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obituary & discographic profile
Israel "Cachao"López 1918 - 2008

by John Child

Virtuoso bassist, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer and bandleader Cachao (1918-2008) was one of the most influential of all Latin musicians, closely associated with the genesis of the mambo and a master proponent of descarga. In tribute, John Child offers a revised and updated version of a discographic profile first published in 1998.

obituary & discographic profile

Israel "Cachao"López
(b 14 Sept. '18, Havana, Cuba; d 22 March '08, Coral Gables, Florida)
The name of revered bassist Cachao (who also arranged, composed and played bongo, tres, trumpet, piano and trombone) is linked with the origins of mambo and is virtually synonymous with descarga (Latin jam session). From a musical family, said to include at least 35 bassists, at the age of eight he played bongo with Chapman Sport, a children's group that included future famed singer Roberto Faz (1914-1966). He started playing bass in '27 and debuted with the band of Ignacio Villa (1911-1971, later known as Bola de Nieve or Snow Ball) providing music for silent movies. In '30 he joined the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra, remaining a member for over 30 years. Meanwhile he performed with the dance band of violinist Marcelino González, and between '34 and '36 he worked with Ernesto Muñoz, Antonio Maria Cruz and Orquesta Antillana.

He joined La Maravilla del Siglo led by singer / composer Fernando Collazo (1909-1939). In '37 the musicians mutinied after a row with Collazo and formed themselves into a co-operative led by flautist Antonio Arcaño (1911-1991), which soon became Arcaño y sus Maravillas, a flute, strings and rhythm section charanga francesa that interpreted the danzón, a Cuban ballroom dance evolved in 1870s from 17th-18th century French contradanza. Personnel included Cachao's brother cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Orestes López "Macho" (1908-1991). He and Orestes composed most of Arcaño's repertoire of danzones (up to 28 a week when Arcaño's charts were stolen). Orestes' danzón "Mambo" '38, first performed on the radio station Mil Diez, is widely regarded as the earliest manifestation of the mambo rhythm; it took at least six months for the new danzón-mambo sound to be accepted, however by '43 Arcaño's orchestra challenged Arsenio Rodríguez's conjunto as Cuba's most popular band; Cachao and Orestes feature on most of the RCA recordings by Arcaño y sus Maravillas collected on the recommended Danzón Mambo 1944-51 '93 on Tumbao. Cachao retired from the exhausting Arcaño routine in '49 to work in theatrical revues, opera, etc; he returned to the nightclubs in '53 by joining the band of José Fajardo (1919-2001), appearing with them at New York's Palladium Ballroom in '54. In the late '50s he reformed disbanded members of Arcaño's orchestra to make two danzón LPs on Duher: Camina Juan Pescao - Cachao y su Típica '58 and Cachao y su Típica Vol. 2 '59 (reissued as La Leyenda, Vols. 2 & 1 on Kubaney; yes, in reverse order!), when other danzón orchestras had become charangas, playing cha cha chá and other rhythms. Further danzones he recorded in Cuba in '60 were collected on Superdanzones '97 on Egrem and Bebo & Cachao Jazz Cuba 2 '07 on Rhino.

The first descarga (literally: "discharge") to be recorded in Cuba is currently understood to be "Con Poco Coco" for the 10" LP Cubano '52 on Clef Records performed by pianist / composer / arranger Bebo Valdés (b 9 Oct. '18, Quivicán, Cuba) and members of the Tropicana night club orchestra under the name of the Andre's All Stars; the historic track was included on the compilation The Original Mambo Kings - An Introduction To Afro-Cubop '93 on Verve (all five cuts from Cubano are available on Bebo Valdés & His Havana All Stars: Descarga Caliente '96 and The Best Of Bebo Valdés 2-CD Set '04, both on Caney); he made his recording comeback after 34 years with Bebo Rides Again '95 on Messidor. Panart Records organised a series of descargas from '56 with Cuba's best musicians, mixing Cuban idioms with extended soloing in a loose format: Cuban Jam Session's in two volumes (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) directed by pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer Julio Gutiérrez (1918-1990), followed by Vol. 3 directed by tres player Niño Rivera (1919-1996). Cachao did "short jam sessions" as 78s, then the '57 albumCuban Jam Sessions In Miniature "Descargas" - Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente Vol. 4 (he did not receive any payment for the album's million-plus sales); the entire Cuban Jam Sessions In Miniature album is collected on Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente From Havana To New York '94 on Caney together with tracks Cachao recorded with the Joe Cain Orchestra for Latin Explosion '64 on Time Records. Cuban Jam Session with Fajardo and his All-Stars '64 was the fifth volume in the Panart series.

