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Profile of the great Cuban vocalist, composer and bandleader.

Profile by John Child (

Rudy Calzado

(b Pedro Calzado, 27 Nov. '29, Santiago de Cuba, Oriente province, Cuba; d 11 May '02, NYC) Versatile singer, percussionist, prolific composer, arranger, bandleader. He was one of the rare breed of singers, who was also an accomplished composer and arranger, and could ably apply himself in any Latin format or idiom. Rudy was born into a family of professional musicians and grew up listening to Pedro Vargas and Toña La Negra. He played guitar and started singing in school with a guitar trio. He made his professional debut in '47 with Pancho Portuondo's orchestra, featuring his cousin, the singer Fernando Alvarez (b 4 Nov. '28, Santiago de Cuba), who later worked with Beny Moré and Conjunto Casino. He relocated to Havana in '50, where he worked with the 18-piece Esteban Antunes band. Two years later he joined José Fajardo's All-Stars; performing with them at the Montmartre Cabaret. While with Fajardo (1919-2001), in '53 or '55 (accounts vary) cha cha cha creator Enrique Jorrín (1926-1987) invited Rudy to join his Mexico-based charanga group to help him promote his rhythm there. He toured widely with Jorrín's orchestra (as well as shuttled back and forth to Cuba) and recorded with them for RCA. Recordings by Enrique Jorrín y su Orquesta from this period are collected on Danzón Cha Cha Cha Vols. 1 & 2 '95-6 on BMG/RCA Tropical Series, including Rudy's trademark composition, the much covered standard "Kikiriki". Two self-penned songs he recorded with Orquesta Kubavana in the late '50s are compiled on A Toda Cuba Le Gusta '95 on Caney.

Rudy remained in Mexico after Jorrín's return to Cuba, and from there he relocated to Chicago in '58 or '59 (again, accounts differ) to become a member of the charanga Orquesta Nuevo Ritmo de Cuba, which its founder, Cuban conguero Armando Sánchez (1920-1997), claimed he organised in '51-2 (in an interview in Aché magazine, Spring '96). Personnel included other prominent names, such as vocalist Pellín Rodríguez (1926-1984), violinist Pupi Legarreta, flautist Rolando Lozano, timbalero Cuco Martínez, pianist René "El Latigo" Hernández and bassist Victor Venegas. With Nuevo Ritmo, Rudy made his performing debut in NYC at the legendary Palladium Ballroom, played in Puerto Rico and accompanied Celia Cruz at California's Hollywood Palladium.

Johnny Pacheco saw Rudy perform with Nuevo Ritmo in NYC and hired him to sing with Elliot Romero (d '90) in his newly formed charanga, which made the first ever album, Pacheco y su Charanga Vol. I '60, on the Alegre label founded in '56 by Al Santiago (1932-1996). The record was a best seller and contained the Feb. '61 Farándula NYC chart topper "El Güiro De Macorina". Rudy sang on Pacheco's next two Alegre volumes, Pacheco y su Charanga Vol. II '61 and Pacheco y su Charanga Vol. III: Que Suene La Flauta '62, as well as on Las Charangas - Pacheco, Palmieri, Fajardo '61 on Alegre, also featuring the charangas of Charlie Palmieri and Fajardo. Pacheco's was the most successful band during the '60-4 charanga/pachanga craze, a trend to which Rudy extensively contributed. For instance, Rudy, his brother Luis and Sergio Calzado comprised the trio of vocalists with The Cuban All Stars (aka Orquesta Estrellas Cubanas) for the early '60s pachanga set Charanga Vol. 2 on Seeco (reissued in '02 as Charanga Cuban All Stars: Cuban Classic, Vol. 14 on WS Latino); he sessioned on Ray Barretto's Pachanga With Barretto '61 and the descarga/jazz oriented Latino '62 on Riverside (LPs repackaged '73 as 2-disc Carnaval on Fantasy, reissued '93 as CD); he worked on A Bailar La Pachanga '61 (aka Pachangas Vol. 1 , reissued in the early '90s) and Pachangas Vol. 2 , both '61 on Ansonia, by Belisario López y su Charanga; sang coro on Pachanga at the Caravana Club '61 on Alegre by Charlie Palmieri and his Charanga "La Duboney"; provided vocals to Lou Pérez's best-selling LPs on Ajay: Para La Fiesta Voy '61 and the significant African hit Bon Bon de Chocolate! , both reissued on Montuno '92; contributed vocals to Héctor Rivera's early '60s classic Charanga & Pachanga! on Epic; sang on Just For Fun '63 on Gema (reissued on Disco Hit '97 and Edenways '98) by Charles Fox and his Charanga, featuring Pacheco, Romero and Louie Ramírez (1938-1993); and supplied lead vocals and the hit compositions "Quimbia" and "Mama Calunga" to La Playa Sextet's Pachanga Everybody on Mardi Gras, said to have been originally issued as late as '66.

