September 09, 2009
by John Child
What follows is a discographic profile to complement John Child's extensive interview with Mario Ortiz Jr.: Mario Ortiz and his
All Star Band Revival
Ortiz, Mario (b. 5 August 1935, Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico; d. 4 November 1999, Puerto Rico)
Described by virtuoso trumpeter Elías Lopés as "one of the all-time great trumpet players," Mario Ortiz was one of Puerto Rico's most eminent bandleaders and arrangers. He started studying music at the age of 11, and became a member of the municipal band in 1949. He played with various local groups, including the Caribbean Kids, Melody Boys and Mingo y sus Whoopee Kids, before working with "name" bandleaders like César Concepción (with whom he first performed in New York at the Teatro Hispano during the 1950s), Pepito Torres, Ramón "Moncho" Usera Vives and Miguelito Miranda. Parallel to performing with Moncho and Miranda at the Caribe Hilton Hotel, he worked in Puerto Rican TV as a sideman with the orchestras of Pepito Torres on El Show Libbys and Rafael Elvira on El Show de las 12 and on Una Hora Contigo with Myrta Silva. In 1958 he was hired as the first trumpeter with the Vitín Miranda band, performing with them at Bayamón's Tres Palmas club. In 1962 he became the musical director for the singer Vitín Avilés (1924-2004), also working with him at the Tres Palmas.
In 1962 Mario organised his All Star Band, a 14 to l6-piece orchestra featuring Elías Lopés (trumpet), Paquito Jouvert (trumpet), Pedro Rivera Toledo (tenor sax), Julio César Delgado (baritone sax, who went on to become a major producer with TH Records in the '80s), Celso Clemente (conga), Pablo "Papi la Mona" Bonilla (bongo), and vocalists Paquito Álvarez and Emma Rogers (she remained with the band until 1964). The band made their album debut in 1963 with On The Road produced by Alfred D. Herger for the Rico Vox label (the record was reissued the following year by the Puerto Rican Tourist Company under the title Holiday in San Juan). Also in 1963 the band were contracted by Catalino Rolón to play for three weeks as the house band at New York's Palladium Ballroom, alternating with Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Machito, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri and Willie Rosario. While in the Big Apple the band were contracted to record for René Moret's Remo label, resulting in three albums: Swinging With Mario Ortiz All Star Band (1964), The Best Of Mario Ortiz (1964) and Los Cabezones (1965), with Chico Rivera joining Paquito Álvarez on lead vocals on the second and third releases.
Mario played trumpet on Puerto Rican All-Stars Featuring Kako (c. 1965, Alegre), a jam session recording made in Puerto Rico between 4:00 and 9:00am in February 1963, including Rafael Ithier, Roberto Roena and other members of El Gran Combo at the time; Chivirico Dávila (1924-1994), Paquito Guzmán and Johnny Rodríguez (1912-1997) on vocals and Charlie Palmieri singing coro! In 1966 Mario and his band began a six-year residency at San Juan's San Jerónimo Hilton Hotel, during which time they accompanied national and international stars like Tito Rodríguez, Danny Rivera and Tom Jones, among others. He continued to work in TV and in 1966 Rodríguez invited his orchestra to accompany him for a spectacular in Venezuela. After his return to Puerto Rico he recorded Quisiera (1966) with the singer Tito Lara for Darío González's Borinquen label and released the Christmas album Bailables Navideños the following year. In circa 1969 Ortiz co-produced the debut album for Lissette Álvarez.
In 1972 Mario left the San Jerónimo Hilton for a brief stint at Dupont Plaza Hotel before returning to the commercial circuit. In 1975 he recorded Vivito y Coleando!, produced by Willie Rosario for El Gran Combo's EGC label. The band sported a horn section of two trumpets, two trombones, tenor and alto sax, and included pianist Rey Coen, lead vocalist Paquito Álvarez, and Elliot Romero, Junior Toledo and Roberto Angleró singing coro. Mario wrote all the charts. In 1977 he replaced Miguelito Miranda's orchestra at the Caribe Hilton just as he was beginning work on Borinquen Flame (1977) for Borinquen, on which 15-year-old Gilberto Santa Rosa made his recording debut. Gilberto sang lead vocals on the tracks "Palo de Caña Brava," "Los Rosales" and "Regálame Tu Amor," which he also composed. Elías Lopés wrote three arrangements including the disco-oriented instrumental "Buglers Holiday" by Leroy Anderson. Unusually, Mario dropped the saxes and just used trumpets and trombones. In 1977 he made Ramito En Salsa and La Calandria En Salsa for Borinquen with the traditional trova singers Ramito (Flor Morales Ramos) and La Calandria (Ernestina Reyes). Also in the '70s, Mario participated in the first two Puerto Rico All Stars albums and wrote arrangements for Roberto Roena's band Apollo Sound.
In 1984 Mario guested on Willie Rosario's masterpiece Nuevos Horizontes (Bronco, 1984). He signed to Ralph Cartagena's Rico Records and his 1984 hit on the label, Vamos A Gozar, was exceptional. The 15-piece band on the album comprised of four trumpets, three saxes (alto, tenor and baritone), bass, piano, timbales, bongo, conga and three vocalists. Mario wrote all the arrangements and played trumpet, as did his son, Mario Ortiz Jr., who sessioned widely on the Puerto Rican recording scene. Lead vocals were shared by Anthony Cruz (b. 5 January 1965, New Jersey, USA) and Primi Cruz (b. 1956, Arecibo, Puerto Rico), who had sung previously with Orquesta Kaffé (1973-5) and Concepto Latino (1975-83) and was recommended to Ortiz by Gran Combo leader Rafael Ithier. Gilberto Santa Rosa acted as artistic assistant on Vamos A Gozar, and on four of Ortiz's other releases between 1985 and 1990; he also sang in the chorus on this album and all of Mario's records issued during the same period.
