The year 1959 along with the decade that follows can be characterized as a period of musical transition, not only for the island’s popular music but for Cuban jazz as well, despite the fact that the revolution that overthrew the Batista dictatorship, from its very inception, dramatically affected almost all aspects of national life. The most notable tendency that we find in the first years of the victorious revolution is the consolidation of styles, songwriters and performers who had excelled in the previous decade, but who would now "arrive", as the barriers impeding their definitive success were broken. The typical example is 'feeling', whose primary exponents finally acquire unobstructed access to all media --records, television and cinema-- and many become singing stars in Cuba. In popular danceable music, new rhythms and ensembles will experience sudden --though ephemeral (pachanga, pilón, pacá, mozambique)-- success, while Aragón, Enrique Jorrín, Benny Moré, Roberto Faz and other renowned artists remain unaffected (1).
As we previously stated, historical periods don’t usually end on a precise date, nor do new ones begin on the following day. So it was that the Club Cubano de Jazz, for example, stayed together until 1960 and only dissolved when the United States and Cuba broke diplomatic relations, which led to the suspension of flights between both countries and the interruption of the fruitful contact between Cuban and North American musicians. But already in January of 1959 an impasse had arisen, not only in the Club, but also in the functioning of all the cabarets. And it was understandable, for there were still armed confrontations in Havana and other cities, and mobs that took advantage of the situation to carry out assaults, with cabarets and casinos being one of their favorite targets. Hotels like the Deauville (on Galiano between Malecón and San Lázaro), the Plaza and others were assaulted and had their gaming rooms wrecked; others had better luck. For example, the riled up mob that was heading straight for the Capri ran into the actor George Raft at the entrance; he was the boss of the gaming room and the cabaret, and someone with whom we had worked the year before. To avoid pillage Raft gave a brief speech full of revolutionary slogans, which had the effect of dispersing the mob. It was the best acting job of his career.
The night of December 31st was the last in which Teddy Corabi's quintet played. When I returned to St. John to look for my instrument (we were also paid the last week), I discovered that Angelito González, boss of the gaming room and the Lobby Bar, had wisely taken the precautionary measure of moving all the gaming paraphernalia to the mezzanine of the hotel in the morning hours; the disappointment of finding the room empty was enough to quell the destructive fury of the crowd and disperse the invaders. A few days later, facing the prospect that the cabarets would remain closed for at least one or two months, we made the decision to dissolve the quintet, and Angelito paid for Teddy's return ticket to the United States. When the situation returned to normal months later, the gaming rooms were opened again, but this only lasted until the moment of the big interventions and nationalizations of 1960. The last time I was in a casino I was in the renamed Habana Libre (ex-Hilton), to hear Peruchín Jústiz and his group.
In times of great change like these, paradoxical events tend to occur. For example, the first jazz concert held in 1959 –that is, after the triumph of the revolution-- was not organized by the Club Cubano de Jazz, although all of its members showed up; it was organized through the initiative of the writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who at the time had recently been named to a seat on a transitional cultural committee. The concert took place in the theater hall of the Museo de Bellas Artes, and for the event we put together a group very similar to the one that opened the activities of the Club Cubano de Jazz, with the addition of Gustavo Más, the man who had been our scout and who just happened to be visiting. The group (a quintet) included Leonardo Acosta (alto sax), Gustavo Más (tenor sax), Frank Emilio (piano), Orlando "Papito" Hernández (contrabass) and Walfredito de los Reyes (drums). It played before a packed house with a real joy that united the musicians and the audience, many of whom had been regular attendees at the old CCJ sessions. There was a sort of shared sentiment that the Club had survived, and in effect, shortly thereafter the regular sessions returned with the reopening of the Tropicana, the Havana 1900 and the rest.
Meanwhile, Guillermo Cabrera Infante himself was preparing a television program on the history of jazz, which would include illustrative photos and a recorded musical selection in addition to a conversatorio and a live performance by a Cuban jazz group. The television spot, entitled Lunes de Revolución, was produced by the cultural weekly of the same name, which Cabrera Infante directed. And this is where certain officials carried out the first attack on jazz. It has been debated whether or not the revolutionary (and later socialist) government in Cuba prohibited jazz, or whether or not it created obstacles for jazz. In reality, despite sporadic attacks of a certain type, jazz found its way more easily than did other types of music such as Anglo-American rock, which was prohibited in the media for almost twenty years; or the toques de santo, officially classified as "oscurantistas", and even the nueva trova, prohibited on radio and TV in its early stages and then exalted almost as an "official music". But let's return to 1960.
The Lunes program on jazz could have been a success, but it was undermined by those whom one would least expect: the Musicians Union, among whose brand new leaders there were various who up until a few months earlier had played jazz, and even some who had been jazz enthusiasts. The boycott against the program consisted of prohibiting the union musicians from performing, under threats of sanctions. In reality, it was only a skirmish provoked by extremists and opportunists, but we had to prevent them from creating an unfavorable "environment" for jazz (2). A few months earlier, a group of Neanderthals had interrupted a jazz descarga at the Capri, in which Guillermo Barreto, Pablo Cano and other well known musicians were participating, and this kind of agitator, carried away in the anti-imperialist sentiment of the time, was capable of creating an atmosphere of fear and witch hunting under the pretext that jazz was "imperialist music". There were plenty of examples in the Soviet Union, within the cult of the misguided theorist of "socialist realism", Maxim Gorky.
Back then I wrote an article in defense of jazz for the Sunday supplement of the newspaper Hoy, organ of the Partido Socialista Popular (Communist), directed at the time by the poet and painter Fayad Jamís and in which we had a few friends. Considered the country's most pro-soviet and "hard line" newspaper, the publication of my article in the cultural supplement turned out to be more effective than if it had appeared in Lunes. I based the article on the topic of racism in the United States and the importance of jazz in the struggle by North American blacks for their civil and human rights, a question that is essential to the understanding of jazz and its history (3). Also at that time, we saw ourselves –as Cuban jazz musicians-- benefiting from the Cuban rapprochement with North American black movements and its leaders, one of whom, Robert Williams, lived several years in Cuba and helped us to organize a jazz festival in 1963. Other North American black leaders such as Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver would later visit the country. Meanwhile, for all of 1959 and part of 1960, the Club Cubano de Jazz maintained their normal Sunday sessions, before increasingly bigger and more enthusiastic audiences. It should be noted that when Philly Joe Jones appeared at the Tropicana, perhaps the Club's greatest success and culminating moment, a situation of maximum tension existed between Washington and Havana.
Although it’s true that at certain times the "suspicion" with respect to jazz would surface again, this is almost always due to the particular idiosyncrasy of one or another acting director, such as the period when students caught playing jazz --invariably the best musicians in the school—would be suspended from the Escuela Nacional de Música (this happened toward the end of the 1960s and on into the 1970s). All of which explains why so many jazz musicians left the country, starting with the first phase of the revolution: Cachao, Bebo Valdés, El Negro Vivar, Pedro Chao, Walfredito de los Reyes, and around 1965 Papito Hernández, Juanito Márquez and many others. Fortunately, despite the dozens of new exoduses that have occurred in the eighties and nineties, Cuba’s gold mine of musical talent has always provided a new wave of jazz musicians who have kept this music alive.