Meanwhile, following some problems in Nuevo Ritmo, Sánchez departed and Mongo Santamaría took over the reins of leadership, adding violinist/tenor saxophonist Jose "Chombo" Silva (1913-1995) and timbalero Willie Bobo (1934-1983). Based on the US West Coast, Rudy performed on six Fantasy label recordings by Santamaría's charanga (including one with pianist/leader Joe Loco, 1921-1988): Sabroso! , Pachanga con Joe Loco (reissued as half of the CD Loco Lotion '94), Arriba! La Pachanga , Más Sabroso , Viva Mongo! and Mighty Mongo (reissued with Viva Mongo! on the CD At The Blackhawk '94) '61-2. The latter two albums, made with a decidedly jazz oriented octet of personnel drawn mainly from his charanga, effectively marked the cusp between Mongo's hitherto more typical material and his future Latin/jazz/R&B fusion direction.

In '61 Rudy sung on the first of the revered Alegre All-Stars Latin jam session albums, which kick-started a number of other NYC descarga recordings during the decade, including the notable Latin Cuban Session Vol. 2 c '67 on Fonseca by Osvaldo "Chi Hua Hua" Martínez (b c 1920, Cuba; d early '80s, NYC), on which he sang coro. This album is coupled with Chi Hua Hua's '66 Fonseca album Descarga Cubana Vol. 1 on Descarga Cubana '91 on Palladium.

He made his bandleading debut with Pachanga Time '61 on Gema, which took off in Paris. This led to a contract to tour France and Morocco with his own eight-piece charanga, returning to NYC to do a 12 week solo residency at the Chateau Madrid. Following an eight week stint with the 17-piece house band at Los Angeles' now defunct Club Havana, he returned to NYC. While on the West Coast, he played güiro and cencerro alongside timbalero Cuco Martínez in the rhythm section on keyboardist Clare Fischer's Latin jazz set Manteca! '65 on Pacific Jazz. Fischer had previously worked with Rudy and Cuco in Orquesta Nuevo Ritmo de Cuba.

He had the distinction of working and recording with NYC's entire trinity of Mambo Kings: Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodríguez. Though uncredited, he appeared on many of Rodríguez' early '60s albums for United Artists; recorded with Puente on a number of his albums for Tico, including some with Celia Cruz; and sang coro on a number of recordings by Machito and Graciela, particularly his compositions. Rodríguez even put him in charge of his orchestra for 15 days at NYC's Palladium Ballroom while he recovered from an illness.

During NYC's boogaloo/Latin soul fad '66-9, he shared vocals with Vitín López on Jala Jala Con Boog-A-Loo (aka Salsa ) mid-'60s on Remo by Pupi (Legarreta) y su Charanga; sang on Louie Ramírez' In The Heart Of Spanish Harlem c ' 67 on Mercury and Ali Baba '68 on Fania; and was credited as a vocalist on Puente's The King Tito Puente/El Rey Tito Puente '68 on Tico. The boogaloo era had virtually blown over, when Eddie Palmieri asked Rudy to supply a hit tune for his penultimate studio album for Tico. He gave him "La Malanga", which received its defining interpretation on Superimposition '70 on Tico, featuring Rudy on percussion. Back on the West Coast, he featured prominently on the Chano Martínez Sextet release A Bailar Señores '69 on Decca (reissued on Palladium '89), an excellent album mixing typical and Latin jazz material.

