For the 98th Birth Anniversary of Bass Maestro Israel “Cachao” Lopez, A 2005 interview with Cachao and Bebo Valdès, an Essay About Cachao From 2012, and a 3-Hour 1991 WKCR Program About Cachao with Andy Gonzalez

Today is the 98th birth  anniversary of Israel “Cachao” Lopez, the maestro bassist and inventor of the mambo.  His genius is amply demonstrated in this clip from a concert at the Village Gate, Oct. 10,1989, where he joined Manny Oquendo and Libre. I had an opportunity to interview Cachao and Bebo Valdes in 2005, and am posting that interview below, along with an essay that I wrote for the program notes at Carlos Henriquez’ 2012 concert, The Music of Cachao, with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Appended in 2020 at the bottom is the transcript of a three-hour program on WKCR at which Andy Gonzalez presented his account of Cachao’s career.

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This interview was conducted before Paquito D’Rivera’s 50th anniversary in music concert at Carnegie Hall in 2005, which is why he is the subject at the beginning of the conversation.

BEBO VALDÈS & CACHAO (ENRIQUE FERNANDEZ, TRANSLATOR):

TP: Gentlemen, what I want to ask you is less about your lives and more about your relationship to Paquito, and why you’re here. I know that’s a life-long relationship for Paquito, that you’ve known him since he was a baby because of your friendship with his father. What do you first remember about Paquito?

CACHAO: The first experience I had with Paquito is when he was 12 years old, at a concert we did with the Philharmonic of Havana, a clarinet and piano piece by Weber.

TP: But you knew him before that, no, from going to his father’s store? He said you used to buy bass strings at his father’s store.

CACHAO: Yes. I worked with his father with the Martinez Brothers, the Hermanos Martinez. When I was working with Hermanos Martinez, I was just as a sub. I wasn’t working with them for too long. I think Tito was at the time still single. 1934.

TP: So you first played with Tito in 1934.

CACHAO: Yes. At that time, the bass had to play on time, because the way the beat went. [SING STRAIGHT UP INSTEAD OF SYNCOPATED BEAT]

TP: What was Tito like?

CACHAO: He was an incredible person. With the son, he was really correct. He imposed a lot of discipline on him.

TP: What sort of musician was he?

BEBO: [Very good.]

CACHAO: He played all the styles. He also went into the… He was in a military band also called Columbia.

TP: In Cuba in those days, was it important to play all the styles correctly?

CACHAO: Of course. When you were in the band, you played everything. When you played for the dancers, the dancers danced everything. They danced jazz, they danced pasodoble, foxtrot, everything. Then also, the other problem was the racial problem then. The blacks didn’t dance any of those other dances, like pasodoble.

TP: What did the blacks dance?

CACHAO: They danced really tasty, danzons, things like that. Then there was a thing called danza that they would dance also. When the danza would begin, most of the people would take their hats and go home, because they knew something else was going to start happening. I saw one of the dancers, and they took my hat when they left! I had to hang it there, and when they took it, I said, “Hey, wait a second; that’s my hat!”

TP: Did you play for whites and blacks?

CACHAO: Of course. Both of us.

TP: Where for whites and where for blacks?

CACHAO: The regional centers that were for the Spanish. For the Spanish, they had the Centro Studiano(?), Centra Gallego. For the Spaniards, the whites. Then the regular whites had their own places, like Lyceo and Casino, those kind of clubs. The blacks also had their particular societies.

TP: But the musicians weren’t segregated, or were they?

CACHAO: There was a time when there was a separation, but that was way before the ‘30s and ‘40s.

TP: Do you remember playing with Paquito that first time?

CACHAO: Yes. He debuted on clarinet with that symphony, the Weber symphony. Of course I remember that.

TP: Apart from being 12 and able to play like that, a prodigy, what was his musicianship like at 12?

CACHAO: He was complete. He was more dedicated to jazz than anything else, even at that time. He could play anything at that time.

TP: Paquito said his father taught himself clarinet so he could teach Paquito to play clarinet.

CACHAO: Yes, of course.

TP: Bebo, what is your earliest memory of Paquito?

BEBO: [I knew Paquito’s father.] There’s a place called Rivoli. That was at the entrance of Hidao(?). It was a place for blacks-and-whites at the end of the ‘30s. I played there a lot in the ‘30s, and one of the tenor saxophonists who was there a lot was his father. I had another relationship with him, because when I started working with the Tropicana, he used to sell instruments to the musicians who worked there. He was a great person, because when somebody said they didn’t have enough to pay the weekly fee for the instruments, he’d say, “Another week will come; don’t worry about it.”

Another thing between me and him: He was a boyfriend of this beautiful mulata named Silvia, and I was a boyfriend of her sister, so the four of us would go out together all the time. This was way before Paquito was born! Before they got married… She was so beautiful that… Before they got married, she married this Japanese journalist, Kochi-Lan his name was. He was a great Japanese print journalist. And Paquito was born in 1948. The same thing that Tito did with Paquito… I did the same thing with Chucho.

TP: Chucho told me that you told him to learn all the styles, and to start from stride piano and work his way methodically through all the modern styles.

BEBO: [Si, senor.] Yes, sir.

CACHAO: I have an anecdote about his son. I went to Bebo’s house one time, and Bebo said, “I want you to meet this jazz pianist.” He said, “I don’t want you to look at him before you hear him play, so just turn around. Put your back to him.” Chucho was 4 or 5 years old at the time. I heard him, he was 4 years old, and there was genius! I said, “Who the hell is this pianist?” and I turned around and it was his little boy!

TP: When did you both start listening to jazz?

BEBO: The thing is, the first pianists I liked… I was living in the countryside. I wasn’t in Havana like Cachao. The first guy I liked was Eddy Duchin, and after that was Duke Ellington. Then came my favorite, Art Tatum. I have two favorite pianists, Art Tatum and Bill Evans. Those are my gods.