THE NEW ATMOSPHERE OF THE SIXTIES
In these first years of the decade two North American jazz musicians settled in Havana, both light mulattos who interestingly had Latin surnames: the alto sax Eddy Torriente and a little bit later the pianist Mario Lagarde, who was born in the Virgen Islands but living in Chicago, where he met Eddy. For years they, with their group Free American Jazz, will represent one of the strongholds of jazz in Cuba. For his part Peruchín Jústiz formed a number of jazz groups around this time, first a trio with Limonta (bass) and Castiñeira (drums), then with Papito Hernández and Walfredito (later Cachaíto replaced Papito). Then Peruchín formed a quartet, which included a singer, who was an ex-member of the Cuban Pipers and Los Cavaliers, Regino Tellechea; the bassist was Armandito Zequeira and the drummer was Tibo Lee (Tivoli??). And we should point out that Armando Zequeira (son of the pianist Zenaida Romeu) excelled first as a drummer, although he was already playing violin and piano at that time as well; in the end he stuck with the contrabass, but soon he was the first Cuban musician to switch from contrabass to electric bass, way before the rock n' roll craze about the Beatles. Shortly thereafter we would form a very popular group, Los Cinco, which produced the singer Maggie Carlés and musicians such as Pedro Jústiz Jr. (Peruchín II), an excellent guitarist. Many other jazz groups lasted only briefly, such as the Batchá, Los Fantásticos and Chucho Valdés's first group, while some stayed around longer, such as the Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna, the Noneto de Jazz, the Tres más Uno, the Samuel Téllez combo and the most constant and long lasting of all time, Felipe Dulzaides' group.
In this period the close ties between jazz and 'feeling' continued and joint descargas were held at different places, a routine that had taken hold in the last year of the Club Cubano de Jazz. Now these jam sessions would no longer take place in private homes, but rather in small nightclubs of which the Gato Club was the precursor. The most important were El Gato Tuerto, the Sheherezada, the Karachi, La Gruta, Le Mans, Pigalle, the Lobby Bar and the Pico Blanco at St. John's, El Patio at the Habana Libre, the Salón Rojo at the Capri, La Red, the Flamingo, and the different ballrooms of the Nacional and the Riviera. But there also emerged an important new locale that was called precisely the Descarga Club, which can be considered the symbol of those years 1959-1963, and whose importance for the new wave of musicians will be seen when we return to the topic later on. But in all of the places mentioned, the jazz musicians came together with key 'feeling' artists, such as César and José Antonio, Omara Portuondo, Marta Valdés, Elena Burke, the Duo Las Capella, Meme Solís, Miguel de Gonzalo... These years were not just the celebration of 'feeling', but rather its pinnacle.
The arrival of Brazilian bossa nova showed the great affinity between this new international style, feeling and cool jazz, and came to reinforce even more the musical panorama of Havana. Some groups experimented successfully with the bossa nova, among them that of the popular feeling songwriter Ela O'Farrill, whom we heard in the La Gruta club (23 between O and P). The group of Frank Domínguez and that of Felipe Dulzaides also excelled in the bossa nova. And two Uruguayan musicians from the Symphonic Orchestra organized another group exclusively to play bossa nova, although jazz as well; it was called Los Federicos, named after the violinist Federico Britos and the contrabassist Federico García, who recorded an LP. Working with them were the pianists Frank Emilio and Chucho Valdés, the guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales, the guitarist and arranger Abelardo Busch and the percussionists José Luis Quintana ("Changuito") and Manuel "Cala" Armesto; at a certain point the group was known as Los Amigos.
The big bands, which had their highs and lows in the United States but weren’t affected too much in Cuba, began in these years a dramatic and almost definitive decline, although a few important ones still remained at the big cabarets. Armando Romeu only stayed at the Tropicana until 1961, Rafael Ortega at the Riviera's Copa Room, Rafael Somavilla and then Fernando Mulens at the Caribe and Peruchín Jústiz headed an orchestra at the Capri for a while. But it was the trumpet player Leonardo Timor Jr. who headed the best jazz band of the decade until 1967 at the Hotel Nacional's Parisien cabaret. Many of the musicians who had worked before at the Parisien in the orchestras of Walfredo and Walfredito de los Reyes stayed with him. And performing in the Salón Caribe of the Habana Libre was an excellent band led by the guitarist and arranger Juanito Márquez, who achieved great popularity in those years with his canciones and boleros such as "Alma con alma" and with his pacá rhythm. Emerging almost simultaneously were the pilón rhythm from the singer Pacho Alonso and his conjunto Los Bocucos and the mozambique from the percussionist Pedro Izquierdo ("Pello el Afrokán") (4).
But many of the country's important jazz bands had already broken up: Casino de la Playa, Julio Cueva, Palau Brothers, Lebatard Brothers, Cosmopolita, Havana Casino... The Castro Brothers band, pioneer of the Cuban big bands, was dissolved in 1960, and a number of its musicians joined the Radio Progreso orchestra, which disappeared a few years later when the orchestra of the Instituto Cubano de Radiodifusión (later “de Radio y Televisión”) was organized, following the centralizing tendency of the country and its institutions. Only two jazz bands continued at the height of popularity: the Riverside, with its singer Tito Gómez, and the "tribe" of Benny Moré, which alternated with charangas and conjuntos at dances, on radio and on television. Perhaps yet another symbolic event, Benny Moré died in 1963, the year of the Beatles explosion in London. The time was approaching when interest in jazz bands would decline, in Cuba and in the entire world. In Havana the large cabarets were all that remained for the big bands, but the small locales were still very plentiful, and it was the combos that were able to find work.
DESCARGAS, CONCERTS, RECITALS
Although the Parisien cabaret, with Leonardo Timor and his band, had turned into a focal point for Cuban jazz musicians, without a doubt the aforementioned Descarga Club (on Neptuno between Hospital and Aramburu) was for about three years the indisputable successor to the Havana 1900, where many young jazz instrumentalists tested and honed their skills. The Descarga had as its proprietor Raúl Martiatu, a jazz and feeling lover for many years (we've already referred to the jam sessions at the Martiatu family house, in the same Cayo Hueso barrio where the Descarga Club took up residence). At the entrance of the place there was a bar with a roof and then you go through to an open-air patio in the style of other cabarets such as the old Edén Concert or La Campana. The shows were generally set up by performers and feeling singer/song writers, and on one roofed platform various jazz groups played; a lot of musicians from other ensembles would show up to hold jam sessions which became habitual. In the beginning the Free American Jazz worked there, with Eddy Torriente on alto sax and Mario Lagarde on piano; the rest of the members were Cuban musicians, who would change with the different stages of this quartet. But there were also larger groups.
Among the musicians who performed in the Descarga Club, some of whom at different times conducted the club's regular orchestra, we have the trumpet player Miguel Menéndez, the tenor sax Tomás Vázquez, the baritone sax Rafael Quiñones, the pianist and guitarist Kiki Villalta, the pianist and vibraphonist Remberto Egües, as well as the guitarists Freddy Muguercia and Ahmed "El Jimagua" Barroso, the contrabassist Luis Quiñones, the bassist and guitarist Julio César Fonseca, the multi-instrumentalist Armandito Zequeira and the drummers "Zanahoria" and Joe Iglesias. Among the regular jazz singers, Bobby Carcassés and Maggie Prior stand out. Also participating in the descargas were musicians such as Carlos Emilio Morales, the most important guitarist of the decade, and the trumpet player Jorge Varona, legitimate successor to El Negro Vivar and Chocolate Armenteros and one of the most versatile trumpet players that the country has ever produced.
