Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cuban Flutist Richard Egües (1924-2006)

A great obituary from

Richard Egües (1924-2006)

Richard Egües passed away this past September 1st. Richard was, in my opinion, Cuba's greatest charanga flutist of all time. His greatest career accomplishment was his long tenure with Orquesta Aragón from the spring of 1955 through the fall of 1984.

Eduardo Richard Egües was born in the town of Cruces, in the central Cuban province of Las Villas. As a child he also lived in the Las Villas town of Sancti Spiritus and then moved with his parents to the Las Villas Province capital city of Santa Clara (now known as Villa Clara). In Santa Clara Richard learned how to read music and soon became skilled in several musical instruments, such as the piano, clarinet and saxophone. He was also somewhat of a percussionist since versatility was a must in the world of music and the other arts at the time. At Santa Clara he joined his dad as a cymbal player in that city's Municipal Band and later also joined him in Orquesta "Monterrey." These musical experiences and his skills led him to choose the semi-glossy 5 key wooden flute. The flute became his favorite instrument and flute players were in demand at the time, due to the popularity of successful charanga groups such as Arcaño, Melodias del 40 and others.

Around the late 40's Richard Egües was recommended to Orquesta Aragón of Cienfuegos' founder, director and bass player Orestes Aragón Cantero. Aragón needed someone to fill in for the orchestra's co-founder and flute player Efrain Loyola, who was taking some time off for personal reasons. Richard filled in for Professor Loyola with success. In 1949 Orestes Aragón became ill, decided to retire and leave Orquesta Aragón under the direction of its first violinist, Rafael Lay, Sr. About a year later, in 1950, Professor Loyola decided to leave the orchestra to form his own group under the name of Orquesta "Loyola." Rafael Lay sought Richard Egües and offered him the vacant position left by Loyola, but for reasons best known to him, Richard refused. Rafael Lay then offered the vacancy to his longtime friend and childhood buddy Rolando Lozano who was also a greatly skilled flute player. However, five years later Rolando Lozano accepted an offer from Orquesta America's director and chorus singer, Ninon Mondejar, to join America in Mexico City. Lozano left for Mexico accompanied by his brother Clemente who was also a skilled flute player. Rafael Lay then sought Richard Egües to replace Lozano and, this time, Richard accepted and joined Aragón.

The acquisition of Richard Egües proved to be the key to an even greater success by Orquesta Aragón and soon it occupied the number #1 spot in popularity in Cuba. It was a perfect union. Around July of 1955, Lay, by popular demand of audiences in Havana, decided to move Orquesta Aragón from their native Cienfuegos in Las Villas to Havana. And there shortly afterwards Cuba's outstanding radio station Radio Progreso contracted Orquesta Aragón. The orchestra continues to play there to this day. Since both Richard Egües and Rafael Lay were proficient, to say the least, in playing their instruments and both had a natural love for classical music, together they made musical history, creating a unique style in playing Enrique Jorrin's Cha Cha Cha rhythm, earning Aragón the surname, "Estilistas de Cha Cha Cha" or "The Stylists of the Cha Cha Cha." Their unique style included injecting classical music passages into their special arrangements giving Orquesta Aragón a unique seal of identification which greatly pleased not only connoisseurs but the demanding and unforgiving Cuban public in general, elevating Orquesta Aragón to international fame status in a short period of time.

However, Richard Egües still had other sources of income as he fine-tuned pianos as a part time activity and often a then increasingly popular radio announcement could be heard on Radio Progreso as star program host and radio announcer Pimentel Molina said, "Richard Egües fine tunes pianos, please contact Richard at such and such phone number or go directly to his home at Desague St. in Havana and make sure to tell Richard, Pimentel Molina sent you." It was business creating not just more business but also new friendships and connections. Soon Richard was fine tuning virtually every piano in Havana. How he managed to squeeze so much in one day never ceased to amaze. Richard never stopped free-lancing and participated in various All-Star recordings such as Gema's Lp "Los Mejores Musicos de Cuba" which included fellow luminaries like Bebo Valdés, El Negro Vivar, Tojo Jimenez, Tata Guines and many others as well as the famous and successful all star Panart Cuban Jam Sessions.

To fathom the deep influence classical music had on both Egües and Lay, just one example of many I'd like to mention is the clever, matching and timely injection of "Rondo Capriccioso," a classical music piece composed specially for violin solos, authored by French classical music maestro "Saint-Saens" in the musical intermission of Osvaldo Alburquerque's successful bolero-cha cha cha, "No Puedo Vivir." Other similar additions in their extensive recorded and non-recorded repertoire preceded and followed keeping Orquesta Aragón at the top. The late Mongo Santamaria was once quoted as saying that the difference between the two most prominent of Orquesta Aragón's flute players, Rolando Lozano and Richard Egües, was that Lozano was the "street flute player," much like Arcaño and Fajardo to name just a couple and Egües was the "classical flute player." It was a most accurate assessment.

