22 March 2008

RIP: Israel Lopez Cachao - 1918-2008

Today in the world of music, we have lost one of our greatest innovators:

Word from Miami came this morning by way of my musical padrino, Walfredo de los Reyes Sr., who played with Cachao and others back in one of the many heydays of Havana over the centuries, in this case the 1950s on live gigs and recordings. These were cats who truly innovated some of the baadest bass & percussions Cuban improvisational music sessions.

Israel Lopez "Cachao", born in Havana, Cuba in 1918 to a family already known to produce a legacy of bassists, began playing for silent movies at a young age, debuting with the Havana Municipal Symphony by 12, standing on a crate, going on to play from the likes of Igor Stravinsky to Carlos Santana to Sheila E. to Isaac Delgado, and many, many others that he imbued and supported with his musical generosity.

Although of Cuban heritage and a fourth-generation listener to Cachao's music, there are 90 years of facts and music that I can barely fathom when also considering his mentors taking us another 90 years; and so I have to disclaim that I am by no means an authority on Cachao. However, with the outpouring of musical emotion and the phone calls today, I'd like to share to readers and listeners some perspectives and what little I do know, to deepen appreciation on this solemn occassion:

Together with his older brother Orestes Lopez playing with the group Arcano y su Maravillas, they would bring the classic Danzon up to 20th century standards, adding that funky section that became known as el Mambo, and spin off into its own style and dance, taking the world by storm (and still alive and well on dancefloors everywhere, even on Dancing With The Stars). Israel Lopez Cachao would not only be a noted composer, but also one of the greatest of Cuban bassists around, developing that funky syncopated caribbean style sometimes called Tumbao that is a mainstay of Afro-Cuban, Salsa, and Latin-Jazz musics today.

(Check out the article Rebecca Mauleon wrote on Cachao in
the latest issue of Bass Player Magazine - March 2008:
http://www. bassplayer. com/article/cachao/mar-08/33745)

The Lopez brothers would go on to write over 1000 songs (some says as many as 3000). Among the most influential of recordings he made in the 1950s was in a style known as Descarga, a 'jam session' blending Afro-Cuban rhythms with Jazz-influenced improvisations, featured on the albums Descargas en Miniature , Los Mejores Musicos de Cuba, and Cuban Jazz con Walfredo de los Reyes and his All Stars.

Of the many tunes Cachao wrote, one would later become the theme, and the name, of the Grammy-winning film (and group), The Buena Vista Social Club . In fact Israel's nephew/ Orestes' son, Cachaito, is featured on bass in the film and recordings.

Another danzon they wrote, circa 1942, would eventually become even more famous: "Rareza de Meliton", was later recorded in 1957 under the name "Chanchullo" by both Arcano as well as Tito Puente, who then recorded it a second time in 1962 under a new name, then picked up by Carlos Santana under the title "Oye Como Va", which continues to influence rockers and rappers well into the 21st century.

Despite his great innovations and influence on Mambo, Salsa and Rock, Cachao did not get to cash in or garner the fame enjoyed by Puente or Santana. But he a working musician, he left Cuba for good in 1960, going between Spain and New York, continuing and even leading some recordings, and at one point relocating to Las Vegas in 1977 where he reunited with Walfredo de los Reyes, Tany Gil and Paquito Hechevarria (later the pianist on "(Com'on Shake Your Body) Do The Conga") and resulting in the album Wal-Pa-Ta-Ca.

However, going back to Miami in the 1980s, Cachao remained in relative obscurity (a place that despite the massive Cuban community, that another compadre and bandleader Jose Fajardo called "a musical graveyard").
But thanks to some kids from the San Francisco Mission District who dedicated themselves to preserving the rich traditions of la musica, this was about change forever...

In 1989, yours truly had the honor of attending a historic concert hosted by the San Francisco Jazz Festival and produced by percussionist and educator, John Santos with his group The Machete Ensemble (with Orestes Vilato on timbales, Rebeca Mauleon -pno, John Calloway -fl, Meleycio Magdaluyo -sax, Wayne Wallace -t'bone, David Belove-bass, Paul Van Wagenhagen -drums, and other greats, I hope to find the program again to give all their due).

Santos persuaded Cachao to come out to this concert, for which they were joined by other greats including Chocolate Armenteros, Armando Peraza, Francisco Aguabella, Walfredo de los Reyes, and, to complete the circle of "Oye Como Va", Carlos Santana. While the entire concert was an absolute thrill, one of the most moving moments for me was to witness the performance of a real live acoustic and authentic Danzon featuring Cachao, with the Mission's own Anthony Blea leading a string section, when the time came for the break where Orestes began cracking into the timbal, Rebeca doing the octave-run on the piano, and leading the group into the deep grooving mambo section. As I'm sure as with the case for everyone in the room bearing witness, this 150-year old musical style and its ancestors spoke to something deep in me; I would never be the same again...

Another memorable high-point was when everyone threw down some serious Descargas and a finale with Walfredo on traps, Armando on bongo', Chocolate on trumpet., and Carlos Santana wailing on guitar.

But also in attendance that evening: Cuban American actor Andy Garcia who was in town while completing Francis Ford Coppola's film"Godfather III".

From that evening on, Garcia and Cachao would become friends for the remainder of Cachao's years. Andy produced with Cachao several Grammy-winning and nominated recordings including 2005's Ahora, Si! and feature Cachao in his documentary film, "Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos". For the 2005 Latin Grammys, Andy Garcia presented Cachao along with his contemporary Bebo Valdez, an event that garnered 9 Million viewers, largest broadcast audience of the Latin Grammys . (video link and complete credits forthcoming).

Cachao was to make one more trip out to this year's San Francisco International Film Festival for the premiere of "Uno Mas" produced by San Francisco State University, and to join a musical tribute led by John Santos and his quintet at the new Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco. But, as fate would have it, it was not to be.

Check out the description written by John Santos for the forthcoming film Uno Mas, produced by San Francisco State University, premiering at the SF Film Festival next month (April):
http://docfilm. sfsu. edu/cachao/bio/

This Wednesday evening on the Latin/Jazz Mecca , we will pay tribute to the original PHATTEST, FUNKIEST, OLDEST-School BASS,
Israel Lopez aka "CACHAO".

Latin/Jazz Mecca with C'Tone
Weds 10pm Eastern / 7pm PST Western Vallejo/Benicia SF Bay, California

Also tonite: yours truly will assist Bay Area latin music radio veteran Emiliano Echevarria with a special 2-hour broacast on KPFA Radio at 9pm: www.kpfa.org .
As some of you may know, Emiliano plays directly from his collection of vintage Cuban 78s rpm discs (shellack, before vinyl; talk about 'Old School'!)

For those who can't get enough broadcasts of Cachao, Chuy Varela will likely dedicate his Sunday broadcast on KCSM from 2-6pm

Check for other streaming broadcasts from WDNA in Miami, KUVO from Denver, WBAI in New York, KPFK in Los Angeles, maybe even Radio Habana from Cuba.
Support Latin music and local, non-commercial radio, who continue to keep la musica alive!

Gracias, Maestro for many years of magic, endurance, and wisdom.

Que Viva CACHAO!

The Latin/Jazz Mecca