Even after the Club Cubano de Jazz was definitively dissolved, a number of its founders, such as Horacio Hernández and Roberto Toirac, continued to organize Sunday jam sessions, concerts or recitals in different places and theater rooms. For example, in the theater rooms of the CTC and the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores concerts with Leonardo Timor's band and Felipe Dulzaides' group were held, with the pianist Samuel Téllez and the trumpet player Jorge Varona as invited performers. Appearing at the Havana 1900 (renamed Ensueño) was a sensational quartet with Frank Emilio (piano), Juanito Márquez (guitar), Papito Hernández (contrabass) and Guillermo Barreto (drums), alternating with a trio that the pianist Chucho Valdés (Bebo's son) formed, with Luis Rodríguez on contrabass and Emilio del Monte on drums. In turn, at the La Gruta club a Sunday jam session was organized with a quartet of members from Felipe Dulzaides' group, including Paquito Echeverría (piano), Pablo Cano (guitar), José Franca (contrabass) and Nelson Padrón (drums); it alternated with another quartet: L. Acosta (alto sax), Raúl Ondina (piano), Luis Rodríguez (contrabass) and Luisito Palau (drums). Around 1961 we performed with a similar group at the Le Mans club (15 and B, Vedado).
Even more so than in the previous decade, different combos would form from one day to the next, and after weeks or months they would split up, frequently when they finished a contract at a certain club or some musicians separated. Also, a new practice emerged: different institutions or theater rooms would present concerts or jazz recitals, and often various musicians from different ensembles would get together to practice just for these concerts. The main venues were the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Comunidad Hebrea, the Amadeo Roldán Theater (Auditorium), the Payret, the Sala Idal, the Hubert de Blanck Chamber and the theater rooms of some of the government ministries.. This represented a relatively new development in Cuban jazz, particularly due to its frequency and because the organizations or theaters themselves were the interested party, whereas in previous times it had been the musicians who would take the initiative.
Despite this extensive jazz activity, the ensemble that captured all the attention was the band of the trumpet player Leonardo Timor’s. The line up of this band changed a number of times, and working in it were veterans from past decades, as well as new jazz stars who were just coming on the scene. Some musicians who left the country in 1961 or 1962 were still around to perform in the first concerts, aside from their regular work at the Parisién. The first line up that we know of is as follows: Trumpets: Leonardo Timor, César "Piyú" Godínez, Lionel Roseñada, Carlos Arado and Miguel Menéndez; Trombones: Pucho Escalante, Antonio Linares, Alejandro Onésimo and Francisco García Caturla; Saxophones: Jesús Caunedo and Antonio Rodríguez (altos), Pedro Chao and René Ravelo (tenors) and Osvaldo Urrutia (baritone); Piano: Samuel Téllez; Guitar: Juanito Márquez; Contrabass: Kiki Hernández; Drums: Luisito Palau or Walfredito de los Reyes. Without a doubt, an all-star band.
THE UNIQUE CASE OF FELIPE DULZAIDES
Another development of the 1960s was the appearance of numerous vocal groups, from duos and trios to quartets and quintets. Here the scene completely changed; of the groups mentioned in previous chapters only Aida Diestro's quartet remained active, which with various personnel changes was able to survive even after the death of its founder and director. Two quartets that arose at the end of the 1950s, Felipe Dulzaides' group (originally Los Armónicos) and Los Bucaneros de Robertico Marín were the first to promote the boom of the vocal quartets in the 1960s, this time inspired in the innovations of the Four Freshmen and the Hi Lo's. The guitarist Pablo Cano wrote arrangements for the Armónicos and Roberto Marín for his own group, Los Bucaneros. The difference lie in the fact that Felipe formed a vocal-instrumental quartet and over time abandoned the initial format. He limited himself to including only one singer, and ended up with an instrumental group. Very similar to Los Bucaneros and sometimes with arrangements from Marín himself were Voces Latinas and Los Modernistas, in a line perpetuated by Los Britos and others. Meme Solís, an arranger, pianist and singer from the feeling movement, had without a doubt the most popular vocal quartet in the 1960s. In a different line were the Cuarteto del Rey and Los Zafiros. The first has its roots in Afro-American styles such as spirituals, blues and gospel songs; the quintet Los Zafiros was vocal-instrumental, inspired in part by The Platters, and it was another one of the most successful groups of the decade. It disbanded after the death of two of its members, and the sons of several of them later formed a similar group.
Felipe Dulzaides never thought of forming a jazz ensemble; he just tried to organize a good mixture of voices and instruments to play the best of that period's classic popular repertoire. After his participation in the vocal-instrumental quartet Llópiz Dulzaides (a quite commercial mixture of pop-rock), in which he played accordion and piano, he decided to continue on his own because of his disagreement with the Llópiz direction. His primary collaborator in the beginning was the guitarist Pablo Cano, and he relied as well on a vocalist who was ideal for his plans: Doris de la Torre. At a certain point the group increased from a quartet to a quintet, with the addition of the clarinetist Lucas de la Guardia or the Argentine trumpet player Luis Ortellado. The instrumentalists themselves performed simultaneously as vocalists in this first stage, when Dulzaides worked in television and in cabarets such as the Starlight Terrace of the Nacional hotel (where we saw him alternate with Philly Joe Jones) or at the Comodoro hotel, where he alternated with Matt Dennis.
Later on Felipe worked in the Tropicana's casino bar, renamed the Salón Panorámico, where pianists such as Frank Emilio and Adolfo Pichardo also worked. It was there that we heard for the first time the singer Doris de la Torre playing the vibraphone, a seemingly insignificant event, but of importance for the group, which was moving away from the format of the vocal-instrumental quartet (or quintet) like the Four Freshman and going in the direction of the famous George Shearing quintet, with its characteristic sonority surrounding the in-unison melody carried by the piano, guitar and vibraphone. When he experimented with jazz, Afro-Cuban music and a fusion of the two, Dulzaides couldn't keep the group from occasionally going headlong into what has been called "Latin cocktail music", something George Shearing himself, Carl Tjader or Noro Morales had often done. What nobody could imagine or foresee was that the group of Felipe Dulzaides’ (who at some point got rid of the name Los Armónicos) would become one of the primary generators of jazz musicians in Cuba. To give some idea of this, we shall recall a few names.
Among the guitarists who were members of Felipe Dulzaides' group we have Pablo Cano, Kiki Villalta, Ahmed Barroso, Sergio Vitier, René Luis Toledo and Jorge Valdés Chicoy. On bass we have Julio César Fonseca, Armandito Zequeira, José Franca, Roberto Casas, Luis Quiñones, Carlos del Puerto and Carlos Quintero. On drums: Nelson Padrón, Orestes Barbachán ("Pájaro Loco"), Joe Iglesias, Tony Valdés, Ignacio Berroa, Cristóbal Quesada (and on recordings, the veterans Daniel Pérez and Guillermo Barreto). As vibraphonists: Doris de la Torre, Eduardo Dulzaides, Paquito Echevarría (also an excellent jazz pianist), Armandito Romeu III, Rembert Egües. On occasion Felipe included Cuban percussion, with musicians such as Manolo "Cala" Armesto, Carlitos Godínez and José Luis Quintana, the great "Changuito", as well as wind instruments such as the clarinet (Lucas de la Guardia), trumpet (Luis Ortellado), flute (Rembert Egües) and different saxophones (Rolando Pérez Pérez, Mauel Valera, Javier Zalba).