His other descarga recordings from this period include Jam Session With Feeling '58 and Cachao y su Conjunto - Descarga '61, both on Maype, and Cuban Music In Jam Session '61 on Bonita (reissued under the same title by Musicalia and as Descarga Cubana '96 on Lucuso; most of the Bonita album is compiled on Descarga Guajira '02 on Caney together with the three extended cuts that comprised the original vinyl release of Cachao Te Pone A Bailar, initially issued on Teca and reissued on Regio). Descargas Con El Ritmo De Cachao '61 on Modiner is said to be the last descarga album he made in Cuba. He also played on "Descarga Numero Uno" and "Descarga Numero Dos" recorded in c. '57 by Chico O'Farrill's Cuban All Stars included on the collection Los Mejores Musicos de Cuba '60 and Cuban Jazz '59 by percussionist Walfredo de los Reyes (b. 16 June '33, Havana; who performed on Cuban Jam Session Vols. 1 and 2), both on Gema. Tracks from Los Mejores Musicos de Cuba and Sabor Cubano are compiled on the Cachao anthology More Legendary Descarga Sessions '96 on Caney; the Walfredo de los Reyes CD Sin Timbal No Se Pue' Bailar '05 on Caney pairs Cuban Jazz with his '58 album Sabor Cubano.

The Panart Cuban Jam Session's had a profound effect on the Latin scene in New York (inspiring descarga recordings by the Alegre All-Stars and others), which Cachao joined '63 (via Spain), working with Charlie Palmieri, Fajardo, Johnny Pacheco, Tito Rodríguez (including the LP Tito Tito Tito '64 on UA, featuring the tribute "Descarga Cachao"), Candido, Eddie Palmieri (for nearly a year), Machito (for one or two years) and others. He participated in the classic Tributo A Noro '65 on Alegre by Kako's After Hour Orchestra and Salsa All-Stars '68 on Salsa, both effectively the Alegre All-Stars produced by Al Santiago, and the Tico All Stars' Descargas at the Village Gate - Live '66 (three volumes). He moved to Las Vegas, worked there with George Hernández, Pupi Campo and the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra; played on Tico-Alegre All-Stars Live At Carnegie Hall '74 back in NYC; then his own LPs on Salsoul: Cachao y su Descarga '77 Vol. 1 '76 and Dos, Vol. 2 '77 (with a Cuban street scene painted by Henry Fiol on the cover) were co-produced with no commercial restraint by musicologist René López and Andy Kaufman to recreate Havana descargas and danzones (recalling the days with Arcaño); the line-up included five violins, featuring veteran Pupi Legarreta and younger Cuban Alfredo de la Fé, with Don Gonzalo Fernández on flute, Charlie Palmieri, Lino Frías on piano, Manny Oquendo on timbales, Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros on trumpet, Osvaldo "Chi Hua Hua" Martínez, Papaíto, Carlos "Patato" Valdés on percussion; the LPs received little airplay / promotion at the time, but have acquired cult fame since. His New York session work from the mid-'60s to mid-'70s included LPs by Dave Pike (Manhattan Latin '64 on Decca), Patato and Totico (Patato & Totico '67 on Verve), Hubert Laws (Flute By-Laws '66 on Atlantic), Candido ("Brujerias" de Candido / Candido's "Latin McGuffa's Dust" c.'66 on Tico), Arsenio Rodríguez (Viva Arsenio! '67 on Bang Records), Eddie Palmieri (Champagne '68 on Tico), Mongo Santamaría (Mongo's Way '71 on Atlantic), Lou Pérez (Lou Pérez y su Conjunto Típico '74 on Seeco / Atoll and Our Heritage - Nuestra Herencia '76 on Tico), Pedro Rafael Chaparro (Gozando '74 on Rico), Héctor Rivera (Lo Maximo '74 on Tico), Charlie Palmieri (Electro Duro '74 on Coco) and Walfredo de los Reyes (Ecué: Ritmos Cubanos '77 on Pablo).