Ernesto Sánchez began his tenure as Ortiz's regular baritone saxophonist on 1986's Dejenme Soñar!, and contributed a few arrangements to subsequent albums. Sánchez sessioned outside the band and worked extensively as an arranger, mainly in the salsa romántica vein. He arranged Lalo Rodríguez's enormous 1988 hit "Ven Devorame Otra Vez," and wrote charts for Eddie Santiago, Andy Montañez, Paquito Guzmán, Oscar D'León, Amilcar Boscan, Pupy Santiago, David Pabón, Rubby Haddock, Frankie Ruiz, Grupo Clase, Héctor Tricoche, Vitín Ruiz, and others.
In 1986, Ortiz and El Gran Combo leader, Rafael Ithier, co-produced Gilberto Santa Rosa's solo debut Good Vibrations (Combo). Mario contributed arrangements to this album and Santa Rosa's next two releases: Keeping Cool! (Combo, 1987) and De Amor y Salsa (Combo, 1988). 1987's Algo Diferente was Primi Cruz's last album with Ortiz before he left to join Willie Rosario's band. Nelson Rodríguez joined as a third vocalist (lead and chorus) on the same album. Luigi Valentín filled Cruz's vacancy on Sexy Salsa (1988). Rodríguez was replaced by Roberto Dávila, who sang the hit title track of the Puerto Rican Top 10 album, Que Sera De Mi?, in 1990. Anthony Cruz departed to pursue a solo career and had a big hit with his debut album Algo Nuevo, released on Tony Moreno's Musical Productions label, for which he continued to record up to the present day.
For 1991's The Trumpet Man, Ortiz radically re-jigged his frontline to two trumpets, two trombones and baritone saxophone. Vocalist José David replaced Cruz, and Dominican merengue star Bonny Cepeda sang and composed one track.
During the '80s and at the beginning of the '90s, Mario wrote arrangements for artists and bands, such as: Julio Castro, Conjunto Clásico, Puerto Rican Power, Pedro Conga, Tony Vega, José Alberto and Ray de la Paz. Subsequent to The Trumpet Man, Ortiz concentrated on producing, arranging and performing on a trio of albums by Colombian singer Moncho Santana on Combo: Aquí Estoy!, From Cali With Love and Sabor & Sentimiento '90-3. In 1992 Gilberto Santa Rosa hired Mario to arrange "Mama Güela" and "Baranga" for his Tito Rodríguez tribute album A Dos Tiempos De Un Tiempo (Sony Discos) and invited him to arrange one track and perform on his 2-CD set En Vivo Desde El Carnegie Hall (Sony Discos, 1995), capturing his successful March 23, 1995 concert at the prestigious New York venue. Ortiz toured extensively with Santa Rosa and Jerry Rivera, for whom he conducted during his latter days. The last studio productions he worked on were Cano Estremera's magnificent 1994 comeback Cambio de Sentido and 1996 follow-up Punto y Aparte, both on Combo.
Mario died of a heart attack on November 4, 1999.
Albums as a leader and selected albums on which Mario Ortiz worked:
On The Road (Rico Vox, 1963; bootlegged as Mario Ortiz y su All Star Band on Ramso)
Kako, Puerto Rican All-Stars Featuring Kako (Alegre, recorded 1963; issued mid-'60s)
Swinging With Mario Ortiz All Star Band (Remo, 1964)
The Best Of Mario Ortiz (Remo, 1964)
Holiday in San Juan (1964; reissue of 1963's On The Road)
Los Cabezones (Remo, 1965)
Tito Lara / Mario Ortiz, Quisiera (Borinquen, 1966)
Bailables Navideños (Borinquen, 1967)
Vivito y Coleando! (EGC, 1975)
Puerto Rico All Stars, Puerto Rico All Stars (PRAS, 1976)
Puerto Rico All Stars, Los Profesionales (Fama, 1977)
Borinquen Flame (Borinquen, 1977)
Ramito (Flor Morales Ramos) with Mario Ortiz y su Orquesta, Ramito En Salsa (Borinquen, 1977)
La Calandria (Ernestina Reyes) con Mario Ortiz y su Orquesta, La Calandria En Salsa (Borinquen, 1977)
Vamos A Gozar (Rico, 1984)
Ritmo y Sabor (Rico, 1985)
Dejenme Soñar! (Rico, 1986)
Willie Rosario, Nueva Cosecha (Bronco, 1986; nominated for a Grammy Award)
Gilberto Santa Rosa, Good Vibrations (Combo, 1986)
Algo Diferente (Rico, 1987)
Sexy Salsa (Combo, 1988)
Que Sera De Mi? (Combo, 1990)
The Trumpet Man (Combo, 1991)
Moncho Santana, Aquí Estoy! (Combo, 1990)
Moncho Santana, From Cali With Love (Combo, 1991)
Moncho Santana, Sabor & Sentimiento (Combo, 1993)
Cano Estremera, Cambio de Sentido (Combo, 1994)
12 Golden Hits (Combo, 1994)
Gilberto Santa Rosa, En Vivo Desde El Carnegie Hall (Sony Discos, 1995)
Cano Estremera, Punto y Aparte (Combo, 1996)
© Descarga.com and John Child. John Child produces and selects the contents of the totallyradio show Aracataca. He is an editor and journalist for the Descarga.com Latin music website, and a contributor to Donald Clarke's Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music, and has prepared compilations for the Union Square and Nascente labels.