35 - 06159816
35 - 06159816

A Tribute To Mario Bauza


There are numerous reasons to pay tribute to the bandleader, trumpeter,

saxophonist, clarinetist and composer Mario Bauzá (1911-1993), a native of Havana and former resident of New York, where he arrived in 1930, on the same ship that brought another Cuban musician, pianist Justo Angel Azpiazu (better known as Don Azpiazu, 1893-1943), who spearheaded the pseudo-rumba craze of the 1930s in the United States.

As the author of the first alleged Cuban jazz composition (Tanga, 1943) Bauzá, became the architect of an entire musical epoch. Latin jazz, as we know it today, would not exist without Bauzá, who defined the basic characteristics of said musical fusion during his 35-year tenure with Machito & The Afro-Cubans. As Machito’s musical director, he did not hesitate in crossing the color line. He even had the audacity to use mainstream jazz musicians as soloists in a Cuban big band format.

It is mandatory to mention his roles as musical matchmaker, talent scout and generous mentor to several generations of jazz and Latin artists. Back in the 1930s, for example, he was responsible for the discovery of a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald, whom he introduced immediately to Chick Webb. Shortly thereafter, Bauzá stage-managed the professional arrival of John Birks Gillespie (1917-1993) by devising an imaginative plot to get Cab Calloway to hire the rebellious trumpeter from South Carolina, whose clashing wardrobe helped ensure his alienation from the squares.

Known for his trademark guayaberas and thick glasses, Bauzá was a consumate musical matchmaker. In 1946, he took Dizzy to Harlem and introduced him to Luciano “Chano” Pozo (1915-1948), a Havanese rumbero known for his tendency to wear flashy zootsuits and expensive French cologne. “Chano, take that conga and hum some of the stuff you got for this man”, said Bauzá. The rest is history: That casual meeting on 111th Street marked the beginning of the Cuban revolution.

Years later, Bauzá propelled the U.S. career of Víctor Paz, an outstanding Panamanian trumpet player that he had found in a city where taxis cut corners as if there were no mañana: Caracas, the capital of Venezuela.

Unlike other Cuban old-timers, Bauzá was not reluctant to share his wealth of knowledge. Take the case, for example, of the brilliant Dominican pianist Michel Camilo, whose personal style was significantly transformed in the early 1980s, when Bauzá turned him on to the vibrant pianist legacy of Ernesto Lecuona.

It is public knowledge that the central core of Machito’s orchestra was a family affair primarily conducted by Bauzá and his siblings-in-law, vocalist Graciela Pérez (simply known as Graciela in the music business) and bandleader/vocalist/maraquero Francisco “Machito” Grillo (1912-1986), who authored a couple of dance tunes with culinary themes La Paella (inspired by Valencia’s most delightful invention) and Sopa de Pichón (or Pigeon Soup, inspired by an alleged aphrodisiac agent of the pre-Viagra days).

Machito’s extensive musical honeymoon with Bauzá and Graciela somehow survived the rock’n roll invasion, but it came to an end in 1975, when the Mariano-born leader decided, due to economic reasons, to turn his big band into an octet for an upcoming European tour. Machito lived long enough to regret what happened. His band was never able to recapture the splendid sonorities engineered by Bauzá, who did not enjoy a viable contract as a bandleader and remained unknown outside of the U.S. Latin jazz community until 1992, when the German label Messidor enabled him to step all the way into the spotlight, after spending so many years behind the throne. By that time, the octogenarian pioneer had put down his trumpet and alto sax, but as a bandleader, he remained a shining source of inspiration and a rare fountain of knowledge, always willing to nurture younger musicians such as Michael Philip Mossman and Marcus Persiani.

  • La Jicara
  • Papiro
  • I Remember Diz
  • Kikiriki
  • You Are The Only One
  • Bolero Para Paquito
  • River Spirit
  • Ruby My Dear
  • Nica´S Dream
  • Todo Eso Y Mas