The King of Latin bass is dead. Long live the king:
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Posted on Sat, Mar. 22, 2008
Legendary musician 'Cachao' dies at 89
By ENRIQUE FERNANDEZ
Known to the world simply by his nickname -- Cachao -- bassist, composer and bandleader Israel López died Saturday morning at Coral Gables Hospital of complications resulting from kidney failure. He was 89.
Cachao was one of the most important living figures in Cuban music, on or off the island, and ''arguably the most important bassist in twentieth-century popular music,'' according to Cuban-music historian Ned Sublette. He not only innovated Cuban music but also influenced the now familiar bass lines of American R&B, ''which have become such a part of the environment that we don't even think where they came from,'' Sublette said.
Cachao and his brother Orestes are most widely known for their late-1930s invention of the mambo, a hot coda to the popular but stately danzón that allowed the dancers to break loose at the end of a piece.
It debuted in a chic Havana night club -- and flopped.
''Nothing happened,'' Cachao told The Miami Herald in 1992. ``Here was this 180-degree turn. The whole orchestra was out of work for six months after that because people didn't understand that type of music.''
Typically modest, Cachao always credited bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado for making the beat world-famous in the 1950s.
''People think there could've been some antagonism,'' Cachao said. But ``if it weren't for him, the mambo wouldn't be known around the world.''
A possibly more important musical moment took place in 1957, when Cachao gathered a group of musicians in the early morning hours, pumped from playing gigs at Havana's popular nightclubs, for an impromptu jam at a recording studio. The resulting descargas, known to music aficionados worldwide as Cuban jam sessions, revolutionized Afro-Cuban popular music. Under Cachao's direction, these masters improvised freely in the manner of jazz, but their vocabulary was Cuba's popular music. This was the model that wold make live performances of Afro-Cuban based genres, from salsa to Latin jazz, so incredibly hot.
This majestic influence came from a man of sweet demeanor and unassailable sense of humor. Fronting his band at a fancy dance in Coral Gables when he was already in his late 80s, he seemed so frail that he had to lean his whole body on the contrabass to keep from falling. But his beatific smile and closed eyes proved that he was in heaven already, embracing his instrument like a lover, like a strong friend.
Yet he no longer owned a bass.
''That's outrageous,'' said jazz legend Charlie Haden when he heard this at the time. ``I'll give him one of mine.''
But a contrabass took up too much room in his small Coral Gables apartment. Besides, what need did he have to rehearse? Cachao carried his bass, his music, inside him.
A marvel of the 20th century, Cachao was born in 1918 in the same Havana house where Cuban poet and patriot José Martí was born. He was the youngest of three children in a family of distinguished musicians, many of them bassists -- around 40 and counting in his extended family.
As an 8-year-old bongo player, he joined a children's septet that included a future famous singer and bandleader, Roberto Faz. A year later, already on bass, he provided music for silent movies in his neighborhood theater, in the company of a pianist who would become a true superstar, the great cabaret performer Ignacio Villa, known as Bola de Nieve (Snowball).
His parents made sure Cachoa was classically trained, first at home and then at a conservatory. When he was 13, he joined his father and brother in the Orquesta Filarmónica de La Habana -- The Havana Philharmonic -- playing contrabass under the baton of guest conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky and Heitor Villa-Lobos. He had to stand on a box to reach the strings.
He was equally at home playing in a dance band, changing out of his coattails at the end of a concert to play with Arcano y sus Maravillas. When they weren't playing, Cachao and his brother created some 3,000 danzones.
''One day I was in my own home and I turned on the radio,'' he told The Miami Herald. 'And I heard a danzón that I liked. And I said `Who is that'? -- and at that moment, the announcer says it's mine.''
After a rich musical career in his home country, he left Cuba in 1962. His brother Orestes stayed on the island. As retribution for leaving, Cachao said, the Cuban government removed his name from all of his recordings, leaving only Orestes on the label. That, he said, was a ``big tragedy.''
Cachao eventually landed in Las Vegas because, as he admitted, ``I was a compulsive gambler.''
Though cured later in life, he nearly gambled away every penny until his wife whisked him away.
For a while, he had two distinct musical personae. In the New York salsa scene he was revered as a music god, with homage concerts dedicated to him, and records of his music produced by Cuban-music collector René López. In Miami, he was an ordinary working musician who would play quinceañeras and weddings, or back up dance bands in the notorious Latin nightclubs of the Miami Vice era.
It took a celebrity, Miami's own Andy García, to integrate his musical personality into one: that of a legendary master. In the '90s, García produced the recordings known as Master Sessions, accompanied by big concerts honoring his legacy. Cachao's star rose again.
