Mambo Pioneer “Cachao” Lopez

Cuban bassist & composer Israel “Cachao” Lopez, who is credited with pioneering the mambo style of music, died Saturday. He was 89. Known simply as Cachao, the Grammy-winning musician 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, such as Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky and Heitor Villa-Lobos, during his nearly 30-year career with the orchestra. He also wrote hundreds of songs in Cuba for bands & orchestras, many based on the classic Cuban music style known as son. He and his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes Lopez, created the mambo in the late 1930s. The mambo emerged from their improvisational work with the danzon, an elegant musical style that lends itself to slow dancing. The mambo was embraced early on and Cuban composers & 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 & Afro-Cuban musical approaches. Cachao left Cuba in 1962, relocating first to Spain and soon afterward 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 as Tito Puente, Tito Rodrigues, Machito, Chico O’Farrill, Eddie Palmieri and Gloria Estefan. In 2006, Cachao was honored at two Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra paying tribute to the Latin bass tradition. Cachao also led a mambo all-star band at a JVC Jazz Festival program at Carnegie Hall that year.

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