TP: Cachao, you were in Havana. You must have been listening to jazz all along.

CACHAO: I started listening to jazz when I was really small. I was born in ‘18, and in ‘22 I already was listening to jazz.

TP: But the bass didn’t become prominent in jazz until ‘28 or ‘29.

CACHAO: Yes, from that time on, jazz took a different turn.

TP: Who were some of the first bass players who impressed you? Jimmy Blanton?

CACHAO: When I first started listening to jazz, the bassists weren’t soloists yet. The thing is, it didn’t start happening with Duke Ellington until 1930 onwards. There was this one bassist who had that way of playing. He had a bad temper, but I can’t remember his name. He was American. He was a really great bass player? He was a composer, too.

TP: In the ‘30s?

CACHAO: No.

TP: Oh, Mingus.

CACHAO: [Charlie Mingus.]

TP: When did each of you first come to New York?

CACHAO: In 1948. I just came to visit. I remember this really funny thing. I went to the White House. At that time, Truman was President, and Truman was a pianist. He had a great piano in there. At that time, they let the tourists and excursions go into the White House, because there wasn’t terrorism at that time. Then I went and they let me in with the excursion, with the tourists, and they heard me playing Truman’s piano. They let the people play. It didn’t matter if you were a tourist or not. They didn’t let you play. The pianos were protected by 5,000 people. At the time we’re talking about, jazz was really strong. All the guys who are important, like Ron Carter, were of that generation, and all of them were inspired by Charles Mingus. That’s the first guy I think started doing extraordinary things with the bass. Of the guys who are playing now, I think Charles Mingus was the main influence.

BEBO: Ray Brown.

TP: Paul Chambers, too, and Scott LaFaro.

CACHAO: Milt Hinton. He played with me in Cuba. We did a concert together. It wasn’t a formal thing. It was in a home. It was like a jam session. He was there with the Cab Calloway Orchestra at the time, and I was with Orquesta Arcano at the time. So he liked what he heard, and between the two of us, we started playing melodies together. We played the melodies of Duke Ellington. I would do the melody, he would do the bass, then we’d do it the other way, where he would do the melody and I would do the bass. “Sophisticated Lady.”

TP: Bebo, when did you first come to New York?

BEBO: In 1962. I came to New York and then to L.A. I left Cuba in 1960. The 26th of October, 1960. I went to Mexico.

CACHAO: I went in ‘62 to Spain. I went there for a contract for 3 months that was renewable, so I went, and then I could be renewed, so I stayed. And I’m extending it up to now! 42 years. I never went back to Cuba.

TP: You’ve been gone 45 years and not gone back. How does that make you feel?

CACHAO: What do you think? Bad. We’re Cubans. Imagine.

BEBO: But we can’t accept that government. Impossible. [No.]

CACHAO: In Cuba, musicians were never politicians. Because musicians were musicians for necessity, so you wouldn’t die of hunger. The musicians are musicians for the love and for the work. Since we’re not revolutionaries… I went to Buenos Aires with the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra from here, and the Consulate from Argentina asked me, “Are you Cuban?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You’re not going to go there and form a revolution, are you?” He thought I was going to go with this musical group to shoot up the place and overturn the presidency. That’s the kind of terror that was happening with the government we have there. We were simply musicians, pacifists. We have nothing to do with any of that. When musicians get together with musicians, all we talk about is music!

TP: So even though you’re both a full generation older than Paquito, you share the same experience of exile.

BEBO: [Si.] Of course.

CACHAO: Look at the way he had to leave. Paquito couldn’t live there again. To escape, he had to go up the down escalator, the wrong way. In Spain. Because if he went down, he wouldn’t have been able to come. He had to go up to escape.

TP: He took advantage of his position to record you. He produced an album by Bebo on Messidor, Bebo Rides Again.

BEBO: [Si.]

TP: And also you and Chucho a year or two later, and he produced the album 40 Years of Cuban Jam Sessions as well.

CACHAO: Of course. In Miami.

TP: Apart from your warm personal relationship, talk about Paquito as a musician. What dynamics enable him to pull off a concert of this scope?

CACHAO: Imagine the admiration we both have for him. Especially with his father. Bebo especially, because Bebo was all the time with Tito.

BEBO: My opinion about Paquito is that he plays divinely the saxophone. He has a really high range; he can go really high on the saxophone. As a soloist… In any kind of genre or style, he’s a great soloist. But now comes the best that he has. The thing is, the clarinet is a thousand times more difficult than the saxophone, and I consider Paquito as one of the best in the world in all the genres, in all the styles. There’s jazz players like Benny Goodman, but I consider Paquito extraordinary; his execution on the clarinet is one of the best I’ve ever seen in my whole life.

TP: What about his conceptual range? That’s a very Cuban quality, the ability to play all the styles on their own terms in an immaculate way.

BEBO: He knows all the genres, all the styles. Also, he knows very, very old traditional music from Cuba. I heard something from him of danzas and contradanzes from the 1800s. So his range is formidable.

TP: He did an album called A Hundred Years of Love Songs.

BEBO: He’s really concerned and focusing a lot on the music of South America, it seems to me. He’s really involved with things that are happening in Brazil and Argentina now.

TP: He calls it the music of the New World.

CACHAO: It’s his opinion as well as ours that the musician doesn’t have any borders. Nationalities are not important. We’re in agreement… There’s a saying from Spain that says [something like “the distance brings you closer.”

TP: It brings you to your roots. You share your common cultural roots.

CACHAO: Let’s put it this way. He’s in Sweden and I’m in Miami. It’s like if I’d be living next to him in Sweden and he lives next to me in Miami, that distance makes us close.

TP: And Paquito is in New Jersey…

CACHAO: The thing is that he may be in New Jersey and I’m in Miami, but I feel like I’m (?). The distance that separates us makes us feel even closer. We’re brothers.