But he remained a working musician, if at a much higher level of appreciation. Cachao continued to perform and record with all the energy of a much younger artist. Though already frail and distraught at the funeral of his fellow legend, trombonist Generoso Jiménez, in September 2007, he headlined a rollicking concert in Miami a week later.
Earlier this month, just days before he was hospitalized, the multiple Grammy winner was in the Dominican Republic receiving a lifetime achievement award. Cachao was planning an European tour in August with violinist Federico Britos, with whom he frequently collaborated.
The day before his death, Cachao told his friend Britos, ''When am I supposed to record with you again? I have to get out of bed.'' And he was in pre-production for a CD of new compositions.
''It was not only a great musician who died,'' said producer Emilio Estefan, who was at his bedside, ``but a great señor -- a gentleman. Even in his deathbed he would make sure his visitors felt at ease. He belonged to the people.''
Cachao, whose wife of 58 years, Ester Buenaventura López, died in 2004, is survived by their daughter María Elena López, grandson Hector Luis Vega and his nephew Daniel Palacio.
Cuban music icon 'Cachao' dies
Grammy winner pioneered mambo, influenced modern-day rhythms
The Associated Press
updated 6:12 p.m. PT, Sat., March. 22, 2008
MIAMI - Cuban bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who is credited with pioneering the mambo style of music, died Saturday at age 89, a family spokesman said.
Known simply as Cachao, the Grammy-winning musician had fallen ill in the past week and died surrounded by family members at Coral Gables Hospital, spokesman Nelson Albareda said.
Cachao left communist Cuba and came to the United States in the early 1960s. He continued to perform into his late 80s, including a performance after the death of trombonist Generoso Jimenez in September 2007.
Cachao was born in Havana in 1918 to a family of musicians. A classically trained bassist, he began performing with the Havana symphony orchestra as a teenager, working under the baton of visiting guest conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky and Heitor Villa-Lobos during his nearly 30-year career with the philharmonic.
He also wrote hundreds of songs in Cuba for bands and orchestras, many based on the classic Cuban music style known as son.
He and his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes Lopez, are known for the creation in the late 1930s of the mambo, which emerged from their improvisational work with the danzon, an elegant musical style that lends itself to slow dancing.
"The origins of 'mambo' happened in 1937," Cachao said in a 2004 interview with The San Francisco Chronicle. "My brother and I were trying to add something new to our music and came up with a section that we called danzon mambo. It made an impact and stirred up people. At that time our music needed that type of enrichment."
The mambo was embraced early on and Cuban composers and jazz musicians have tweaked it over the years. It also influenced the development of salsa music.
In the 1950s, Cachao and his friends began popularizing the descarga ("discharge" in Spanish), a raucous jam session incorporating elements of jazz and Afro-Cuban musical approaches.
Cachao left Cuba in 1962, relocating first to Spain, and soon afterward came to New York where he was hired to perform at the Palladium nightclub with the leading Latin bands.
In the United States, he collaborated with such Latin music stars such as Tito Puente, Tito Rodrigues, Machito, Chico O'Farrill, Eddie Palmieri and Gloria Estefan.
He worked in Las Vegas for most of the 1970s. He fell into obscurity during the 1980s after he moved to Miami, where he ended up playing in small clubs and at weddings.
But his career enjoyed a revival in the 1990s with the help of Cuban-American actor-director Andy Garcia, who made a 1993 documentary about the bassist's career, "Cachao ... Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos" (Like His Rhythm There Is No Other) and also produced several CDs, including the Grammy-winning album "Ahora Si!" in 2004.
In 2006, Cachao was saluted at two Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra paying tribute to the Latin bass tradition, and he led a mambo all-star band at a JVC Jazz Festival program at Carnegie Hall.
In a statement Saturday, Garcia credited Cachao with being a major influence in Cuban musical history and said his passing marked the end of an era.
"Cachao is our musical father. He is revered by all who have come in contact with him and his music," Garcia said. "Maestro ... you have been my teacher, and you took me in like a son. So I will continue to rejoice with your music and carry our traditions wherever I go, in your honor."
Cuban-born reed player and composer Paquito D'Rivera said Cachao made friends everywhere he went with his affable personality and good sense of humor. D'Rivera said he was working on a piece he had written for the multiple Grammy winner when he heard about the death.
"He was what a great musician should be. He represented what true versatility in music is all about," D'Rivera told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
A wake is set for Wednesday, and his burial is Thursday, Albareda said.