Shows will present entire lineage of influential musician, including his danzones, mambos and descargas, Greg Thomas reports in The New York Daily News.
“Cachao was the center of the musical universe in Cuba!” exclaims producer and Latin music historian Rene López about bassist and composer Israel “Cachao” López.
López is a Latin-music consultant for Jazz at Lincoln Center, where on Friday and Saturday the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will play the music of the legendary Cuban musician, who died in 2008.
“”We’re going to give the whole lineage of Cachao during these shows,” says fellow bass player Carlos Henríquez, the gig’s musical director.
Henríquez and orchestra will offer “some of his danzones, traditional Cuban music he was accustomed to playing as a young boy. We’re going to play some mambos also, and some of his descargas — which means jam sessions — one thing he’s primarily known for.”
López was friends with Cachao, and produced several tours and recordings with the bass master in the 1970s. “Cachao and his older brother Orestes López are considered the two of the three most important contributors to the mambo. I compare mambo in Latin music to bebop in jazz. It’s an evolution.
“Orestes wrote the first song with the word mambo in the title in 1938 and he told me that he wrote it for his brother.
“Cachao was probably the person most responsible for adding that mambo part to last part of the danzón, which has three parts: an intro, an interlude and a third part with a repetitive refrain, a repeating vamp that swings.”
Henríquez met Cachao, through his mentor Andy Gonzalez, in Manhattan at the Copacabana and SOB’s when he was a teenager, but, he says, he didn’t understand the true stature of the man. Only through deep study, and playing with Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri and other Latin kings of music, did Henríquez see the light.
It’s like that sometimes with bass players, who seem to be supporting players.
“Cachao showed the world that you could take the bass and turn it into an African drum. In those descargas, you hear clearly that he’s a drummer when he’s playing with congas and all of the other rhythms,” Henríquez says.
“He was also a well-trained classical musician. He showed that you could keep your roots, yet play other styles of music.”
Rene López explains that “Cachao was from one of the most renowned musical families in Cuba. His mother was a piano teacher, and his father, Pedro López, was the bass player in a famous danzón band from the 1930s.
“I remember seeing a picture of Cachao at the age of 14, standing on a box playing with the symphony orchestra in Havana. So he was recognized as a gifted musician at an early age.
“From the mid-1930s, as a teen, he was already playing with the charanga bands in Havana, including his brother’s band. And while with the Orquesta Arcaño y Sus Maravillas during the 1940s he helped bring the American popular songbook into the popular dance hall tradition in Cuba,” says Rene López.
“So there are great versions of Arcaño’s band doing danzón versions of “Take the A Train,” “St. Louis Blues,” “The Man I Love,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” and “Over the Rainbow,” which Cachao performed with an African 6/8 rhythm at a Lincoln Center jazz concert I produced in the early 1990s.”
In the 1950s, Cachao was part of an underground jam session movement in Cuba.
“Cachao eventually became a leader in that movement. Bebo Valdés recorded the first descarga, but Cachao did the definitive recordings, called ‘Jam Sessions in Miniature,’” López says. “They were tight, well-organized. It marks a rallying point for anyone who wants to do any Latin jam sessions.”
Henríquez says he walks in Cachao’s footsteps.
“I think I took the same path as Cachao, studying classically but maintaining the roots from where you’re from. Being Puerto Rican, and being an American born in the Bronx, a Nuyorican, I play my Afro-Hispanic music and play my rooted American music, too.”
Turns out Cachao himself was an admirer .
“I was at a club and saw Juan Formell, who knew Cachao,” says Henríquez. “He pulled me to the side and said, I just want you to know that Cachao always spoke about you. He always said that you carry the spirit of his music and the spirit of a true bass player.
“I almost freaked out because I never got a chance to sit down with him formally, and ask questions. That was very gratifying to hear from someone who knew Cachao very well.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW
There’s a free preconcert discussion each night at 7 p.m. Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Ken Druker and Rene López appear on Friday and bassist and friend of Cachao Andy Gonzalez appears Saturday.
The shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets: $30 – $120. See jalc.org.