Mario Bauzá’s Afro-Cuban jazz changed the landscape of American music.

Mario Bauzá, Pioneer of Afro-Cuban Jazz

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Legendary Musician Mario Bauzá, director of the band Afro-Cubans and composer of the 1943 smash hit “Tanga,” blended jazz with Afro-Cuban influence to huge success in the United States.

Born in 1911, Bauzá grew up in Havana, where he took to music at a young age. Nine-year-old Bauzá played clarinet in the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra. Five years later, he played the trumpet for a Cuban band in New York.

Bauzá moved to New York permanently in the early 1930’s and began his working relationship with Spanish-Cuban singer Antonio Machin and Cuban Orchestra Director Don Azpiazu.

Around that time, Bauzá met Chick Webb, a master of swing music and jazz. Bauzá climbed the ranks of Webb’s band, eventually taking over as orchestral director for five years.

While working with Webb, Bauzá discovered “Queen of Jazz” Ella Fitzgerald.

Photo: MCA files

“We got a hold of the girl and a rehearsal room, and I couldn’t believe it. I got me a diamond in the rough,” said Bauzá in a 1991 interview with The New York Times. “Chick auditioned the lady up there. He didn’t think much of her. But I forced him to take her to a prom at Yale, and man, we couldn’t get her off stage people loved her so much.”

Though Bauzá played with jazz juggernauts—including big band musician Fletcher Henderson—throughout the 1930’s, he really came into his own while playing in jazz singer Cab Calloway’s band in 1939.

Bauzá tested Afro-Cuban jazz fusion while working with Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who Bauzá recruited to Calloway’s band.

After parting ways with Calloway, Bauzá found great success with Jazz Musician Machito. The pair collaborated on Afro-Cuban jazz and debuted their fresh style, making waves in the American music landscape. Bauzá helmed Machito’s Afro-Cubans as music director for over three decades.

Bauzá’s musical innovations infiltrated pop music, and several dances—including the rhumba, mambo and cha-cha—rose to incredible popularity.

Despite American interest in Latin music fluctuating throughout the later decades of Bauzá’s life, he maintained his status as a music icon and performed with his signature charm until his death in 1993.

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