Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BAUZÁ, Mario

(b 28 April 1911, Cayo Hueso district, Havana; d 11 July 1993 NYC) Trumpet, reeds, piano, composer, music director; credited as the creator of Latin jazz (a term he loathed). He was adopted and raised by his godparents, tutored by his godfather and attended Havana's Municipal Academy from age seven; he debuted on clarinet with Havana Philharmonic at nine and became a regular member from twelve. He played clarinet at Havana nightspots and met Machito c.1923-4. He made a brief trip to NYC in 1926 with the orchestra of pianist/composer Antonio María Romeu (b 11 September 1876, Jibacoa, Cuba; d 18 January 1955, Havana) to play clarinet on danzón recordings for RCA, and experienced jazz first hand in Harlem, having heard it on Cuban radio, and was inspired to learn alto sax by seeing Paul Whiteman's band.

He graduated from Havana Municipal Conservatory '27; played with Machito in teenage orchestra Los Jovenes Rendención '28; moved to NYC '30, travelling on the same ship as Don Azpiazú's Havana Casino Orchestra with singer Antonio Machín (b 1900, Sagua la Grande, Santa Clara province, Cuba; d 4 August 1977, Madrid, Spain), who are widely credited with introducing Cuban music to the USA '31 with their crossover hit 'El Manisero' (The Peanut Vendor). He learned trumpet in weeks to record with Machín's group Cuarteto Machín; sides featuring Bauzá were collected on The Original Cuarteto Machín '92 and Echale Salsita '94, both on Tumbao. He worked with numerous orchestras over the next decade, including that of Cuban trumpeter Vicente Sigler (probably the first big Latin dance band to perform in NYC during the 1920s), Noble Sissle '31-2, Hi Clark and his Missourians at the Savoy Ballroom; he was spotted while performing with the latter by Chick Webb, who hired him as lead trumpeter '33 and promoted to music director the following year. He was fired in 1937 or '38 after an argument with a club owner or because of jealousy of certain band members (accounts vary). He had met Dizzy Gillespie in Webb's band, and helped launch the career of Ella Fitzgerald by introducing her to Webb. He married Machito's sister Estella (c.1912-83) '36; he played with Don Redman and Fletcher Henderson '37-9, then replaced Doc Cheatham in Cab Calloway's band '39. He became a close friend and an influence on Gillespie, giving him a major break by faking illness to enable Gillespie to sub for him and be heard by Calloway, who then hired him. He introduced Gillespie to Chano Pozo '46, helping to change the course of jazz.

He joined Machito's Afro-Cubans in 1941, reorganizing and expanding the band; while Machito was absent for military service '43, Bauzá was said to have been responsible for the genesis of jazz/Latin fusion called at various times Afro-Cuban jazz, Cubop and Latin jazz, when he created 'Tanga' (meaning marijuana) during a rehearsal: 'Mario through his efforts married these musics to incorporate as much richness in rhythm and harmony as possible; all bands therefore that came after the Afro-Cubans were just followers,' said Chico O'Farrill. With Bauzá as music director the Machito orchestra redefined the Latin sound as hot Cuban music, as opposed to bands like that of Cugat, which played a polite style for white hotels; Machito described him as the architect of his orchestra.

Bauzá may have been the inventor of Afro-Cuban jazz, but many consider that the band's popular trademark sound was provided by the consistently jazz-inflected arrangements of Machito's arranger/pianist of 1945-66, René Hernández (d 1977 in Puerto Rico): in his native Cuba Hernández worked with Orquesta Cienfuegos and trumpeter/composer Julio Cueva (1897-1975); he joined Tito Rodríguez '66, wrote arrangements for many bands on the NYC Latin scene including Eddie Palmieri, moved to PR and played with Miguelito Miranda (trumpeter b 1920, Manatí, PR) at San Juan's Caribe Hilton Hotel. Bauzá produced the album Esa Soy Yo, Yo Soy Asi '74 on Mericana by Graciela (Machito's sister, singer with his band from '43), co-produced Dizzy Gillespie y Machito: Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods '75 on Pablo, both with O'Farrill, the latter nominated for a Grammy; but he split acrimoniously with Machito '75 after 35 years: he objected to Machito's son Mario Grillo being moved from bongo to timbales (to replace José Madera); the upshot was that Mario Grillo replaced Bauzá.

He organized a band with Graciela to make La Botanica '77 on Lamp/Coco, which sold poorly; continued guesting on LPs such as Rafael Cortijo's Caballo de Hierro '78 on Coco, Típica 73's Into The '80's '81 on Fania. Grammy-nominated Afro-Cuban Jazz With Graciela, Mario Bauzá And Friends '86 on Caimán included some former members of Machito's band, e.g. Victor Paz on trumpet, Carlos 'Patato' Valdez (see his entry) on conga; Bauzá/Graciela were also included in Rica Charanga '86 on Caimán by veteran vocalist Rudy Calzado. Bauzá commissioned O'Farrill to develop 'Tanga' into the four-movement 'Tanga Suite', which his orchestra first performed at Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church on 21 October 1989. He was Artist-in-Residence at Harvard University '90, conducted the Harvard University Jazz Band. After seeing his Afro-Cuban Jazz Concert Orchestra (with Graciela and Calzado) performing with Gillespie for Bauzá's 80th Birthday Tribute at NYC's Symphony Space April '91, German Messidor label boss Götz A. Wörner signed him up; his Messidor debut Tanga '92, including the 'Tanga Suite' expanded to five parts, was voted Album of the Year in the down beat critics' poll. He appeared with his orchestra in The Cosby Show '92 along with Willie Colón's band; performed on The Mambo Kings soundtrack album '92; toured USA and Europe with his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra; interviewed in BBC2 TV's Arena tribute to Gillespie Jan. '93. His Messidor follow-up My Time Is Now was released June '93; the following month he died of cancer in the apartment he had occupied for 50 years, the address of which provided the title of the posthumous 944 Columbus '94 on Messidor, recorded May '93: 'This is the last thing I'm going to do for the new generation,' he told Calzado.