TP: What do you think was the essence of the culture in Cuba, in Havana, that gave you the breadth of interest… What’s the essence of that cultural root that gives you the artistic expansiveness? I’ve heard both of you play every type of music. I’ve heard Cachao at the Village Gate with Tito Puente and with Libre, and you solo like Mingus times two! I’ve heard you play exquisite danzons. It seems the culture imparted to you a true artistic freedom in your musical expression.

CACHAO: You’re asking how is it possible that such a small island could give such an expansiveness…

TP: Something like that. We can go with that.

CACHAO: I don’t know. The thing is, it’s the tropics. The cold climate is not the same as in the tropics. It’s cold out there, and at 50 years old you’re dying already! The heat is so much that all you’re thinking of is hot things, and it keeps you hot. It makes you move from the hips to the top of your head! That’s a problem there.

TP: You were both playing dance music, all sorts of dance music. You were playing art music. You were playing jazz.

CACHAO: We have a facility in general in the Cuban mind. The example of that is the clave. [CLAPS IT] The thing is, Bebo and myself can’t stand a clave that’s crossed. We can hear a melody, and somebody is counting against the clave—we can’t accept that at all. You’ve got to shoot the guy! If that would happen, even the dancers would stop. You can’t dance if you cross the clave like that.

TP: A lot of the younger musicians I speak to say that the most difficult thing is to learn to play in 4/4 swing as opposed to clave. Was that ever an issue for you 50-60 years ago?

BEBO: First of all, I can’t say anything about the musicians in Cuba now. I haven’t been there, I haven’t heard them, so I don’t know what would be their particular problem.

TP: They just say it’s a difficult mental adjustment.

BEBO: It wasn’t a problem at all for us. Since the swing was close and the rhythm was so precise, as our music, we didn’t have a problem with swing.

CACHAO: You’re going to laugh now. The thing was, we had the music with the clave. A lot of our composers, because of the clave, they suspended the clave, so then they would change the songs, and then anybody could compose then and now. There are compositions now that they write where they suspend the clave. Even the singers don’t know where they have to be. This is a bass player, and they’re playing a 6/8 melody. The singer takes note that the bass player is lost and doesn’t know where he is. So she goes professionally, getting close to the bass player… She took advantage, that when the bridge was coming, she went discreetly over to where the bass player was on the bridge, because she was not singing it… She said, “Hey, man, what’s happening? Where are you?” He says, “What’s up?” She says to him, “6/8. We’re playing in 6/8.” But the bass player doesn’t understand what she means by 6/8. She says, “Don’t you know what’s 6/8?” He says, “Yeah, 48.” They don’t understand anything. Because we don’t say 6/8; we say, “6 by 8.” So he was thinking it was a mathematical problem, so he answered 48. So he really didn’t understand anything that was happening.

TP: You said you don’t hear the musicians in Cuba, but you know the younger musicians who left Cuba.

BEBO: Of course. Look at my son. There are some things that I am not in agreement with, but I can’t really blame the musicians over there for that. The musicians are really great instrumentalists and have a great technique, but the government forces them to study so many hours and practice so much that… When it comes to playing a montuno, there’s what the difference is. Most people anywhere can play a montuno, but that’s a characteristic of the music, and it’s been lost a lot. For example, there was a pianist who played with Cachao. He was a mambo player, and he played that montuno style that nobody else could play, and it was really typical. That part is what I’m talking about.

There are some virtuoso musicians who have come out, but when it comes to the traditional folkloric music, they’re not up to the job, not up to the standard. The thing is that those things are not shown in the schools. They can read anything you put in front of them, but those things, the personal inspiration of the folkloric, they don’t have that any more. If you go down to the countryside, maybe you can still find that. In Oriente, in the eastern part of the country.

CACHAO: In Oriente they say there was a bird who invented the clave, because the bird couldn’t sing. The bird couldn’t sing like the rest of the birds, so he sang the clave! The birds are singing da-da-da-da, and duh-de-duh-de, singing this beautiful melody, and then there’s a bird in the background going BATT-BUTT, BATT-BUTT-BATT. That’s why they don’t know where the clave really comes from. The biggest thing about it is that the bird this guy was talking about is extinct now. The bird is gone, but there are still eggs from that bird around. The egg is in Greece, in the mountains of Greece. So now they’ve got to go to the mountains of Greece to find the egg and incubate it to find out if it’s true about the clave bird. Because how could something like that happen? It’s possible. For example, somebody takes a train. A train has a rhythm, too. For example, if you stand between the two wagons on the train you hear that rhythm. If you listen, you hear what the engine is doing and what the wheels are doing, and when you least expect it, there’s a great rumba happening there!

BEBO: There’s a story that Beethoven was an abacua, and the story is he passed through Cuba. Have you heard the Fifth of Beethoven? It’s a rumba!

CACHAO: But it’s true about the train. I’ve stood outside the train, and you listen what’s happening with the wheels. And when you hear it coming out, it sounds like there’s a quinto and there’s a tumba—there’s a rumba happening.

TP: Duke Ellington also listened to the train. In the U.S. all the blues and jazz musicians listened to the train.

CACHAO: “Night Train,” for example. [CACHAO’S DAUGHTER ARRIVES]

BEBO: Everything that happened between 1910 and 1920… There’s a person I admired, he was my idol, and he was an idol of many people even at that time. That’s the person sitting next to me, and that man is Cachao.

There’s a story that Beethoven was an abakua, and the story is he passed through Cuba. Have you heard the Fifth of Beethoven? It’s a rumba!

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The Music of Cachao
By Ted Panken ©2012

His name was Israel “Cachao” López, he came from Havana, Cuba and during his 90 years on the planet he played the contrabass with the imperial authority of Koussevitzky, the Russian-born, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1924-1949), the kinetic precision of a Yoruba drummer, and the unbridled creativity of Charles Mingus. His old friend Bebo Valdés, a fellow 1918 baby, called him “the king of rhythm.”