He moved to Miami in the early '80s: session work there included albums by the Miami All Stars, Típica Páta, Conjunto Yumuri, Chano Montes, Pepe Mora, Hernán Gutiérrez, Ñico Rojas, La India de Oriente, Roberto Torres, Hansel & Raúl, Grupo Niche and others; he also worked with the Miami Symphony Orchestra. The team of Walfredo de los Reyes, pianist Paquito Hechavarría, percussionist Tany Gil and Cachao made the Latin jam-oriented Walpataca '81 (reissued under Cachao's name with the title Latin Jazz Descarga, Part 1 '94) on Tania; the follow-up Walpataca II '85 was reissued by Tania in '94 as Latin Jazz Descarga, Part. 2. Cachao led the same four-some plus others on the descarga set Maestro de Maestros: Israel López "Cachao" y su Descarga '86 on Tania, Fajardo was also there. He returned the favour by performing on Fajardo's La Flauta De Cuba on Tania.

Cachao's elevation from cult hero to his merited status started in '92 when Cuban-born, Miami Beach-reared Hollywood movie star Andy García directed / co-produced the feature length documentary Cachao: Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos, which premiered at the Miami Film Festival in '93 and had its UK debut at the 37th London Film Festival, Nov. '93 (the latter included personal appearances by Cachao and García). The film chronicled the Cachao Mambo & Descarga concert promoted by García in Miami, July '92. Cachao and several participants from his Mambo & Descarga tour, including Paquito D'Rivera, José "Chombo" Silva (1923-1995) on saxes, Chocolate and recent Cuban defector, trombonist Juan Pablo Torres (1946-2005), performed on Paquito D'Rivera presents 40 Years Of Cuban Jam Session '93 on Messidor; he also performed on Gloria Estefan's multi-platinum Grammy-winning Mi Tierra '93, the fastest ever Spanish language album to go gold in the USA. García produced Cachao's first major label release Master Sessions Volume 1 '94 on Epic's Crescent Moon (run by Estefan's husband Emilio), which won the Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album in '95, thus attracting the recognition he so richly deserved for his seminal contribution to the development of Latin music. The follow-up Master Sessions Volume II '95 garnered a Grammy nomination and won a Down Beat critics poll in '96. He guested along with Chocolate, Orestes Vilató and Anthony Carrillo on Machete '95 on Xenophile by John Santos & The Machete Ensemble; the tracks featuring Cachao were recorded in '89.

Over the next 12 years, García produced a further two CDs by Cachao, the Grammy / Latin Grammy nominated Cuba Linda '00 on EMI / Cineson and ¡Ahora Sí! Andy García Presents Cachao '04 on Univision, which won both a Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Album in '04 and a Latin Grammy the following year. During the same period Cachao sessioned on Bebo Valdés' Grammy winning piano and rhythm set El Arte del Sabor '01 on Blue Note with Patato and D'Rivera guesting on three tracks and the all-star Cuban Masters, a sort of US answer to the Buena Vista Social Club directed by Juan Pablo Torres, for the Grammy and Latin Grammy nominated Los Originales '01 on Universal / MusicHaus, featuring Chocolate, Fajardo and many others. Also during this phase of his career he appeared on CD releases by John Santos & The Machete Ensemble (Tribute To The Masters '00 on CuBop; Cachao plays on one cut recorded in '89), Enrique Chia, Danzón By Six, Tropicana All Stars, Willy Chirino, Gloria Estefan and Issac Delgado's Grammy nominated En Primera Plana '07 on Univision / Universal produced by Sergio George.

Cachao was honoured at two Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts in '06 with the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra paying tribute to the Latin bass tradition. He also led a mambo all-star band at a JVC Jazz Festival programme at Carnegie Hall that year. He very belatedly made his UK debut with a memorable concert at London's Barbican Hall in April '07 as part of the annual La Linea festival.

In addition to his Grammy Awards, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, received a Hispanic Heritage Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, an induction into the Smithsonian Institute, and a Governor's Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, organisers of the Grammys.

On 9 March '08 he received a lifetime achievement award in the Dominican Republic. He fell ill shortly after and was admitted to hospital. He died the morning of Saturday 22 March at Coral Gables Hospital of complications resulting from kidney failure. Cachao is survived by his daughter María Elena López, grandson Héctor Luis Vega and nephew Daniel Palacio, who acted as his caregiver. Orestes López's son, Orlando "Cachaito" López, has been the bassist with many key Cuban groups including the Buena Vista Social Club.

