The importance of Machito’s European tours cannot be overstated. As an ambassador for the music, he opened new doors for other Latin-oriented groups based in New York City to tour, and his performances caused a fervor of serious study by Euro-based musicians, spawning groups like Holland’s Nueva Manteca in much the same way the orchestra’s tour of Japan did in the early 1960s. Just as Machito’s orchestra was a spawning ground for young writing talent when it first started in 1939, it continued to do so by giving player/arrangers like Eddie Martinez, Jorge Dalto, José Madera, Jorge Millet, and the ubiquitous Ray Santos platforms for their progressive and innovative arranging and playing talents. In 1983 Machito won a Grammy for the recording, Machito And His Salsa Big Band on the Timeless label.
Although Machito’s roots were in “El Barrio,” he later moved his family to the Bronx where he became a fixture in the borough’s club scene and mentored many young players. Machito’s life came to an abrupt end at Ronnie Scott’s in London in 1984 when he suffered a stroke. In 1987, Bronx-based Puerto Rican filmmaker and award-winning photographer Carlos Ortiz premiered his film Machito: A Latin Jazz Legacy to worldwide critical acclaim. Many of you may remember seeing it on PBS.
Mario Bauzá would continue his innovative Afro-Cuban jazz big band experiments by coming out of retirement and fronting a big band in the late ’80s. The group would record four albums — three of which yours truly played drums and timbales on — and receive Grammy nominations. Through the efforts of legendary Cuban arranger and composer Arturo “Chico” O’Farill, Mario revisited “Tanga” with a five-movement suite that left audiences amazed and was fortunately recorded for the album Tanga on the German Messidor label, now reissued by the Miami-based Pimienta label. Combined with Dizzy Gillespie revealing in his biography the importance that Bauzá had in his career, the reissue started an examination by the jazz press of Bauzá’s legacy. It culminated with Bauzá finally getting on the cover of Downbeat magazine, tours of Europe, and kudos in the worldwide jazz press. The recognition that so sadly had eluded him throughout his life finally came at the age of 83.
Macho’s swinging vocals and the power of his saxophone section leading the charge were something to behold. I remember when I was a kid standing in front of those mighty reeds listening as they played “Dale jamón a la jeva” during a summer concert in the south Bronx in front of the projects where I grew up, and Macho with the smile of Changó and Elegua all rolled into one with his tongue in his cheek. It was mind blowing. The power of human beings with real musical instruments taking no prisoners and swingin’ as hard on the mambo as possible for only one thing, maximum overdrive for the dancers who were possessed in ecstasy. Honor the past, don’t just remember it — or as it was once said, “Give to Caesar what is due Caesar.” Mario and Macho, we honor your legacy.