Obituary: Mario Bauza
Friday 20 August 1993
DIZZY GILLESPIE befriended Mario Bauza soon after Bauza arrived in New York from Cuba in 1930. It was natural then in 1939 when Bauza wanted a night off from his work in the trumpet section of Cab Calloway's band that he should give his uniform to Gillespie. Without Calloway's previous knowledge, Gillespie, then little known, simply put on the uniform and sat in. Calloway said nothing. Gillespie played well and Calloway liked what he heard. Gillespie stayed with the band for the next two years.
Although never a notable soloist, Bauza was a natural musician who at one time and another played trumpet, clarinets, oboe and alto saxophone. His career began when, still a teenager, he played bass clarinet with the Havana Symphony Orchestra and clarinet in the local night-clubs. He befriended Machito, later to become an eminent Latin bandleader, and the two played in Havana in a teenage orchestra led by Jovenes de Redencion.
Drawn by the exciting music scene in New York, Bauza moved there in 1931 and taught himself to play the trumpet in two weeks. After three years he became musical director in the Chick Webb band, where he had a hand in discovering Ella Fitzgerald. He married Machito's sister Graciela in 1938 and played with the bands of Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman before joining Calloway in 1939.
Gillespie had always had an interest in Cuban music, and Bauza had already experimented with fusing the Cuban rhythms with jazz improvisation. The two men worked on the idea whilst with Calloway, and it came to maturity when Gillespie's spectacular big band of the Forties featured, on Bauza's recommendation, the Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. It was obvious that the wild Cuban music with its complex rhythms would work well with jazz. The problems at first were that some jazz soloists were overwhelmed by the battering from the rhythm section. Gillespie and his musicians took naturally to the new style.
Bauza became musical director of Machito's Afro Cubans in 1941 and stayed with the hand until the two men finally fell out in 1976. Bauza was largely responsible for the band's success. He hired black jazz arrangers to give jazz voicings to the Cuban music played by the band and arranged for it to record with, at various times, Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, Howard McGhee, Cannonball Adderley and Johnny Griffin among others.
When he left Machito, Bauza formed his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, starring the trumpeter Victor Paz and the conga player Carlos 'Patato' Valdez. This band eventually rode the tide of salsa, a remorseless Cuban music with fixed and ultra-loud dynamics, which had for many years been hugely popular in New York and has now spread worldwide.
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