By Janice Jarrett
CUBAN BORN TRUMPETER and band leader Mario Bauza got the record deal of a lifetime at his 80th birthday party/performance in New York in 1991. A German label executive from Messidor signed him up after hearing his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, and together they produced three astounding albums. The last one, 944 Columbus, which just received this year's Grammy nomination for best Latin jazz performance, was completed only two months before Bauza's death in 1993.
His band lives on--in fact, the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra will appear with The Tucson Latin Jazz Orchestra at Centennial Hall on Thursday, January 26.
The music Bauza championed for more than six decades was born in the 1920s when two hybrid musics, American jazz and Afro-Cuban, met and married in Havana. Joining the two styles was natural; both are based on an almost parallel heritage. African slaves in both areas had mixed with Spanish, French and English immigrants in the New Worlds. And both jazz and Afro-Cuban music share a long tradition of improvisation.
Even before this union, Cuba had been a source for worldwide dance and song crazes. After Havana, there were even more. The rumba, mambo, conga, tango and chachacha are among the many dances that can trace their roots to Cuban music, especially Afro-Cuban music. The recent mass appeal of salsa, featuring talents like Gloria Estefan, among others, attests to the remarkable attractiveness of this music based on based on powerful rhythms and a treasury of songs.
Like most of the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, the current leader, Rudy Calzado, is a longtime member of the ensemble. A composer of distinction in his own right (150 recorded songs), he's written hits for the likes of Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Charlie Palmieri, and is also a top arranger and vocalist. He was part of the famous 1961 Allegre All Stars album, where an all-director's band recorded without arrangements. Talk about a jam session. Many of the other members of this orchestra read like a Who's Who of Afro-Cuban jazz.
The opening act, the Tucson Latin Jazz Orchestra, is among the best in contemporary Latin jazz ensembles. They go through their top-notch charts with strength and purpose. It will be hard not to get up and dance.
What you hear with the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra are the roots of much of the Latin music that has crossed over into American culture. With these guys you get the real thing. And with 11 horn players among the 118 musicians playing a music still amazingly contemporary, you'd better hold onto your seats as well as your hats.
The Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra and the Tucson Latin Jazz Orchestra perform at 8 p.m. January 26 at UA Centennial Hall, east of Park Avenue on University Boulevard. Tickets range from $12 to $18, available at the box office or by calling 621-3341.
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