Estranged from and disenchanted with the Fania dominated NYC Latin music scene, at the beginning of the '70s Rudy took a four week contract in Spain and remained there two years. After opening in Madrid, he toured across the country with his own band. He contributed the composition "Ya Yo" and sessioned on Celia Cruz y Tito Puente en España c '71 on Tico, made at Madrid's Columbia Studios. He returned to the USA and based himself in Los Angeles. There he made his second album as a leader, Salsa y Alegria '74 on Sonotropic, containing his important hit "Tumba La Caña". The 14-piece band he convened for the date including flautist Rolando Lozano and conguero José (Perico) de la Caridad. These musicians also performed on Típica Antillana '74 on Sonotropic (reissued as La Charanga Antillana on Music Art Productions '98) by the charanga Típica Antillana, organised in '74 by timbalero Armando Díaz; with Lozano directing and Rudy providing lead vocals. During this period Rudy worked on two notable West Coast Latin jazz recordings: he provided chorus vocals to a '72 Willie Bobo date reissued in '99 as Latin Jazz Legend and played percussion on vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's Montara '75 on Blue Note, featuring an interpretation of his "La Malanga". Personnel on Montara included the luminaries Eddie Cano (1927-1988) on piano and percussionist Bobby Matos.

In '77 he was invited to return to NYC to participate in the Alegre All-Stars' 17th anniversary reunion album Perdido (Vol. 5 or 6?) on Alegre, produced by Al Santiago, and perform with the band at Madison Square Garden. He co-wrote Parts 2, 3 and 4 of the ambitious Salsa Suite with Larry Harlow and Tito Puente for Orchestra Harlow's Grammy nominated La Raza Latina - A Salsa Suite '77 on Fania, with Rubén Blades singing lead vocals on "Salsa Suite - Pt. 2 Caribbean (continued)". The album's coro singers included the trio of vocalists from the all-woman band, Latin Fever, whose only album, Larry Harlow Presents Latin Fever '78 on Fania, contained three songs penned by Rudy. In '79 Orchestra Harlow became the first to record another landmark Calzado composition, "La Reina del Café", interpreted by sonero Nestor Sánchez on Rumbambola on Fania.

In '80 Rudy was hired to organise the house band for the opening of Club Infiernos in Mexico City. He toured the band throughout Mexico, recorded for Orfeón and appeared with Celia Cruz on the TV show Alegrias Con Bacardi . In '83 he was contracted to perform 64 concerts at Madrid's La Cia, and toured Spain, Portugal and elsewhere in Europe. Following his wife's death, Rudy returned to NYC, via Venezuela, in '85. There he hooked-up with another widower, Mario Bauzá (1911-1993), who he'd first met in '60 when Mario was the musical director for the Machito band. Mario invited him to join his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra project and move into his apartment at 944 Columbus Avenue, where he'd lived for 40 years. Rudy stayed there for five years.

In '86 Sergio Bofill and Humberto Corredor commissioned Rudy to make Rica Charanga for their Caimán label (issued in the UK on GlobeStyle '87). The album featured Mario on clarinet, Graciela singing coro, Pupi Legarreta playing flute and violin and Alfredo Valdés Jr. on piano. Rudy co-directed with Mario, sang lead vocals, played güiro, wrote four arrangements and composed all eight tracks, including a fine reworking of "La Reina del Café" arranged by veteran Cuban pianist/arranger Javier Vázquez.

After seeing Mario and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Concert Orchestra (featuring Calzado and Graciela) performing with Dizzy Gillespie for Bauzá's 80th Birthday Tribute at NYC's Symphony Space Apr. '91, German Messidor label boss Götz A. Wörner signed him up. Rudy sang lead vocals on Mario's Messidor debut Tanga '92, voted album of the year in the downbeat critics' poll. The CD included a special concert arrangement by Ray Santos (b 28 Dec. '28, El Barrio, NYC) of his composition "Gangá (Palo En Gangá)", which he previously recorded as "Y Yo Gangá" with the Alegre All-Stars on Perdido '77. One of his three daughters, Tatiana Calzado, was among the background vocalists on this track and another cut. Rudy appeared with Mario and the orchestra in The Cosby Show '92, performing an excerpt from "Gangá (Palo En Gangá)", and toured the USA and Europe with them.

Mario's '93 Messidor follow-up, My Time Is Now , contained two Calzado compositions arranged by Santos: "Así No, Papá", sung by Graciela, and "Ifá" with Rudy on lead vocals. He also provided lead vocals to the perennial "El Manisero", arranged by Chico O'Farrill. The month after My Time Is Now was released, Mario died of cancer in his apartment, the address of which provided the title of the posthumous release 944 Columbus '94 on Messidor, recorded in May '93. Rudy supplied lead vocals to his composition "La Clave De La Ya Ya", arranged by Santos, and the Chano Pozo tribute, "Chano", co-written and arranged by the orchestra's bassist Joe Santiago. "This is the last thing I'm going to do for the new generation," Mario told Calzado, who inherited leadership of the orchestra.