As a child, Cachao played bass for a theater orchestra that accompanied silent movies. At 13, he began a 30-year run with the Havana Philharmonic. He moonlighted in dance bands, including one called Arcaño y Sus Maravillas that included his older brother, the pianist-cellist Orestes López, with whom, in 1938, he composed “Mambo,” introducing a swinging groove (nuevo ritmo) for the final section of danzón, an elegant, ritualized form—and Cuba’s national dance from the latter 19th century through the 1950s—that involves composing four separate episodes, each in a different tempo. Bandleader Damaso “Perez” Prado popularized the rhythmic weave, and it exploded onto the international stage, including the dance floors of New York City, where it evolved into the lingua franca beat of Latin Jazz.

Cachao’s mambo also propelled a series of recorded jam sessions (billed as descargas, after the Spanish verb meaning, among other things, to discharge electricity and speak one’s mind) with the best-and-brightest—and jazz-aware—Cuban dance musicians employed by the nightclubs and casinos of Batista’s Havana. They directly influenced the evolution of salsa as articulated by Tito Puente (Cachao composed “Oye Como Va”), Tito Rodriguez, and Eddie Palmieri, all of whom hired Cachao after he migrated permanently to the United States in 1964.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, directed by JLCO bassist Carlos Henriquez, will address both the danzón and descarga on this evening’s celebration of Cachao’s legacy. Now 32, Henriquez is a thoroughly 21st century musician, able to navigate the multiplicity of idioms that fall under the jazz umbrella, among them the clave and swing dialects, “without an accent.”

That this is no small task was made clear by the great jazz bassist Ron Carter himself. Speaking on WKCR in 2001, he analogized the jazz feel to “four beats straight up and down, like a picket fence,” while describing clave as that “picket fence leaning over to one side so all the beats move at 45 degree angles from the straight line.” Carter continued: “Jazz isn’t so filled with counter-rhythms, but Latin music has four or five rhythms going all at once in one tune, enough rhythms to last you for a week, held together by the clave beat. All the choices can overwhelm you. I’m amazed that they always pick the right ones.”

Cachao himself was no stranger to jazz. “When I first started listening to jazz, bassists weren’t soloists yet,” he told me during a 2005 encounter. He recalled an informal encounter with bass pioneer Milt Hinton, in Havana with Cab Calloway, perhaps in the late 1940s, at which they “played the songs of Duke Ellington together, one doing the melody and the other doing the bass.” Still, he “spoke jazz” in an accent infused with the infinite permutations of clave.

For Henriquez, the son of a trombone player and a dancer—both of whom were connoisseurs of swing and salsa—the “accent-less” approach is his birthright as a product of the South Bronx “melting pot.” It didn’t hurt to receive hands-on mentoring from the likes of clave wizard Andy Gonzalez and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra predecessors Reginald Veal and Rodney Whitaker, as well as such distinguished prior employers as Danilo Perez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Tito Puente, and Eddie Palmieri.

“I use Cachao’s concepts all the time,” Henriquez states, noting that the maestro, who learned the bongos even before the bass, extrapolated the rhythms of each component of the Afro-Cuban bata drums, but most notably those associated with the low-range tumbador, and incorporated them into his bass playing. “He learned the instrument with finesse and style, with accuracy and technique. But he also incorporated his life into the music. There’s a side that’s very street-oriented, ferocious, strong, dark, and powerful, which I love, but there was a sweet, beautiful side, too.

“The concept of tumbao [a syncopated, repetitive rhythmic pattern], of playing a fundamental part that becomes a leading part, is widely misunderstood. In African music, the bass is actually the moving line—focusing on the root rhythm and creating that as a solo. That attracts the whole band to you. Cachao was a magnetic force; he was the core of everything.”

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Andy Gonzales-Ted Panken, WKCR, March 13, 1991 (on Cachao):

[MUSIC: Descarga, “Criolla Carabali”; “Tunas Se Quemo”; “Bailando Entre Espuma”]

TP: You’ve done this before. You know the deal.

ANDY: I know the deal. I was up here last time for the Machito Festival with Manny Oquendo, and we did a pretty good show. Here, my partner in crime is Joe Santiago, who is another one of the bass players of my generation. We’re the ones who always… I guess we’re always giving credit where credit is due, and the cat that we picked up a lot from and learned a lot from, not so much by, say, going to his house for lessons or anything, just by listening to what he was playing… We really learned a lot from Cachao. To this day, there’s things to learn from listening to the kind of bass playing that he was doing, no matter what period, because he has such an extensive career, going back to the late 1930s. It’s an incredible body of music that he put together, and he sort of defined bass playing. Afro-Cuban bass playing was brought to a high art.

TP: It wasn’t just Afro-Cuban bass playing. Cachao is a world-class improviser.

ANDY: Oh, of course. Not only that. See, he comes from a family of musicians, and many of them were bass players. I heard there’s, at recent count, 40 bass players in his family, including his mother and father. So we’re talking about somebody that really knows the instrument. Not only that. When Cachao was young and just growing up, he was playing percussion instruments, too. He started out playing bongos. But naturally, he was playing the bass around the same time period, and bass playing in Cuba at that time was mostly in the danzon bands, the charanga bands, the tipica bands of the period. That was sort of the national dance music of Cuba, was the danzon. He has a rich tradition in that idiom, and it calls for a lot of classical style playing, such as bowing the bass instead of, say, plucking it. The plucking part was more percussive. That’s more the Afro-Cuban side of things. But the bowing of the instrument, as in any symphony, or any classical situation… He has the same kind of technique as the best of classical music.

So I guess Cachao to me is probably the most well-rounded, all-around bass player that I’ve ever heard. Because he can do all. He can play with a symphony, he can play with a tango band, he can play with any salsa ensemble, any Afro-Cuban ensemble. His knowledge of rhythm is so extensive, and he can just fit a part to something, either drum-wise or bass-wise.

TP: Another aspect of Cachao we’ll focus on is his compositions, which number in the hundreds.