Not all of the singers who performed with Felipe were jazz singers; generally they were given the Cuban part of the repertoire. Singing as soloists with him were Doris de la Torre, Alberto and Nina Pujol, Raúl Acosta, Margarita Royero, Elsa Rivero and Regino Tellechea. Only the first and the last can be considered jazz singers. The instrumentalists, on the other hand, almost without exception were jazz musicians. With different formats, Felipe appeared at the sessions of the Club Cubano de Jazz, which paid tribute to him in 1960. Many other jazz musicians recorded with him or used to visit the centers of nightlife where he performed, often to jam with the group. In the 1960s and 1970s (primarily) Dulzaides passed through almost all of the Havana cabarets, in addition to going on tour both in Cuba and abroad and spending eight years in Varadero, where he performed at the Hotel Internacional, the Oasis and the Red Coach. In Havana he worked at the main hotels (Nacional, Riviera, Capri, Comodoro, Habana Libre) and at clubs such as La Red, Kabash and others that were becoming the focal point for jazz lovers, clubs such as the Elegante and the Internacional at the Riviera. Furthermore, Dulzaides turned out to be the first Cuban who experimented in jazz-rock and who included tunes from the Beatles in his repertoire, which made him a favorite among the youth, who would stand in long lines to hear him or to dance to his music (at places such as the Kabash and La Red).
Felipe's repertoire represented without a doubt one the most complete that any Cuban ensemble has ever had. Besides the customary international repertoire of "cocktail music" and intermission pianists (which Felipe had been at one time), or the groups of violins and accordion that played any type of music, he included all the modalities of Cuban music (from son to chachachá and from trova to feeling), along with the Afro-Cuban jazz classics such as Mario Bauzá's "Mambo Inn" or Chano Pozo's "Manteca". He would play modern and jazzed up versions of Manuel de Falla's "La Danza del Fuego" or Lecuona's "Siboney", as well as tunes of Michel Legrand's and others by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. There were plenty of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley standards (Porter, Gershwin, Kern, Berlin, Rodgers...) as well as strictly jazz numbers (Ellington, Parker, Miles, Shearing, Monk...), and Brazilian tunes (Tom Jobin, Luis Bonfá or Vinicius de Moraes).
The greatness of Felipe was that he was a self-taught pianist who admitted that he didn't read music. Nevertheless, sometimes he made orchestrations for his own LPs with the help of Rembert Egües (son of the flautist from Aragón, Richard Egües). One of the secrets of this pianist was his natural musical ear and a great harmonic training, combined at the same time with a phenomenal memory and ability to play in any key and improvise on the most complex harmonic progressions. It's well known that he knew close to a thousand tunes by memory, and he only had to listen to a melody once to memorize it and repeat it immediately on the piano already harmonized, something I witnessed myself. During the trips he took to the United States, whenever Felipe arrived at a bar where there was a piano he would sit down and play, taking requests from those present. Invariably the owner of the place would offer him a job. Felipe suffered a stroke and retired in 1983, although he remained a jazz promoter on the island until his death a few years later, due to a second stroke that came on as he was playing in a jam session with what was by then his only good hand, the right one. Fortunately Felipe recorded 22 LPs with his groups and with orchestras, and even though there are few jazz numbers on these LPs, we remember his "Tropicana Special" and his version of "The Girl from Ipanema" with a guitar solo by Kiki Villalta (5).
FREE AMERICAN JAZZ AND OTHER GROUPS
The Capri hotel's Salón Rojo was another one of the spots that served as a showcase for jazz and feeling in the early 1960s; this salón, having almost the same dimensions as the cabaret, was the place where the gaming room had been in the days when George Raft acted as the representative of Meyer Lansky's interests. For a certain period of time, it became a center for 'feeling', and shortly thereafter Felito Ayón, an old jazz and ‘feeling’ fan, organized "Capri Mondays". Ayón had been founder of the circle of La Bodeguita del Medio, today a lamentable tourist restaurant elevated to uncertain "fame" thanks to advertising that in no way reflects the truth. During the first half of the 1960s Felito managed various night life spots and was the real "spiritual father" of the restaurant, bar and cabaret El Gato Tuerto (on O between 15th and 17th), for some time the 'feeling' Meca. He also did the same for the cabaret El Patio and for the Havana Libre hotel, which opened with Meme Solís's vocal quartet and the jazz group Tres más Uno.
It was precisely in the Capri's Salón Rojo where we saw Eddy Torriente for the first time in 1960, during his first visit to Cuba; later he returned to settle for good, and throughout this decade (which ended in 1968, as we will clarify further ahead) his group Free American Jazz, with the pianist Mario Lagarde, represented the other pole of jazz in Havana in addition to Felipe Dulzaides. These were the only two groups in those days that were able to make it in nightlife spots where the rest of the musicians went to jam. The other groups of this period, either didn't stay around as long or were only interested in recording and giving recitals. In the beginning the Free American Jazz worked at the Descarga Club, and when it closed in 1963 they moved on to La Gruta, in the basement of the La Rampa cinema. Playing with Eddy and Mario early on were the Cuban contrabassists Luis Quiñones and Armandito Zequeira, and the drummers Salvador "Macho" Almiral and José Luis Yanes ("Pepe el Loco"). Eddy played the alto sax in the swing style, and just like Armando Romeu, was particularly influenced by the tenor sax player Paul Gonsalves, from Duke Ellington's band, whom he knew from Chicago. Mario Lagarde was an excellent accompanying pianist and a soloist half way between swing and bop, as well as an arranger, to which he dedicated himself exclusively later on, after the death of Eddy in a motorcycle accident in 1968.
Working with the Free American Jazz, in addition to those already mentioned, were the contrabassists Julio César Fonseca, the Uruguayan Federico García and the renowned Papito Hernández; the drummers Joe Iglesias and Tony Valdés; the tenor sax Sinesio Rodríguez, and the guitarists Freddy Muguerica and Rey Montesinos. Although I only visited the Descarga Club three times, I was often at La Gruta with a borrowed alto sax, flugel horn or baritone sax that Miguel Angel Herrera, member of a combo at the University of Havana, would lend me. Other regular visitors were Carlos Emilio Morales, the trumpet player Jorge Varona, the Uruguayan violinist Federico Britos and the alto sax and clarinetist Paquito Rivera. Around 1965 the Free American Jazz moved on to the Atelier club (at 17th and 6th , Vedado), bringing jazz lovers and musicians along with them, with the advantage that the Atelier was open until 6:00 in the morning. As was the case at the other places we've mentioned, at the Atelier the counterpart to jazz was feeling, and so Omara Portuondo, Reinaldo Enríquez, Elena Burke and others would go there frequently, often along with Frank Emilio and the guitarist Froylán Amézaga.
Among the musicians, the Free American Jazz alternative was preferred even over Felipe Dulzaides’ group, for the latter normally had to please the more diverse hotel audience with a varied repertoire, while the former only played jazz, generally at hole-in-the-wall places where neither the manager nor the fans expected anything else, for it was precisely these jazz (and feeling) enthusiasts who kept these night clubs full. Although the Free American Jazz seldom performed in concert and never recorded, it will be remembered for its role as the cohesive base of the Cuban jazz musicians during the years in which, along with Felipe Dulzaides, they kept the “spirit of the jam sessions” alive, the ultimate and irreplaceable school for jazz musicians.