On 17 June '96 Rudy participated in a reunion of the Alegre All-Stars (or Nearly New Alegre All-Stars as Al Santiago called them) for a successful gig at NYC's S.O.B.'s club to celebrate their 35th anniversary. The same year, he provided vocals to the track "Maral" on Gombo Salsa ' 96 on Stern's, the third volume in the successful Senegal meets New York salsa Africando series.

No doubt assisted by the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, his solo career underwent somewhat of a renaissance at the beginning of the new millennium. The German label Connector contracted him to make two albums, both released in '00. The first, A Tribute to Mario Bauzá , was made in NYC with the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, renamed Rudy Calzado and Cubarama. It contained a remake of "Kikiriki", arranged by Santos, plus his composition, "La Jícara", arranged by the orchestra's musical director, famed reedman Paquito D'Rivera. He returned to Cuba after 40 years in exile to record the second CD, La Musica Típica de Cuba . The project was effectively a stocktaking exercise of his career up to that point. All but one of his 10 compositions on the album had been previously recorded, either by him or other artists. However, instead of completely rehashing earlier arrangements, Rudy took the opportunity to rework material from his distinguished portfolio, such as "La Malanga"; "La Reina del Café", sung in duet with Pio Leyva; and "Tumba La Caña", with lead vocals by Leyva. Two songs originally from Larry Harlow Presents Latin Fever '78, "Qué Te Pasa Corazón?" and "Canción De La Alegria", were sung by Anais Abreu. Musical direction was handled Los Van Van's pianist César Pedroso, who played on two tracks, wrote one chart and co-arranged "Descarga José" (originally recorded for Rudy's Pachanga Time '61) along with Rudy and trombonist Hugo Morejón, also from Los Van Van.

Also recorded in Cuba, Rudy shared lead vocals with Leyva and Luis Frank on a rendition of the Beny Moré classic "Maraicabo Oriental" and supplied lead vocals to two of his self-penned songs on A Buena Vista: Barrio De La Habana '01 on Narada by the Soneros De Verdad; and sang lead vocals on two cuts on Generoso Que Bueno Toca Usted '01 on Termidor by Generoso Jiménez and his Gran Afro Cuban Orchestra.

Back in the USA, he sessioned on Los Originales '01 on Universal/MusicHaus by the Cuban Masters, an all-star ensemble directed by trombonist Juan Pablo Torres, featuring Fajardo, bassist Cachao, trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, conguero Carlos "Patato" Valdez, pianists Alfredo Valdés Jr. and Alfredo Rodríguez, sonero Héctor Casanova and 10 others. In addition to recording Los Originales in Hialeah, Miami, the Cuban Masters gave a concert at the James L. Knight International Center in Downtown Miami.

Rudy was a highly productive composer, who wrote everyday. He composed over 600 tunes, most of which haven't been recorded. Besides those already mentioned, some of his other notable songs are: "Con Su Bataola" (from Pacheco y su Charanga Vol. II '61); "No Hay Manteca" (from Celia Cruz's Son Con Guaguancó '66 on Tico); "Yo Soy La Voz" and "En El Cafetal" (from Celia Cruz and Tito Puente's Quimbo Quimbumbia '69 on Tico); the title track of Puente's Pa'Lante!/Straight! '70 on Tico; "Cuyi" (from Cruz and Puente's Alma Con Alma '71 on Tico); "La Llave Y El Candao" (from Charlie Palmieri's El Gigante Del Teclado '72 on Alegre); "No Me Reproches" (from Graciela's Esa Soy Yo, Yo Soy Asi '74 on Mericana, reissued with Machito '72 in the two-CD set Machito y Graciela '00 on Salsoul/Sony); and "La Botija De Abuelito" (recorded on Típica 73's The Two Sides Of Típica 73 '77 on Inca).

In '02 Rudy was hospitalised with diabetes. His leg became infected and was amputated. He died the next day.

In today's Cuba, Rudy's nephew, timba master David Calzado, directs Charanga Habanera and another nephew, Manolo, is a member of La Charanga Forever.

For more on Rudy Calzado, read Luis De Quesada's In Memoriam.

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