ANDY: Yes, because he used to write a lot of danzones for the Arcaño band. That’s the band he used to work for — Arcaño Y Sus Maravillas. Jose Antonio Arcaño. He was a master flute player. And the leader of this band, Y Sus Maravillas, were the “marvels” of the age. At the beginning, they were called Los Maravillas, or de Las Maravillas del Siglo, which means “the marvels of the century.” This band really… In that band a lot of innovations took place. The creation of new forms of dance music, and new ways of playing it, and new combinations of rhythms and combinations of sounds in the rhythm section, including… You can hear Cachao bow the bass, slap the bass, play all over the instrument. It’s incredible; incredible to listen to this.

This is a whole part of the history of music, and I am surprised that jazz scholars who really studied the 30s and 40s and have a lot to say about the 30s and 40s, or even, say, the early New Orleans days…that they are not really hip to what was going on in Cuba. They mention it barely. It’s mentioned, like, “Yeah, this was going on, too.” But they really didn’t dig deep into that side of the African diaspora, or whatever you could call it, the African side of things. And they should have been more attentive to this.

TP: Certainly, musicians from Cuba and from the Caribbean made their mark on jazz music, but they were not particularly identified as that – they were identified as jazz.

ANDY: It’s also some cultural conditioning involved. Because I imagine for any jazz fan of that time to hear a danzon with the violins and whatnot, it would sound a little like hokey to them. It would sound like something else. But they were missing the point. And the point is the rhythm. And that’s the total point. To this day, still jazz cats have trouble getting behind the rhythm and how Afro-Cuban music works. But this is the master, one of the masters of any era.

TP: We’ll be having 2 hours and 43 more minutes of elaborations on this theme, with Andy Gonzalez on Cachao. Let’s talk about the three tracks we heard at the top of the show.

ANDY: This album is one of these strange records that came out in the early 60s, after the Revolution, of tapes of Cachao’s jam sessions, which he had done quite a few recording sessions. The personnel on some of these tracks, like, Yeyo Iglesias on bongos, Tata Güines. Papin also played on some of this stuff. The pianist wasn’t Jesus Lopez, who used to play with Arcaño’s band, so it probably was Orestes Lopez, Cachao’s brother, who along with Cachao were the musical directors and were responsible for the majority of arrangements in the Arcaño band. In the Arcaño band, Orestes played the cello. The instrumentation is 3 violins, flute, cello, bass, piano, and timbales — no congas at the beginning. The bass sort of held up the bottom and with the timbal and made it sound full, like the conga wasn’t really needed. He would slap the bass sort of like a conga, too. All those things are incredible.

I’ve been for more than a year now trying to hook up a way to get Cachao in concert together with Milt Hinton. We’re talking about some serious slap bass technique in jazz — in American Jazz and in Afro-Cuban music. Now, one of these days I’ll have my dream come true. But I’ve been waiting for that. I’ve been mentioning it to promoters, and they all say it’s a great idea, but so far nobody has acted on it. But that’s one of them I want to try to do.

The tunes on this album… It’s on the Maype label. It’s funny, Cachao… I’m glad that these records exist. But the companies that put these out were like bootleg companies. They used to rip off the musicians, and never pay them a penny for their stuff. So as much as I like the presence of having the record around, it’s a drag that Cachao never really makes any bread off these records. And they’ve been in print for 25 years, so it must be somebody’s making money.

Anyway, the tunes that we heard are “Criollo Carabali.” That’s an old Afro-Cuban chant of the abakua sect, or what would you call it… That’s sort of the Afro-Cuban version of the Masons. It’s an all-male society dedicated to preserving and sort of keeping each other cool. In fact, in the early years, they used to buy each other’s freedom from slavery. So that’s a chant of that style of music, abakua.

“Tunas Se Quemo” is sort of a descarga montuno, very simple. The tres player on this record is Niño Rivera, who is probably the most modern of the tres players and the most influential, besides Arsenio Rodriguez, who is probably THE influence on the tres. All these names I’m mentioning are just giants. Giants in Cuban music. Cachao was in there, too, as the giant of giants.

TP: We have cued up a collaboration between Cachao and Eddie Palmieri.

ANDY: This is not my favorite tune from the record, but Cachao gets a little solo in it, and I like the way he plays here. He’s a driving force in any band he plays in, but the collaboration with Eddie Palmieri was… I got to see that band live, in person, quite a few times, and I was thrilled by that. Joe, when was the first time you saw Cachao play live.

JOE SANTIAGO: Tito Rodriguez Orchestra.

ANDY: Same with me. I saw him with Tito Rodriguez Orchestra. I saw Tito Rodriguez’ Orchestra at the Embassy Ballroom on a Sunday afternoon in 1964. I was playing my first big-time gig. It was Federico Pagani, he was like the daddy of promoters in… He brought the Latin dance downtown to the Palladium and all this stuff. He’s like a legendary figure. Well, he was throwing these Sunday afternoon, all day,10 bands on the bill, and he hired our little Latin Jazz group. I was about 13 at the time. We were the tenth band on the bill. So we played, a little quintet, we made 50 bucks. But at the top of the bill was the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, Eddie Palmieri La Perfecta, Joe Cuba Sextet — the hot bands at the moment. So I got to see them for the first time. I saw Cachao play for the first time. I saw Manny Oquendo playing with Eddie Palmieri’s band for the first time. All that was great. The Colgate Gardens in the Bronx. Neither one of these two places I mentioned exists any more.

Anyway, this is the Eddie Palmieri band with Cachao. This was recorded around 1968 or 1969 – “Ay Que Rico.”

