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Profile of the legendary flautist, bandleader and charanga pioneer.

Profile by John Child (

FAJARDO: The Charanga Flute King Dies

At 3:30 in the morning of June 21st, 1998, my wife, Helen, and I reached home from nearby Alexandra Palace in north London, where we had just witnessed Larry Harlow's Latin Legends in concert. There had been a stabbing incident amongst some young audience members towards the end of the gig. So as we were leaving, the place was crawling with masses of police personnel and vehicles. However, I was still over the moon. Not only had I never dreamt of seeing such an illustrious lineup just 10 minutes walk from my home, but I was utterly delighted by the surprise appearance of José Fajardo, who I never imagined I would see in the flesh.

Ironically, at the time, septuagenarian Cuban pianist Rubén González, a relative bit player in the history of Latin music, was enjoying much deserved international acclaim through the success of the 1997 World Circuit releases Introducing Rubén González , Buena Vista Social Club and A Toda Cuba Le Gusta . Meanwhile, a giant in the music's history like his 78 year old compatriot Fajardo was scratching a living on the New York club and recording scene. Sadly, fate was to deprive him of the recognition he merited, because he passed away at the end of 2001 in relative obscurity.

Described as "one of the best flautists of this music of all time" by famed pianist Alfredo Rodríguez, Fajardo organised his first charanga band in September 1949. After initially struggling, his career really took-off with the advent of the cha cha chá craze in Cuba in 1953. He went on to play a prominent role in the early '60s charanga/pachanga craze and '70s charanga revival. As a tribute to the memory of this master charanguero, I have revised my profile published in the 2nd Edition of The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music in 1998.

FAJARDO, José Antonio

(b 18 Oct. '19, Guane, Pinar del Río, Cuba; d 11 Dec. '01, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA) Flautist, arranger, composer, producer, leader of flute, strings, rhythm section and voices charanga band christened his All-Stars. Tutored by father from early age; relocated to Havana '33, there joined police, then Army, also employed in law courts; recommenced flute '42, performed with various orchestras, incl. Paulina lvarez (1912-1965), Neno González, Antonio María Romeu (1876-1955), Arcaño y sus Maravillas '47-9. Organised own charanga band Sept. '49, struggled at first, but career took-off with advent of cha cha chá craze in Cuba '53; made two volumes of Danzones Completos (Danzones Completos: Para Bailar, Vol. II) mid-'50s for Puchito (reissued on Antilla '90s); made Cuba (aka Cuban Cha Cha Chá ) '56 on Tico (reissued '96) featuring revered conguero Tata Güines Tata Güines (b Federico Arístides Soto, 30 Jun. '30, Güines, Cuba; joined All-Stars early '50s, to Venezuela with them '56; resided in NYC '57-9, then returned to Cuba '59; worked as a soloist in major Havana cabarets; joined band Los Amigos; leads own band; co-headlined on Cuban All-Stars album Pasaporte '95 on enja; made Aniversario '96 on Egrem; participated in landmark descarga recordings: Cuban Jam Session vols. 3-5 on Panart '57 and Estrellas de Areito Vols. 1-5 '79 on Egrem); singer, arranger, prolific composer Rudy Calzado (b Pedro Calzado, 27 Nov. '29, Santiago de Cuba, Oriente province, Cuba) joined All-Stars '52; went on to work with Enrique Jorrín (while the bandleader was based in Mexico mid-50s); after relocating to the USA, worked with Orquesta Nuevo Ritmo, Johnny Pacheco, Belisario López, Mongo Santamaría, Ray Barretto, Alegre All-Stars, Machito, the two Titos (Rodríguez and Puente), Lou Pérez, La Playa Sextet, Louie Ramírez, Eddie Palmieri, Mario Bauzá '85-93, others; solo albums incl. Pachanga Time '61 on Gema, Salsa y Alegria '74 on Sonotropic, Rica Charanga '86 on Caimán, A Tribute to Mario Bauzá '00 and La Musica Típica de Cuba '00 on Connector.

Fajardo signed with Panart for series of LPs late '50s-64: Cha Cha Chá In Havana , Una Noche En Montmartre , Fajardo At The Havana-Hilton , Ritmo De Pollos , Saludos From Fajardo, Fajardo And His All-Stars Vol.6 , Let's Dance With Fajardo , Sabrosa Pachanga , Fajardo In Japan , Cuban Jam Session (fifth and last volume in label's notable descarga series; half was recorded in Cuba '57, the remainder in Miami '64). To meet massive demand in Cuba late '50s, he created three Fajardo orchestras; asked to perform '59 at NYC's Waldorf Astoria Hotel for John Kennedy's presidential campaign, causing more uproar among Latin community than the Democrats: a gig at the Palladium NYC was quickly arranged. The charanga/pachanga fad was in full swing when, after gigging in Japan, he stayed in NYC '61 together with güiro/timbales player Osvaldo "Chi Hua Hua" Martínez (b c '20, Cuba; d early '80s, NYC; went on to work with Santamaría, Pupi Legarreta, Sonny Stitt, Ray Barretto, Kako, Alegre All-Stars, Pacheco, Willie Bobo, Don Gonzalo Fernández, Mike Pérez, Israel "Cachao" López, Julito Collazo, Lou Pérez, Javier Vázquez, others; made classic Latin jam sets Descarga Cubana Vol. 1 '66 and Latin Cuban Session Vol.2 c '67 on Fonseca, latter featuring Calzado; both compiled on Descarga Cubana '91 on Palladium; co-led Orquesta Metropolitana on New Horizons '80 on Ansonia).