As we’ve already indicated, there were many other combos at that time, some of which we only know by word of mouth. One group called Los Fantásticos featured, as far as we know, Freddy Muguercia (guitar), Armandito Romeu (vibraphone), Armando Zequeira (electric bass) and Joe Iglesias (drums). The group Batchá included Freddy González (piano), Rey Montesinos (guitar), Roberto Valdés (contrabass), Joe Iglesias (drums) and Agapito García (conga). This combo, which performed at the Sheherezada, was the seed for the future Tres más Uno, which also featured the vibraphonist Armandito Romeu and was one of the most important and long lasting. We’ve also alluded to the group formed by the pianist Samuel Téllez, which made a number of successful pop recordings of “jazzed up” Cuban numbers. Its biggest hit, which was heard on all the Victrolas and on the radio around 1965, was the instrumental version of the popular ‘feeling’ song “Aquí de pie”, with stimulating changes in tempo and matices.
Samuel Téllez’s group was made up of Samuel himself on piano, Jorge Varona (trumpet), Rafael Tortoló (alto sax), Amadito Valdés Jr. or Gilberto Terry (“Lumumba”) on drums and Norberto Carrillo on conga. Around the same time Chucho Valdés would put together his first group, which focused more on recording, for Chucho as well as several of the other members at that time were part of the Teatro Musical de la Habana orchestra. Chucho was able to record some singles that were quite successful in those days, including some boleros converted into “Latin jazz” and sung by the singer Amado Borcelá, better known as “Guapachá”. Among the musicians that Chucho brought together, there was a combination of veterans and younger players: Paquito Rivera (alto sax and clarinet), Julio A. Vento (flute), Alberto “El Men” Giral (valve trombone), Chucho Valdés (piano), Carlos Emilio Morales (guitar), Kiki Hernández (contrabass) and Emilio del Monte (drums), student of Guillermo Barreto. The peppery vocalist Guapachá, who brought commercial success to the group, was from the scat tradition started by Francisco Fellove and continued by Bobby Carcassés and Tony Escarpenter, but with his own unique style. This group recorded an instrumental that is today a classic of Cuban jazz: “Mambo influenciado”, by Chucho Valdés, based on the twelve-bar blues. At the end of the decade Bobby Carcassés formed a group that performed at the Pabellón Cuba at 23rd and N (in 1969), featuring Julio Vento (flute), Nicolás Reinoso (tenor sax), Raúl Ondina (piano), Bobby Carcassés (contrabass) and Amadito Valdés (drums).
The Tres más Uno, which made a few different personnel changes, lasted a bit longer. Originally it was a quartet, as its name indicates, whose format and style came straight from the Modern Jazz Quartet, and in its early stage it had a number of the MJQ’s classic tunes in its repertoire. At that time it featured three of the aforementioned Batchá members: Freddy González (piano), Roberto Valdés (contrabass) and Joe Iglesias (drums). The fourth but irreplaceable member was the vibraphonist Armandito Romeu, an excellent improviser inspired by Milt Jackson, whose solos he knew by memory. As we’ve already indicated, the Tres más Uno inaugurated the Habana Libre’s El Patio, alternating with Meme Solís and her/his vocal quartet. Through the years Joe Iglesias remained the group’s leader; in addition to playing drums he played the vibraphone, the tenor sax and finally the piano, and he had previously been with the Hot Rockets, Batchá, Felipe Dulzaides and the Free American Jazz. There were many personnel changes, and among those who passed through the group were the tenor sax Sinesio Rodríguez, the guitarist Jorge Valdés Chicoy, the bass player Gustavo Casal and the drummers Amadito Valdés and “Pájaro Loco” Barbachán. In the 1980s the Tres más Uno was still playing in various clubs, centered this time on the singer Alicia Fraga, ex-member of the quartet Las D’Aida (6).
THE QUINTETO, THE NONETO AND THE RECORDINGS
Two of the most important ensembles of this period were the Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna and Leopoldo “Pucho” Escalante’s Noneto de Jazz, which committed themselves entirely to concerts and recordings, since their members worked in different places. Most of the members of the Noneto belonged to studio, radio and TV orchestras. An element that without a doubt favored these groups was that they were able to make recordings on commercial LPs, something unusual in Cuban jazz. The biggest difference between the two lie, in addition to their formats, in the fact that the Quintet focused on playing popular Cuban tunes with jazz-type solos and Afro-Cuban rhythms, while the Noneto was under the influence of the Birth of the Cool sound created by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, then used by Gerry Mulligan, Shorty Rogers and other West Coast musicians. In short, what we have are two ensembles that have paradoxically gone down in Cuban jazz history primarily because they were recorded, although the influence they had on the country’s (or the capital’s) jazz scene was much less, in spite of their sporadic appearances in concerts or recitals, always before a full house.
The Quintet was made up of exceptional musicians on their respective instruments: Frank Emilio Flynn (piano), Papito Hernández and then Cachaíto López (contrabass), Guillermo Barreto (drums and pailas), Tata Güines (conga) and Gustavo Tamayo (güiro). The group achieved their own unique style that was difficult to match, because of the conjunto work as well as the solos and the never-failing combination of “swing” with good taste. But despite the indisputable talent of all its members, what the Quintet needed was perhaps a daily gig in cabarets that would allow them to “cut loose” more often, for at certain times when they play songs that are today classics (such as “Añorado encuentro”) their execution seems almost too “perfect”, as if every note had been written out. For those of us who saw the Quintet live, the studio recordings sound a little bit cold, making up in perfection what they lack in swing. Nevertheless, at a recital in the Fine Arts Theater we received a similar impression. Was it self-control on the part of the musicians? Or was it a deliberate effort to avoid ostentations of virtuosity and fits of inspiration? As a way of drawing a comparison, it might be that with the Quintet we can experience the same as we do sometimes with the Modern Jazz Quartet. What we can affirm, however, is that we have heard all of these musicians on more brilliant solos. At any rate, Frank Emilio show signs of his versatility (as a jazz artist, sonero, danzonero, baladista, song writer, concert pianist), but we’re left with a desire to hear Frank, Papito, Cachaíto or Tata Güines, and perhaps Barreto even more. When the latter shines on pailas, on drums he limits himself to accompaniment, very subtle and efficient to be sure. But perhaps I may be criticizing precisely the highest qualities of these exemplary recordings.
Pucho Escalante’s Noneto de Jazz appeared in concert at various theater halls, with arrangements by Pucho himself. The group focused primarily on their work as an ensemble, although it had good improvisers and dedicated some time to solos. Their music is simply jazz (more of a West Coast style), without the “Afro-Cuban” or “Latin” qualifier. The Noneto consisted of Luis Escalante and then Eddy Martínez (trumpet), Luis Toledo (flugel horn), Pucho Escalante (trombone), Braulio “Babín” Hernández (tenor sax), Osvaldo “Mosquifín” Urrutia (baritone sax), Rubén González or Rafael Somavilla (piano), Papito Hernández (contrabass) and Salvador “Macho” Almirall (drums). The Noneto played an important role until the creation in 1967 of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, in which Pucho Escalante himself, his brother Luis --who in addition worked then as first trumpet in the National Symphonic Orchestra-- and the tenor player “Babín” Hernández were pillars. Just two LP records bear witness to the work of the Noneto de Jazz, but even this is quite an accomplishment considering our circumstances.