[MUSIC: Eddie Palmieri, “Ay Que Rico”; Orquesta De Fajardo, “Fajardo y su Flauta”]

ANDY: That was actually Los Treyas Cubanas, but it’s a tape that ended up in Miami and came out under the title of Fajardo, who was the leader of that band until he left to come to the States. So that tape actually isn’t Fajardo at all playing there, but the tune and composition and everything is Cachao’s. The title on the album is Fajardo Y Su Flauta, but the original title is “Julio Y Su Flauta” — Julio Guerrero, who was the original flute player who played in the Estrella Cubana band. But that’s a really nice, laid-back version of that. There’s another version that Cachao himself recorded of this tune that’s a little faster. But this one, they gave it a nice tempo.

We’re going to hear now a long, 18-minute cut. It takes a whole side of a record. It’s from the Descargas at the Village Gate, Live — the Tico All-Stars. This particular descarga is “Descarga de Contrabajoas,” the jam between the bass players. And the two daddies are here — Bobby Rodriguez and Cachao.

Now, Bobby Rodriguez was a whole other style. I think Bobby and Cachao were probably the two main influences on my playing (and probably Joe’s, too, I guess). They were the cats, man. They were the ones with the best technique, the prettiest way of playing. Bobby was very pretty in his sound especially. There’s a very pronounced difference in their tone quality. Even the way they hit the strings is different. Bobby has more of a bell, clear, ringing kind of note thing, and Cachao is funkier, a little more street when it comes to plucking the strings and slapping the bass and whatnot. They’re playing two Ampeg Baby Basses here. Tone-wise, they still get their tone out, but sometimes the sound can be a little strange. But they do some great stuff here, and they just talk to each other back and forth.

TP: The liner notes attribute this to May 1966.

[MUSIC: Cachao-Bobby Rodriguez, “Descarga de Contrabajos”; “El Fantasma Del Combo”]

ANDY: Israel Lopez, Cachao, the great bass player of Afro-Cuban music. The track we just heard was one of his many descarga, or Cuban jam session recordings. This one is on a strange label called Musicalia. Even the cover is real strange. It says, Cuban Music In Jam Session, Cachao, in big letters, and then there’s a photograph of two dancers, a lady who has on a bikini-like outfit, her arms look like they’re crossed or tied together, and then the guy is leaning down, and it’s shot in the woods somewhere — a very strange photo. Anyway, it’s a great album for the things that are on it.

The tune we heard was called “El Fantasma Del Combo.” All those little effects and all the…that’s right out of Cachao’s ideas about doing things. I was fortunate enough to participate in something that he did years later for the Salsoul label. I’ve been to a few rehearsals where he puts these things together, and he just comes up with these crazy ideas. He sets up the percussion and everything the way he wants them to start off. He orchestrates a jam session.

Which is in contrast to that mish-mosh of a thing at the Village Gate, which I don’t care for that much except for the things that Cachao and Bobby Rodriguez get to play on it. But since it was out of their control, a lot of other things were happening that really had nothing to do with… Just good playing. But I just think that track is valuable for their work together, because it’s very rare when two bass players play together on a record — it’s usually just one bass and that’s it.

Now we’re going to start delving into Cachao’s past, in the real early days. We’ve mostly been listening to 50s and 60s work. We’re going back now to 1938 or 1939, I believe. The original source of this bass solo is a Koussevitzky concerto, Koussevitzky was a Russian composer and a bass player, and he used to write for the bass. They took this piece of music and adapted it for a bass solo in the Cuban danzon tradition. We’re going to hear two versions of this. Cachao recorded it in 1938 and then recorded it again in 1957 or so. We’re going to hear the early version, and then you’ll hear the newer version.

[MUSIC: Cachao, “Canta Contrabajo” (1938 and 1957)]

ANDY: I made a slight error. The first tune that we heard on my tape of real early stuff, I believe it was called “Al de Lante(?),” Cachao as musical director along with his brother of the Arcaño Y Sus Maravillas band of 1938 or so. I’m not positive of the exact date. We’ll now delve into that particular time period, because there are so many innovations going on, not only on the bass itself, but the transforming of the whole rhythm section happened in that band — and Cachao had quite a bit to do with it. In this time period, there was no conga drum in this style of band. The conga drum was sort of a lowly… They weren’t given much attention. They considered it a very street instrument, and it wasn’t accepted in the salon de baile, in polite society dancing, of which danzon was a strong part. But in the Arcaño band, the conga was introduced around 1946-47-48, that time period.

We’ll hear the band before the conga drum was introduced, from the very early Arcaño recordings. These are all done around 1938-39-40. There is no conga drum, so the bottom of the band is in the hands of Cachao, and in the hands of Ulpiano Diaz, who was the timbal player in the band. Listen particularly to the interplay between Cachao playing what they call the tumbao, the bass figure, plus he’ll be slapping the bass. You’ll hear slaps. You’ll hear little things that sound like percussive effects, like from a conga drum, but they’re not. They’re from the bass. That in conjunction with the left hand of the timbales, which plays a beat that’s a very bass kind of sound…those two things are the bottom of the sound of this band. And it’s 3 violins, a cello, flute — the great Arcaño himself on the flute, a tremendous flute player, with a very distinctive, sweet style. And the great Jesus Lopez on piano, who was one of the more, I guess…how would I call it…the chops — Mr. Chops. This guy was sort of the Art Tatum of his day, but in an Afro-Cuban way.

[MUSIC: Arcano Y Sus Maravillas with Cachao, 1938-39]

ANDY: That was a good dose of early Arcaño and then the last tune was “Buena Vista Social Club,” which is from the El Gran Cachao album on Kubaney Records (1958). This is I guess what the Arcaño band would have been like 20 years later, from the period that we were listening to the old 78s. For the recording, Cachao some woodwinds. You heard bass clarinet, you hear a clarinet; it added an extra texture to the sound of the arrangements of the danzon, of the strings and flute sound. So that was a pretty nice thing that he did on that record.