The remaining musicians returned to Cuba, Félix Reina (violinist, composer, arr.; b 21 May '21, Trinidad, Las Villas, Cuba) assumed leadership, renamed band Estrellas Cubanas with future Orquesta Broadway co-founder Eddy Zervigón occupying flautist's position; meanwhile Fajardo settled in Miami. Contributed tracks to Las Charangas - Pacheco, Palmieri, Fajardo '61 on Al Santiago's Alegre label; made Dance La Pachanga Con La Latino Charanga '62 on Tico with prominent cha cha chá composer Rosendo Ruiz Jr. (b 16 Oct. '18, Havana); recorded two LPs for Columbia: Mister Pachanga '62 and Sabor Guajiro '63, both reissued on Sony Tropical '95-6. Ran separate charangas in Miami and NYC '63; disbanded former when relocated to NYC, taking pianist/arr. Sonny Bravo (b 7 Oct. '36, NYC of Cuban parentage) with him; Bravo departed when Fajardo relocated to San Juan, Puerto Rico '65; late '60s material collected on Fajardo y su Charanga '91 on Kubaney. Timbalero Orestes Vilató (b 12 May '44, Camagüey, Cuba) was another notable member of Fajardo's NY band '62-5; he and Bravo became founder members of the important Típica 73 in '72 (see Descarga Journal archives for a discographic profile).

He participated in Tico-Alegre All Stars Recorded Live At Carnegie Hall Vol.l '74 on Tico. Led flute and rhythm section quintet in Miami '74 incl. pianist Alfredo Rodríguez (b '36, Havana), augmented by violinists for touring, incl. brother Alberto Fajardo and Pupi Legarreta. LPs on Coco incl. Fajardo y sus Estrellas del 75 and Fajardo '76 - La Raiz De La Charanga "Charanga Roots" , both made in Miami with bass, four violins, two singers, timbales, güiro, Rodríguez on piano, Tany Gil on conga; "Selecciones Clasicas" Recorded 1977 , new recordings of hits, made in Miami and NYC with six violins incl. the young Cuban Alfredo de la Fé (who sessioned on Fajardo's next three LPs '78-80), Bravo on piano; El Talento Total '78, made in NYC and prod. by Ray Barretto. Played on one track of Barretto's landmark Rican/Struction '79 on Fania. Switched to Fania for Las Tres Flautas - Javier y su Charanga '80 with Javier Vázquez's band, flutes of Fajardo, Legarreta, Pacheco, Chi Hua Hua on güiro; Señor...Charanga! '80, with lead vocalist Cali Aleman and Vilató on timbales, prod. by Vázquez; Fajardo y Pacheco '82 with Chi Hua Hua; Hoy y Mañana '84.

He also appeared on Alfredo Valdés Jr. y su Charanga '82 on Toboga, prod. by Roberto Torres; Pepe Mora's Tributo al "Beny" '83 on Golden Notes; jam session Maestro de Maestros Israel López "Cachao" y su Descarga '86 on Tania and Fania All Stars' Viva La Charanga '86. Guested on Grammy nom. Afro-Cuban Jazz With Graciela, Mario Bauzá And Friends '86 on Caimán. Sessioned with Louie Ramírez and his Latin Jazz Ensemble on Tribute To Cal Tjader '87 on Caimán; on Charanga Ranchera '89 on The Mayor dir./arr. by Alfredo Valdés Jr.; and on Sexy Salsa '89 on The Mayor. Incapacitated '94 with cancer of colon, underwent chemotherapy; made recording comeback on third Africando album Gombo Salsa '96 on Stern's; sessioned on Estrellas Caimán's Descarga del Milenio '97 on Caimán. Made UK debut with Larry Harlow's Latin Legends Band at Alexandra Palace 20 June '98.

He and his band began a seven year residency at NYC's La Maganette club '94. Inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame at their first annual award ceremony 7 Apr. '99. Recovered from quintuple bypass surgery in July '01, but sadly an aneurysm in the brain took his life five months later. Fajardo's percussionist son, Armando Fajardo, took over leadership of the band and continues to perform at La Maganette in memory of his father.

Very special thanks to Armando Fajardo for his feedback.
Armando Fajardo started playing timbales and congas at the age of three and is still performing. In addition to directing and performing with his dad's band, he has worked with Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Sheila E, Javier Vázquez, La Sonora Matancera, Cachao, Dave Valentín, Eddie Zervigón and many others.

-This is a significantly revised version of one of over 130 Latin music entries written by John Child ( for The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 2nd Edition, edit. Donald Clarke; Penguin Books; 1998; 1524 pages; US$22.95, UK£16.99.

They are published on the Descarga website by kind permission of Mr. Donald Clarke.

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