The guitarist and composer Juanito Márquez also recorded a few pressings (though singles) of Afro-Latin jazz with a group of stars. Along with Márquez, particularly noteworthy was the pianist (also from Holguín) Luis Mariano Cancañón, whose piano innovations in the Cuban style put him right up there with the greats in this area. Rounding out the group were Nilo Argudín (trumpet), Papito Hernández (bass), Guillermo Barreto (drums and pailas), Oscar Valdés (conga), Roberto García (bongo) and Gustavo Tamayo (güiro). The intricate passages of Juanito’s tunes had an unbeatable rhythmic base, with a percussion section that brought together the period’s most sought after musicians, later becoming (except for Tamayo) the percussion section of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. Luis Mariano Cancañón later returned to Holguín, where he organized three jazz bands.
On the other hand, Frank Emilio and his fellow musicians would get together for a memorable recording of distinctly Cuban music (and jam sessions), producing the LP Los Amigos, another historic landmark in Cuban musical improvisation that resounded not only on the island but also among exponents of salsa. The conjunto featured: Frank Emilio (piano), Elio Valdés (violin), Miguel O’Farrill (flute), Cachaíto López (contrabass), Guillermo Barreto (pailas), Jesús Pérez (batá drums), Tata Güines (conga) and Gustavo Tamayo (güiro). The album includes three classic danzones: “Almendra” (Abelardo Valdés), “Tres lindas cubanas” (Antonio María Romeu) and “La flauta mágica” (Romeu and Alfredo Brito). A number of other tunes are categorized simply as “descargas”, an international term by then: “Gandinga, Sandunga y Mondongo” (Frank Emilio), “Pa’gozar” (Tata Güines) and “Lázara y Georgina” (Orlando “Cachaíto” López). And in between we have “Como canta el contrabajo”, by Orestes “Macho” López (????). A noteworthy element of this recording is the combined work of two percussionists of the caliber of the Olú Batá Jesús Pérez and Arístides Soto (Tata Güines), masterfully supported by Gustavo Tamayo.
LEONARDO TIMOR AND THE TRANSITION BANDS
Most of the jazz bands from this transitional period (1960-1967) limited themselves to providing danceable music and show tunes for the cabarets, although they are important as they helped to professionally train young jazz musicians. When Armando Romeu left the Tropicana, there remained two high quality orchestras: Rafael Ortega’s, which went from the Sans Souci (closed in 1959) to the Riviera hotel, and trumpet player Leonardo Timor’s band, already mentioned. Ortega always had excellent bands with great arrangements, and with him at that time were the trumpet players Dagoberto Jiménez and Félix Prieto, the trombonist Francisco García Caturla, the pianist Héctor Alejo (“El Ñato”), the contrabassist José Manuel Peña and the great drummer Fausto García Rivera. Among the saxophonists we find Edilberto Escrich and Rafael Prats (altos), Castillo and Raúl “El Chino” Chiu (tenors) and Osvaldo Urrutia (baritone) (7).
As we mentioned earlier, the representative jazz band from this period is Leonardo Timor’s. Leonardo remained at the Parisién for some seven years and gave numerous concerts, as well as recording an historic album. His band held the spot that Armando had occupied for the previous two decades, and the Parisién turned into another one of the places where musicians would go to jam after the last show, as we had done before with the orchestra of Walfredito de los Reyes’. Also, Timor organized the “Jazz Tuesdays” at the Parisién, in which different guests would play with the band, and he offered numerous concerts (also with invited soloists), particularly in the Comunidad Hebrea theater (on Línea between J and I, Vedado). In this orchestra we will also find musicians whom we’ve already seen as members of Armando Romeu’s bands and at the Club Cubano de Jazz sessions. And in particular almost the entire brass section will go on to the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna.
Playing in the orchestra of Leonardo Timor Jr.’s between 1963 and 1967 were the following musicians: Trumpets: Timor, Luis Escalante, Nilo Argudín, Andrés Castro, Jorge Varona, Evelio Martínez and Manuel “El Guajiro” Mirabal; Trombones: Antonio Linares, Alejandro Onésimo, Pucho Escalante, Modesto Echarte and Alberto Giral (“El Men”); Saxophones: Amadito Valdés and Luis Barrera (altos), Mario Menéndez and Hugo Yera (tenors), Rolando Triana and/or Osvaldo Urrutia (baritone); Piano: Rubén González; Contrabass: Fernando Vivar, Luis Rodríguez; Guitar: Juanito Márquez; Drums: Luisito Palau. The trumpet section was quite impressive, while Timor as well as Escalante, Argudín, Varona or Mirabal could play lead. With the exception of Argudín, all of them, including Leonardo Timor himself, would go on to the Moderna in 1967, and Jorge Varona would be one of the founders of Irakere in 1973. Appearing as a guest, in addition to Juanito Márquez, was another musician who would become internationally famous in the following decades: Paquito Rivera (13 years old at the time). The band’s main soloist was Leonardo Timor himself, with a trumpet style that owed a lot to Bunny Berigan and Harry James as well as Count Basie’s trumpet players; the orchestra’s theme song was “What’s New”, on a solo by Timor himself. On the album that this great band recorded, also historical today, we find original numbers by Armando Romeu, Pucho Escalante, Mario Lagarde and Roberto Sánchez Ferrer, all of whom wrote arrangements especially for Timor, as well as Juanito Márquez, who established himself in this decade as the country’s top arranger.
Generally forgotten is the work of an orchestra that was important in this period for the development of its instrumentalists in subsequent years: the orchestra of the Teatro Musical de La Habana, whose home was the old Alkázar theater, which was itself constructed on the site of the historic Alhambra. The Teatro Musical was founded in 1963 by the Mexican comedian and then film director and actor Alfonso Arau. The orchestra had at that time three highly qualified directors and arrangers: Federico Smith, a North American symphonic composer who was very knowledgeable on Joseph Schillinger’s composition methods and professor of two generations of Cuban musicians (he came from Mexico along with Arau); Tony Taño, ex-trumpet player and arranger who studied with Félix Guerrero and Carlos Fariñas and who studied orchestral conducting with Manuel Duchesne Cuzán; and Leo Brower, symphonic composer and classic guitar virtuoso known today throughout the world.
Among the instrumentalists were the saxophonists Paquito D’Rivera, Juan Castro and Horacio Soler, the trumpet lead Nilo Argudín, the trombonist Antonio Leal, the pianist Chucho Valdés, the guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales, the veteran contrabassist Kiki Hernández, the drummer Juan “Papita” Ampudia and on Cuban percussion was Roberto Concepción. Something worth noting is that in this orchestra coming together for the first time were three musicians who would later be among the founders of Irakere, after having also worked together in the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna from 1967 to 1973, as well as in the groups (quartets, quintets) formed within the context of this band and which took part in international jazz festivals. I’m referring to the pianist Chucho Valdés, the guitarist Carlos Emilio Morales (whom “we discovered” at the Havana 1900) and the saxophonist who would become the most distinguished Cuban jazz musician internationally in the 1980s, Paquito D’Rivera. These three musicians were also together on Chucho’s recordings with the vocalist Guapachá, who passed away prematurely shortly thereafter. And coincidence or not, one of the Teatro Musical actors (who just like the rest, also had to sing and dance) was Bobby Carcassés, later a well-known singer, multi-instrumentalist and leader of groups such as the Afro-Jazz band.
