mario bauza

Latin jazz: “jazz in the top and the Afro-cuban rhythm in the bottom.”

Mario Bauza was one of the first to introduce Latin music to the U.S. by bringing Cuban musical styles into the New York jazz scene. Bauza called Latin jazz as “jazz in the top and the Afro-cuban rhythm in the bottom.”

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He was one of the most influential figures in the development of Afro-Cuban music. Afro-Cubans played with and incorporated the music of many important figures in contemporary jazz, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Flip Phillips, and Buddy Rich. Afro-Cubans strongly influenced the jazz scene in New York. 19-year-old, Bauza came to New York in 1930 to make it in the music scene, the racism in his home country of Cuba held him back. He was taken by the music scene in Harlem and he “found it was a place where he could walk down the street and not experience the same kind of racism that he was experiencing in Havana at the time, that he could feel free as a black man walking down the street and not feel that oppression in the same way.” Bauzá was 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. 

In 1941, Bauzá became musical director of Machito and his Afro-Cuban band led by his brother in law, Machito. “Bauza’s fusion African-American big band with traditional Cuban rhythms was ground breaking right down to its name…just the fact that the name that they chose the name for that band says a lot.” Bauza said in a 1991 interview, “Machito and his Afro-cubans, a whole lot of people objected to that Afro thing there.” It was the first time where we see this public acknowledgement through the naming of the band of something that is African derived. Bauza said “I’m of African-descent and the rhythm that produces the music we play is African.” “Nobody was acknowledging Africa all of a sudden this band comes out and right in your face it says, ‘Machito and his Afro Cubans.” There were even coded messages of Santeria greetings in the Latin jazz music. The band produced its first recording for Decca in 1941. In 1942 Bauzá brought in a young timbales player named Tito Puente.

(Source: PBS Latin Music USA)
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Dizzy Gillespie & Chano Pozo - Manteca

“Manteca” is one of the earliest foundational tunes of Afro-Cuban jazz. Co-written by Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller in 1947, it is among the most famous of Gillespie’s recordings (along with the earlier “A Night in Tunisia”) and is “one of the most important records ever made in the United States”, according to Gary Giddins of the Village Voice. “Manteca” is the first tune rhythmically based on the clave to become a jazz standard.

In 1947, Gillespie asked Mario Bauzá to recommend a Cuban percussionist for his big band. Bauzá suggested Pozo, a rough-living percussionist already famous in Cuba, and Gillespie hired him. They began to work Pozo’s Cuban-style percussion into the band’s arrangements.

The band was touring in California when Pozo presented Gillespie with the idea for the tune. It featured a bridge of two eight-bar trumpet statements by Gillespie, percussion patterns played by Pozo, and horn lines from Gillespie’s big band arranger Walter “Gil” Fuller.

According to Gillespie, Pozo composed the layered, contrapuntal guajeos (Afro-Cuban ostinatos) of the A section and the introduction, while Gillespie wrote the bridge. Gillespie recounted: “If I’d let it go like [Pozo] wanted it, it would have been strictly Afro-Cuban all the way. There wouldn’t have been a bridge. I thought I was writing an eight-bar bridge, but after eight bars I hadn’t resolved back to B-flat, so I had to keep going and ended up writing a sixteen-bar bridge.” The rhythm of the ‘A’ section melody is identical to a common mambo bell pattern.“

Same root, many branches! I love learning about Afrodescendants from all over creating together.