During the fall of 1957, when Orquesta Aragón reigned supreme in Cuba and in most of the world of Latin music, an incident almost cut short or at least greatly hindered Richard Egües' career. A jealous woman nearly succeeded in blinding him by pouring a liquid acid cleanser on his eyes as he was waking up one morning. Every newspaper, tabloid and magazine in Cuba carried the scandalous story. Richard was fortunate that he was immediately taken to the nearby "Hospital de Emergencia," the "Emergency Hospital" in Carlos III Ave. (near my house) and there, thanks to the timely and quick intervention of eye specialists, they were able to save his eyesight. There was still some minimal damage for which his eyeglass prescription had to be changed to a stronger one. In about 2 months he recovered and Richard was back with Orquesta Aragón. This scary experience compelled Richard to compose and record for RCA with Aragón the bolero-cha "Asi Es Mejor" featuring a beautiful solo vocal by Aragón's then lead singer Jose "Chino" Olmo. Unfortunately only its flip side, "Cha Cha Cha El Satelite" has been found and re-issued in recent years, but "Asi Es Mejor" is still shelved in the RCA vaults or has vanished. During his two months absence due to the acid incident, Richard was replaced with Efrain Loyola's son Jose "Loyolita" Loyola, also a highly skilled flute player, who had experience with Aragón as he had previously replaced Richard during the winter of 1956-57, during a brief absence by Richard in which he had oral surgery and then made a trip to visit his family in his native Santa Clara. At the time another RCA recording was scheduled and "Loyolita" can be heard on that recording playing with Aragón in Felix Molina's cha cha cha, "Eso No Lo Aguanto Yo" and on its flip side was the beautiful "Cha Cha Cha Navideño," or "Christmas Cha Cha Cha" also, unfortunately, never released on either LP or CD.

Some of the Richard Egües' compositions he recorded with Orquesta Aragón, were "Desconsiderada," "Picando de Vicio," "El Trago," "La Muela"(inspired by his oral surgery), "Por Que Me Tienes Asi," "Cero Penas," "Sabrosona or Tan Sabrosona" jointly with Rafael Lay, the great danzon-cha "Gladys" and of course his milestone hit and composition "El Bodeguero" recorded by virtually every artist and group in the world, definitely his biggest money making super hit song. It is virtually impossible to keep track of all the awards both national and international won by Richard with "El Bodeguero" (the Grocer) not to mention the royalties, which kept pouring in decades after he composed it and first recorded it with Aragón during the winter of 1955-56. It was astonishing to see at the time in Havana, original 45 rpm RCA Camden, New Jersey, editions of "El Bodeguero" and its flip side "Señor Juez" delivered to record stores everywhere in the morning disappear from the shelves that same day by noon time or at least early afternoon. Record shops clerks would hide a few remaining copies for friends and customers and do exactly the same thing again and again with subsequent editions. Camden just couldn't keep up with the demands, until it finally subsided somewhat about 9-10 months later! I've never seen anything like it in my entire life. "El Bodeguero" was and perhaps still is unprecedented in both national and international popularity.

Richard Egües and the Orquesta Aragón became inseparable like bread and butter, etc. But in life all good things must come to an end. On August of 1982, Rafael Lay, Sr. was killed in an automobile accident on his way to his native Cienfuegos, Las Villas. Richard Egües was named interim director of Orquesta Aragón, until November 1984 when he decided to leave "for health reasons" and was replaced as director by violinist Rafael Lay Bravo, Rafael Lay's son. It must be said that in 1976 Richard stopped playing the five key wooden flute and substituted it for the least stressful "Bohemme" metal flute due to a kidney ailment. The five key wooden flute requires more pressure and stress to play than the metal ones. After he left Orquesta Aragón, Richard founded the "Orquesta Richard Egües" and recorded an LP album for Egrem, however the new group was not very successful and disbanded, an unusual happening for his brilliant career. Richard returned to free-lancing and played and recorded with other groups, some of which were the new and reorganized Orquesta America, also Felix Reyna's then new and re-organized Orquesta Estrellas Cubanas and around 2000 a successful all-star CD for the Lideres label entitled Richard Egües & Friends- Cuban Sessions. It should be also mentioned that the Richard Egües lineage continued in the world of Cuban music as his son Rembert Egües, a superbly talented musician, has directed various musical groups and orchestras in Cuba, starting his musical career with Orquesta Sensacion in which he substituted for its director and founder Rolando Valdés.

Last month I read in Descarga about the death of Richard Egües and I am honored to write this article as a hearfelt memorial to one of Cuba's most brilliant musicians and composers of all time. Cuba and Latin music lovers everywhere will never forget our dearly departed longtime friend Richard Egües.

May God embrace him as he enters his kingdom and may he give him eternal rest and peace.

Luis de Quesada, NYC

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