A FESTIVAL, CONCERTS AND MORE DESCARGAS
The biggest jazz event after the disappearance of the Club Cubano de Jazz in 1960 occurred three years later with the celebration of a festival at the Payret Theater, where almost forty years before Ernesto Lecuona debuted Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in Cuba. Attending this festival were ensembles that would later become the most prominent of the decade, such as the Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna, Free American Jazz (with the Uruguayan bassist Federico García) and Leonardo Timor’s band, which accompanied the singers Maggie Prior (on “My Funny Valentine” and “Embraceable You”) and Omara Portuondo (on “The Man I Love”). Of particular note in the band was the solo by the trumpet player Jorge Varona, not well known at the time, in “Noche de Ronda”, with a special arrangement by Armando Romeu. Two vocal groups also participated, Los Modernistas and the Cuarteto del Rey, with their repertoire of spirituals. For this event I organized and led a quintet that in the end featured Leonardo Acosta (alto sax), Carlos Emilio Morales (guitar), Chucho Valdés (piano), Armando Zequeira (bass) and Salvador Almirall (drums), backed up by Manolo Armesto (bongo). The pianist and arranger Adolfo Pichardo organized another group that included Paquito D’Rivera (alto sax), Kiki Villalta (guitar), Luis Quiñones (contrabass) and Amadito Valdés Jr. (drums).
In charge of putting on the festival was the African American Robert Williams, who opened it with a speech on the transcendence of jazz, its universality and the role that it has played in the African American struggle for civil rights and black cultural values in the United States. The festival was reviewed extensively by the press and inspired the jazz musicians to give concerts and recitals, such as the one offered in July of the same year by Armando Zequeira with a quartet that included Eddy Torriente (alto sax), Mario Lagarde (piano), Zequeira (bass) and Armandito Romeu (drums), in the Palacio de Bellas Artes theater. In that period Armandito Zequeira also organized his group Los Cinco, which featured Pedro Jústiz Jr. on guitar and Emilio del Monte on drums. The same year another group of very young musicians was created, a septet that would attract a lot of attention: Los Chicos del Jazz, who performed in the Capri’s Salón Rojo, at the Olokkú club (Calzada and E, Vedado), La Gruta, La Zorra and El Cuervo, at the Omega cinema and at Club 70. The group included Paquito Rivera (alto sax), Nicolás Reinoso (tenor sax), Rembert Egües (piano), Sergio Vitier (guitar), Fabián García Caturla (contrabass), Amadito Valdés (drums) and Carlos Godínez (conga).
A new stage for jazz was the theater hall of the Ministerio de Industrias, where the jazz critic Horacio Hernández organized a number of recitals. In 1965 I presented a sextet there that featured Leonardo Acosta (alto sax and flugel horn), Chucho Valdés (piano), Carlos E. Morales (guitar), Papito Hernández (contrabass), Emilio del Monte (drums) and Manolo Armesto (bongo). At the Palacio de Bellas Artes that same group appeared (without Cuban percussion), playing above all numbers of Miles Davis’, John Coltrane’s and Jackie McLean’s that I had transcribed. Appearing at Bellas Artes in September of 1966 was a quartet consisting of Chucho Valdés (piano), Carlos E. Morales (guitar), Federico García (contrabass) and Manolo Armesto (Cuban percussion). The repertoire, oddly announced as “traditional jazz”, was based on classics from the bop period such as “Perdido”, “How High the Moon”, “Walking” and others. But most of the concerts and recitals of those years featured, as we’ve already indicated, the Quinteto, the Noneto and Leonardo Timor’s band.
A problem that was already being felt in Cuba and that was getting worse as the years passed was the shortage of jazz records and the difficulties in acquiring them. And records have traditionally been the best source of education for young jazz musicians, in the United States and even more so in the rest of the world. Without stores such as Andrés's or Sammy's or the importation of records (other than those from the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia) one had to make deals with a few foreign friends living in Cuba who were jazz fans or with Cubans who frequently traveled abroad. Then the records were played on the radio or listened to collectively at a friend’s house. Some of us set out to perform the most recent numbers and present the latest trends, from the modalities of Miles Davis and John Coltrane to free jazz, and including Charlie Mingus. With this idea in mind, in 1966 I formed a quintet with the pianist Raúl Ondina to perform in theaters such as the Hubert de Blanck and the Sala Idal. The repertoire included tunes of Miles, Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, Jackie McLean and a number of our own originals.
The members of the quintet were L. Acosta (alto sax), Raúl “El Chino” Chiu (tenor sax), Raúl Ondina (piano), Luis Quiñones or Cachaíto López (contrabass) and Armandito Romeu (drums). Also performing with the group were the bassist Armandito Zequeira, the pianist and flautist Rembert Egües, and the drummers Blasito Egües, Cristóbal Quesada and Marcos Larrinaga. One time we recorded at Radio Progreso with Bobby Carcassés (voice and contrabass), Blas Egües (drums) and Changuito (conga). Then at the Hubert de Blanck Theater a number of jazz recitals were held, organized by the ‘feeling’ composer Marta Valdés. But the main activity of those years, approximately 1965-1967, took place at the jam sessions of the ICAIC (8) (Instituto Cubano del Arte y la Industria Cinematográficos: Cuban Institute of Film Arts and Industry) every Saturday afternoon, renewing in part the tradition of the Club Cubano de Jazz. The organizers were two workers from the film industry: Ricardo Delgado and Ovidio González, the latter co-director of the best jazz program at that time together with Adolfo Castillo. The jam sessions were held at the ICAIC union hall, located at 23rd and 10th, Vedado, on the same site where years before the Internacional cabaret (later Yobana Club) had been.
Although it’s almost impossible to remember all of the musicians who took part in these descargas, we will give a brief account. Trumpet and flugel horn: Jorge Varona; Flugel horn and alto sax: Leonardo Acosta; Alto sax: Paquito Rivera, Filiberto Alderete; Tenor sax: Nicolás Reinoso, Raúl Chiu; Baritone sax: Rafael Quiñones; Piano: Raúl Ondina, Chucho Valdés, Freddy González, Mario Lagarde, Rembert Egües; Contrabass: Cachaíto López, Fabián G. Caturla, Luis Quiñones, Julio César Fonseca and Bobby Carcassés; Drums: Armandito Romeu, Amadito Valdés, Tony Valdés, “Pájaro Loco” Barbachán and Marcos Larrinaga; Cuban percussion: José Luis “Changuito” Quintana, Norberto Carrillo and Pedrito “Guapachá” Borcelá (brother of the singer Amado Borcelá).