Now, the earlier cuts… I know all the melodies, and I’m a little vague on the titles. I wish Rene Lopez was here to help me out with the titles on some of these songs. But they were all Cachao’s arrangements. Although on the 78, I guess if you really listen closely, you can hear all the things Cachao is doing on the bass to make that bottom happen in the music, because there’s no conga…

[END OF SIDE 2]

[SIDE 3]

ANDY: …that’s where all his musical background really comes from. And then, the other side of Cachao, which is the street musician, who used to play bongos in little street ensembles and whatnot.

We’re going to hear a very historical recording, mainly because of the fact that we have… This is the record entitled Patato y Totico. It was recorded on Verve Records, and Teddy Reig produced it. Patato Valdes is well known to jazz fans. He’s been recording on jazz albums with Art Blakey and Max Roach and all these people since the middle 50s. But he got together his own recording session with Totico singing, and he managed to get Arsenio Rodriguez and Cachao on the same session.

[MUSIC: Patato-Totico-Cachao-Arsenio, “Mas Que Nada”; Descarga, “Rendencion”; Gran Orquesta Tipica, “Mambo Tipico”; Cachao, “Maria Elena”; Eddie Palmieri-Cachao, “Busca Lo Tuyo”–skips]

ANDY: Sorry for the scratchy record, but I couldn’t get a better copy of this. That was Cachao playing with Eddie Palmieri in one of Eddie’s best bands. Manny Oquendo playing bongos, and Luis Miranda on conga, and Barry Rogers taking a tremendous trombone solo…

TP: I guess you play that one a lot, Andy.

ANDY: Yes, this particular copy of the record I found in a budget bin somewhere, and it was used. I didn’t think it would skip on the tune, though. I couldn’t find my other copy. It’s one of those records that I used to play a lot, and my good copy got lost. But you could hear the driving force of Cachao in the Eddie Palmieri band. It was just such a good-sounding rhythm section — Cachao and Manny and Luis Miranda and Eddie on the piano. A driving rhythm section.

Cachao during his career… When he came from Cuba and settled in New York, he worked with quite a few bands. He did a lot of freelance work, did some symphony work. He did spend a good I guess two years or so with the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, and recorded a few albums, did some touring. They tell me he wrote some charts for the band that they never recorded, which I would have liked to hear. In particular he wrote a danzon that I’d like to have heard, a big band arrangement of one of Cachao’s danzons. But I’ll have to wait until Tito Rodriguez, Jr., digs it up out of his father’s extensive library of arrangements.

During the time that Tito Rodriguez had Cachao in the band, which was a tremendous period for the band… The Tito Rodriguez Orchestra was always a top-notch unit. Other players around that time… He always had the best — the best accompanists in that band. So imagine that Cachao would be playing, and then he managed to steal Rene Hernandez away from the Machito Orchestra, and quite a few other players of note. Like, Mario Rivera used to play the baritone sax in Tito Rodriguez’s orchestra at the time. Also the lead alto was Bobby Porcelli. Just some great musicians.

TP: Before we play the next recording, by Tito Rodriguez, please run down the music we heard before the Eddie Palmieri track.

ANDY: Before the Eddie Palmieri thing, we heard a tune called “Maria Elana,” which Cachao wrote for his daughter on her birthday. That was recorded when Cachao was a member of the Fajardo Orchestra, which he spent some time with Jose Fajardo’s Orchestra. You can see him on the cover of some of the Panart albums.

Before that we heard the Gran Orquesta Tipica, “Mambo Tipico.” This was an album entitled The 64 Professors. What they did was they put together all the great violinists and flute
players and leaders of all the charanga bands in Cuba that were coming up during the 50s. They were very strong. They were the most popular bands. We’re talking about the America Orchestra, Enrique Jorrin, just the great figures of the music. And Cachao, his brother Jesus Lopez on piano; Ulpiano Diaz on timbales — people like that. They just all banded together to record a record of… Imagine. Full strings. It almost sounds like a symphony playing danzones. This tune was titled “Mambo Tipico.” That’s what it was. It wasn’t a danzon; it was a mambo of the genre at that time. It wasn’t the New York style mambo, which is quite a bit more frenetic and a lot faster. But the original Cuban mambo was a nice, slow-to-medium tempo kind of groove. That was a good example of it.

Before that we heard one of the Descarga albums, a tune called “Redencion,” which was written by Orestes Lopez, Cachao’s brother.

Now we’re going to play something Tito Rodriguez recorded, from a CD called Big Band Latino. I’m curious to hear this because I owned the original record when it came out on Musicorp Records, and I’m curious how they remastered it. The people at the Palladium label from Barcelona, Spain, are very meticulous. They put out some Machito records, and the sound is tremendous on them. The track we’ll hear is “Esti Es Mi Orquesta,” “This Is My Orchestra,” which was a direct cop off a Stan Kenton record by the same name — This is An Orchestra. Tito Rodriguez narrates a whole thing about having a band, and the musicians in the band — he names all the musicians and has them all play something. The arrangement itself is… Well, they adapted just the words Stan Kenton said about having a big band, and they translated that into Spanish, but then the rest of the arrangement is an original arrangement. Cachao gets a nice little taste here, and so do all the other members, some of whom are quite prominent today on the scene. This cut lasts a good 12 minutes.

[Tito Rodriguez, “Esti Es Mi Orquesta”]

ANDY: That was the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra with Cachao on the bass and all the other great musicians in that band at the time period — that was around 1964 or 1965. Tito Rodriguez gave up his big band around 1965 and moved to Puerto Rico.

And Cachao? Well, Cachao always was in demand as a player. He could fit in any situation, and got to play with all the bands really. I saw Cachao play with Machito’s orchestra. That was tremendous! I saw him play with Orchestra Broadway, most of the bands. But I guess the bands that he most impressed me with from what I saw in person was the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, which you just heard, and the Eddie Palmieri band. To me, those were where he really got a chance to shine as a section player, as part of the rhythm section.