Cachao had been scheduled to appear at the premiere of a new documentary, Cachao: Uno Mas, produced by San Francisco State University, at the San Francisco International Film Festival on 28 April '08. "This film is a glimpse into maestro Cachao's music, world and legacy, revealing the warmth, humour and humility that have been his trademark for nine decades," writes percussionist and historian John Santos, who in addition to recording with Cachao, toured with him as his bongosero in the early to mid-'90s. "He owned the 20th century and amazingly, he hit the 21st running, releasing several CDs and touring in Europe, South America, and the US since the turn of this century. He will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest artists of all time."

Check out these related pieces in The Descarga Journal Archives:

Interview: Conversing with Cachao, Part 1
by Abel Delgado May 12, 2008
(Cachao) leaves behind a legacy few can touch... Not only was he literally part of the beginnings of modern Cuban dance music, he played a huge role in its ongoing creation....In 2006 I conducted a wide-ranging interview with Cachao (by the way, this is not his nickname, it’s actually the last name of his mother), covering his life and career from the beginnings. What follows is the first part, in which he discusses not only the first band he played in, but also his years with Arcaño and what the mambo actually is, in musical terms. He also offers fascinating insights into lesser-known Afro-Cuban musical subgenres, such as the rhythms played on the yuka and mula drums. Overall, the venerable bassist clearly indicates that he was not only a witness to remarkable developments in Cuban cultural history, he played a role in them. More to come later, covering not only his legendary descarga sessions in the 1950s, but also his career in the United States, with a number of revelations along the way about Latin music history...

Obituary: Carlos "Patato" Valdés, 1926-2007
by John Child February 10, 2007
Master conguero, percussionist and composer Carlos "Patato" Valdˇs died in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday, December 4, 2007. In tribute, John Child offers a revised and updated version of a discographic profile first published in 1998...

Discographic Profile:
José Fajardo: The Charanga Flute King Dies
by John Child April 15, 2002
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...

Discographic Profile: Chico O'Farrill
by John Child August 16, 2001
Legendary Cuban composer, arranger, instrumentalist and bandleader who passed away on June 27 in New York City...

Interview: Alfredo Valdés Jr: The Son of Buena Vista
by John Child July 16, 2000
In another transatlantic collaboration, John Child in London and David Barton in New York interview pianist, arranger, composer and musical director Alfredo Valdés Jr., who speaks with passion and candour. A Cuban-American resident in the US for the last 44 years, Alfredito can claim a direct line of descent from the heyday of Havana's now internationally famous Buena Vista Social Club into the new millennium. For instance, not only did he witness Arsenio Rodríguez's legendary conjunto perform there when he was a youngster, but also played and recorded with this giant of Cuban music years later...

Profile: Alfredo Valdés Jr.
by John Child July 16, 2000
A discographic profile of the much respected pianist, arranger, composer and musical director...

Profile: Tito Rodriguez
by John Child March 19, 2000
A discographic profile of the popular Puerto Rican-born sonero and bolero singer, bandleader, percussionist, composer, producer, label boss...

Profile: Charlie Palmieri
by John Child August 15, 1999
A discographic profile of the pianist, bandleader, arranger, composer, A&R man, producer and fine soloist with emphasis on the melodic in improvisation...

Profile: Al Santiago
by John Child February 23, 1999
A tribute to our friend, the late Al Santiago, on his birthday. Here is a discographic profile of the infamous producer, arranger, composer and bandleader...

Interview: Jimmy Bosch: Salsa's Subversive Superchef
by John Child January 17, 1999
Who do todays top salsa singers and producers call to add fiery creole flavouring to their concoctions? Jimmy Bosch, the head cook of the salsa dura or hard salsa movement and subverter of the soft salsa romántica style, that's who!

Profile: Kako: Francisco Angel Bastar
by John Child January 17, 1999
A discographic profile of Francisco Angel Bastar, the Puerto Rican percussionist known as Kako...

© and John Child, produces and selects the contents of the totallyradio show Aracataca , He is an editor and journalist for the Latin music website and a contributor to the MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music. He has written liner notes for various albums, including Fania reissues, and prepared compilations for the Union Square and Nascente labels.

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