As one might expect, almost fifty percent of the audience consisted of film writers and technicians and artists in general, although admission was free. This resulted in a certain coming together of Cuban film producers and jazz musicians. Perhaps the first jazz musician to make the music for a Cuban film was Armando Zequeira, who relied on musicians such as Chucho, Carlos Emilio and Paquito. In another film Doris de la Torre sang the theme song with only a contrabass accompaniment (Papito Hernández) and an alto sax counterpoint (L. Acosta). But it was the film director Sara Gómez who systematically brought jazz into Cuban cinema: first she made a documentary on jazz with Chucho Valdés’s group, then she had Chucho himself and Rembert Egües do the music for other documentaries, and she suggested to Tomás Gutiérrez Alea the names of those who in the end made the music for the feature film Cumbite: Papito Hernández and Arístides Soto (Tata Güines). For my part, I did the music for a documentary of hers, which we made with only three musicians: the pianist Emiliano Salvador and the drummer and percussionist Leoginaldo Pimentel, with my participation on various flutes. Later on Sara Gómez put Sergio Vitier in charge of the music for her feature film De cierta manera. Thereafter other jazz musicians, such as Emiliano Salvador, José María Vitier, Gonzalito Rubalcaba, Eduardo Ramos and Nicolás Reinoso, would make music for films.
In this decade and into the following, descargas were held in private homes such as those of Enrique O’Farrill (Chico’s brother), José Alberto Figueras (one of the founders of the CCJ), the contrabassist Felo Hernández and others, and Roberto Toirac organized descargas at one of the locales of the Ministerio de la Construcción and, although it may seem strange, at the veterinary clinic of Dr. Caíñas’, at Línea and E (Vedado). Playing in these jam sessions were, among others, the alto saxes Leonardo Acosta and Paquito Rivera, the tenor sax Nicolás Reinoso, the pianists Raúl Ondina and Chucho Valdés, the contrabassists Cachaíto López and Eduardo Ramos, the guitarist Carlos E. Morales and the drummers Enrique Plá, Changuito Quintana and Amadito Valdés Jr. In the office and clinic of Dr. Caíñas there was a space with a piano in which ensembles such as the Tres más Uno and Juan Formell’s Van Van orchestra practiced as well. That’s where the singer Maggie Prior and I organized a jam session for the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, a big jazz fan and trumpet enthusiast, who years later and on another visit had the opportunity to meet and listen to two great trumpet players of ours: Arturo Sandoval and Jorge Varona.
THE ORQUESTA JUVENIL AND THE ORQUESTA CUBANA DE MUSICA MODERNA
In 1966 an enthusiastic group of young musicians decided to form a jazz band, which they named the Orquesta Juvenil de Música Moderna, and which would be the forerunner of the “official” jazz orchestra that the Consejo Nacional de Cultura would form a year later at the request of a few of its high officials. The Orquesta Juvenil performed primarily at Radio Progreso, was led by the pianist and arranger Adolfo Pichardo and had as a singer Nancy Alvarez. The members of this jazz band, some of whom would become famous in subsequent decades, were the following: Trumpets: Arturo Sandoval, Elpidio Chapotín, Octavio Calderón, Adalberto Lara (“Trompetica”) and Víctor Rodríguez; Trombones: Juan Pablo Torres, Bruno Villalonga and Antonio Leal; Saxophones: Rolando Tamargo and Rafael Tortoló (altos), Nicolás Reinoso and Sinesio Rodríguez (tenors) and Carlos Averhoff (baritone); Piano: Freddy González; Contrabass: Fabián G. Caturla; Drums: Amadito Valdés Jr.; Cuban Percussion: Bernardo García. The arrangements were by Juan Pablo Torres, Horacio González and the renowned Pucho Escalante and Pedro Jústiz, the great “Peruchín”. Some of these musicians would soon go on to OCMM (Sandoval, Lara, Juan Pablo Torres), and then Adalberto Lara, Sandoval, Bernardo García and Carlos Averhoff would form part of Irakere, while others (Juan Pablo, Reinoso, Freddy González) organized their own groups.
The then Consejo Nacional de Cultura decided in 1967 to found a jazz-type ensemble that was called the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna (9). The idea spread to the country’s other provinces (six at that time), and the same type of jazz bands were created in Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Santa Clara, Camagüey and two in the biggest Eastern cities, Santiago de Cuba and Holguín, which produced excellent musicians. The great trumpet player Luis Escalante and Armando Romeu, the same two who had formed the Bellamar orchestra almost thirty years earlier, now organized the La Habana orchestra, which turned out to be an “all-star” caliber band, like the Bellamar. The OCMM played for the most part not only jazz, but also “Latin jazz”, jazz-rock and sometimes a certain symphonic (or rhapsodic) jazz along the lines of Stan Kenton’s progressive jazz or Günther Schuller’s Third Stream in the 1960s. Armando Romeu was selected as the orchestra leader, and he also contributed with numerous compositions and arrangements. Armando himself has stated that this orchestra was “the best of this type that Cuban has ever had” (10). Later on we will return to this opinion --which I don’t agree with.
Jazz veterans and musicians of the new generation were combined to form the personnel of this band: Trumpets: Leonardo Timor, Luis Escalante, Andrés Castro, Jorge Varona, Manuel Mirabal, Adalberto Lara (“Trompetica”) and then Arturo Sandoval; Trombones: Antonio Linares, Pucho Escalante, Modesto Echarte, Luis “El Pibe” González and Juan Pablo Torres; Saxophones: Paquito D’Rivera and Rolando Sánchez (altos), Braulio “Babín” Hernández and Jesús Lam (tenors) and Julián Fellové (baritone); Piano and Electric Organ: Chucho Valdés; Guitars: Carlos Emilio Morales and Sergio Vitier (then José Jaurrieta); Contrabass: Orlando “Cachaíto” López and Carlos del Puerto; Drums: Guillermo Barreto and Enrique Plá; Cuban Percussion: Oscar Valdés, Roberto García and Oscarito Valdés. As we can see, most of the musicians came from Leonardo Timor’s orchestra (including its leader), from the orchestra of the Teatro Musical de La Habana, from the Orquesta Juvenil that preceded the OCMM, from Pucho Escalante’s Noneto and from the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional (Luis Escalante, Antonio Linares, Cachaíto López). With this movement of personnel, the Teatro Musical orchestra was left considerably weakened, while Timor’s band, the Juvenil and Pucho’s Noneto disappeared. Centralization was becoming the norm once again.
The trumpet section is without a doubt the most perfected that a Cuban jazz band has ever had. Although practically everyone could play first trumpet, the indisputable lead was Leonardo Timor, who also shared the jazz solos with Jorge Varona, Luis Escalante and then with Arturo Sandoval, who joined the group, replacing his maestro Escalante. Andrés Castro was the most experienced, going back to the years of the Castro Brothers orchestra that his brother Manolo led since 1928. “Guajiro” Mirabal, “Trompetica” Lara and later Arturo Sandoval were in charge of the very high notes. The trombone section was just as impressive, with men of extensive jazz band experience, except for the “meteoro” Juan Pablo Torres, who shared the jazz solos with the veteran Pucho Escalante. Never before had a Cuban jazz band included two trombone soloists of this caliber, and the presence of Torres reflected the growing popularity of the trombone in Cuban music. Since then more top trombonists have appeared in Cuba than in the previous thirty years.
As for the line up of saxophones, on lead sax was the onetime “child prodigy” Paquito Rivera, who at eleven years of age had played Mozart’s clarinet concerto with Cuba’s main symphonic ensemble, and who would make a grand entrance into North American jazz, nothing less than first alto in Dizzy Gillespie’s band. Of the OCMM’s two soloists on tenor sax, the most organic was Babín Hernández, perhaps the country’s last “cool” tenor player. The role