We’re missing quite a few records that I wish we would have had a chance to play tonight. I guess we’re going to have to do Cachao, part 2, and bring in all the stuff that we’ve been missing. There’s a bunch of live tapes also of Cachao with Manny Oquendo and Libre, with two basses. I had the honor of playing along with Cachao last year, doing the two-bass thing at SOB’s, at the Village Gate, and most recently at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Unfortunately, I misplaced my tape from Atlanta. I was tearing the house apart looking for it to bring it here so you could hear it. But I’ll have to wait until Cachao, part 2, to play it.

Also, the records Cachao recorded in the middle 70s for the Salsoul label, which he got to play some of his early danzon arrangements, newly recorded in the studio, and he also got to do new descargas, and he brought together people like El Negro Vivar on trumpet… Those were his last record dates before El Negro passed away of a heart attack in Miami. He was one of the great trumpet soloists of Cuban music. Chocolate is on the recording also, the other daddy of the trumpet. Papaito is playing there, and Virgilio Marti — quite a few of the Cuban Mafia in New York played on those records. Unfortunately, right now, they’re not here. But we’ll get to hear them on another occasion.

But that was the first that people had heard about Cachao in quite a few years. Especially the New York scene, of which he was quite popular here. He got to play on some of the Allegre All Stars things, the Tico All Stars. He took part in quite a few recordings with Charlie Palmieri, and quite a number of sideman dates. So his work as a leader didn’t revive until around 77-78, when he recorded the albums for Salsoul under Andy Lopez’ and Andy Kaufman’s production. We’ll get to hear those on I guess our second part. Cachao is so prolific a composer and a musician and a record-maker, although as a leader there are not many recordings.

Also, there’s a few that he recorded recently, in the last couple of years, for a small label in Miami. I think the label is entitled Tania Records…as opposed to Fania records, I guess…I don’t know. But there’s some great, great contemporary Cachao bass solos on those records also. Unfortunately, again, they’re not here.

But we do have quite a bit of Cachao’s early career and we do have quite a bit of his middle career, which… A lot of people consider that some of his best work took place in the middle to late 50s in Cuba with his cohorts and contemporaries, such as Emilio Rivera. Tata Guines, the great conga virtuoso who took the conga farther than it ever had gone as a musical instrument in the 50s — he’s a very strong influence on just anybody who’s playing congas today. He was quite a part of Cachao’s entourage in Cuba during the time when they were recording those Cuban Jam Session records.

We’re going to return to the Cuba Jam Session period now and hear a town called “La Luz.”

[MUSIC: “La Luz”]

[END OF SIDE 3]

[MUSIC: “La Luz” (skip)”; “El Manicero”; “Juan Pescao”; “La Luz”; Cachao Descarga-Nino Rivera, “Potpourri de Congas”;

ANDY: That was the great Niño Rivera on tres with Cachao and his Descarga group. On bongos of course was Yeyito, and on the congas was Tata Guines, on the timbales was Guillermo Barretto, and I imagine that was Cachao’s brother playing the piano. Those are classic recordings, and they are more obscure ones, because the great album that everybody knows is the Descargas In Miniature album, which we don’t have a copy of here, but we’ll get it for part-2.

All these records were originally recorded… The first Descargas in Miniature were done… The reason they called them “In Miniature” is because they were all done for release on 45s, of which I have a few. As a matter of fact, I didn’t realize it until I started hunting through some record bins in Chicago and ran across some Panart 45s of some of the tunes from the first Descarga album. That one to me is the classic of classics. If they ever have Grammys for classic albunms, that should win one, because Cachao really put together a stellar organization, and his ideas and the way he puts little jams together, he really sets them up. They don’t just happen. He sets them up real nice.

Basically, the two great recording feats of Cachao’s career are the whole thing with the danzon and the tradition, and how he sort of was instrumental in new innovations in Cuban music. And then, the whole thing with the descargas, of which I hear that he wasn’t the very first to do a Cuban jam session — there were other albums. But the ones he put together are considered…they’re classics of the genre.

We just heard quite a few of these little Cuban descargas. There was one called “Potpourri of Congas,” which started to skip so we had to take it off. These are old records, man. Some of them I’ve played to death for years and years, and unfortunately as best as we can clean them, they still skip.

TP: We made an adjustment on “La Luz.” Meticulous cleaning job!

ANDY: I’ve been collecting records for so many years, you learn that sometimes you have to put some soap and water to it and scrub out the gunk. And they play! You’d be surprised. Vinyl is very resilient. They spring back to life.

Anyway, we’ll get back to some early Cachao. We’d like to continue this on another occasion and have Cachao Part 2 with more of his great solo work. Unfortunately we weren’t able to bring some of that material with us today. But we’re trying to give you an all-around view of how great a musician he is. Hopefully, to those who have never seen him play in public, make a definite attempt to see him in person. He is one of the most dynamic figures to watch while playing, because he does so many things. He’s an entertainer. He knows you’re watching. He’ll do some stuff to dazzle you. Watching him play whatever he’s playing, his tumbaos or whatever, and then all of a sudden he’ll just surprise you with something and make you go nuts.

We’ll hear some of Cachao’s arrangements from the Arcaño band. He’s playing bass, of course. He doesn’t get much of a chance to do any solo work on these records. But, what he does do in the rhythm section, behind the rhythm section, as an accompanist and as just an all-around player, there’s quite a bit of very interesting stuff going on. All bass players give an extra ear to this.

[MUSIC: Cachao-Arcaño, “El Nono Toca” and more titles from early 40s]

ANDY: That was the music of Arcaño Y Sus Maravillas, and that last track was called “Cubanita,” and that was Los Hermanos Rigual that were singing the front part of the tune. They were pretty well known as a trio singing in harmony. They did some work with the Machito Orchestra, particularly with Graciela on “Contigo En la Distancia.”

That’s it. We’re wrapping it up. We haven’t really, except for a couple of instances, shown Cachao in the light of being the great soloist that he is, and that’s what I think the 2nd part of our Cachao special should focus on.

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Filed under Andy Gonzalez, Bass, Bebo Valdes, Cachao, WKCR

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