargas and danzónes (recalling the days with Arcaño); the lineup with five violins included veteran Pupi Legarreta and younger Cuban Alfredo de la Fé, plus Don Gonzalo Fernández on flute, Charlie Palmieri, Lino Frias on piano, Manny Oquendo on timbales, Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros on trumpet, Osvaldo 'Chi Hua Hua' Martinez, Papaito, Carlos 'Patato' Valdez on percussion; the LPs received little airplay/promotion at the time, but have acquired cult fame since.

Cachao's session work in NYC mid-'60s to mid-'70s included LPs by Patato and Totico, Hubert Laws, Mongo Santamaria, Lou Pérez, Pedro Rafael Chaparro, Héctor Rivera and Charlie Palmieri. He moved to Miami early '80s: session work there included albums by the Miami All Stars, Tipica Páta, Conjunto Yumuri, Chano Montes, Pepe Mora, Hernán Gutiérrez (see Gabino Pampini), Ñico Rojas, La India de Oriente, Roberto Torres, Hansel and Raúl, Grupo Niche and others; he also worked with the Miami Symphony Orchestra. The team of Walfredo de los Reyes, pianist Paquito Hechavarria, percussionist Tany Gil and Cachao made Latin jam-oriented Walpataca '81 (reissued as Latin Jazz Descarga, Part 1) on Tania; Cachao led the same foursome with others on the descarga set Maestro de Maestros: Israel López 'Cachao' y su Descarga '86 on Tania (Fajardo was also there). His elevation from cult hero to merited status started '92 when Cuban-born, Miami Beach-reared Hollywood movie star Andy Garcia directed and co-produced the feature length documentary Cachao: Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos, which premièred at the Miami Film Festival '93 and had its UK debut at the 37th London Film Festival in November 1993, an event including personal appearances by Cachao and Garcia: the film chronicled the Cachao Mambo and Descarga concert promoted by Garcia in Miami in July '92.

Cachao and several participants from his Mambo and Descarga tour, including Paquito D'Rivera, Jos‚ 'Chombo' Silva on saxes, Chocolate, and the recent Cuban defector trombonist Juan Pablo Torres (b 17 August 1946, Puerto Padre, Cuba), performed on Paquito D'Rivera Presents 40 Years Of Cuban Jam Session '93 on Messidor. Cachao also performed on Gloria Estefan's Grammy winner Mi Tierra '93, the fastest-ever Spanish-language album to go gold in the USA. Garcia produced Cachao's first major label release Master Sessions Volume I '94 on Epic's Crescent Moon (run by Estefan's husband Emilio), which won the Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album '95, recognition at last for his seminal contribution to Latin music. Follow-up Master Sessions Volume II '95 got another Grammy nomination; More Legendary Descarga Sessions '96 on Caney compiled '50s/60s recordings as a leader and with Chico O'Farrill, Walfredo de los Reyes and Tito Rodriguez.