September 8th, 2010
Cachao: Uno Más
About Cachao

Cachao

Lea en español.

In the formidable legacy of Cuban music, no one is more important than quintessential bassist, Israel ‘Cachao’ López. Born in 1918 into a family of highly respected, classically trained musicians and maestros, he became their most celebrated progeny. Raised in Havana in the same house where legendary patriot, poet and revolutionary Jose Martí was born, Cachao would revolutionize the heart of Cuban music. Few, if any, 20th century musicians or composers have had the impact in their respective fields as Cachao. He is widely known as a pioneer in the concept of the exciting descarga Cubana (Cuban jam session) that brought a high level of spontaneous improvisation into a 150-year-old tradition of Cuban dance music, and directed much attention to the rhythm section of bass, tumbadoras (conga drums), timbales, bongos, and guiro (gourd scraper). But his innovations in the Cuban dance music known as danzón, particularly within the charanga format (strings, flute, acoustic piano, contrabass, and percussion) are what he considers most important and where his largest contributions can be felt. By the latter half of the 1930s, before his 20th birthday, he and his older brother Orestes were playing and composing for La Orquesta Maravilla de Fernando Collazo, one of the most popular and professional charanga orchestras in Havana. Towards the end of the decade, the orchestra continued under the directorship of flautist, Antonio Arcaño, becoming one of the most influential charangas of all time. While playing bass in this orchestra (and simultaneously holding down the principal bass chair in the Havana Symphony), Cachao and Orestes developed the danzón de nuevo ritmo, precursor of the world-renowned mambo that was to become an international phenomenon almost a decade later. Today those innovations are as relevant as ever, providing much of the basis for contemporary Latin Jazz and Salsa.

The role of the bass in Cuban music is paramount. The best bassists in this genre must have impeccable timing, intonation, and harmonic/melodic sense. Cachao’s position at the top of the hierarchy was honed from incessant classical conservatory training and experience in the theater, opera, and 30 years in the Havana Symphony under the direction of all the legendary conductors of the day from Europe and the New World. He accompanied Caruso, Tebaldi and Gardel among hosts of others. Add to this his love of the popular Afro-Cuban forms such as son and rumba that he also played extensively from the beginning, and you begin to see why he is the standard bearer. Throughout history, there have been great composers, ingenious arrangers, virtuoso instrumentalists, highly respected classical players, and beloved interpreters of popular music forms. But you’ll have a difficult time coming up with another name besides that of Israel ‘Cachao’ López that can rightfully claim all these accolades.

He is recognized and loved throughout the world. I had the honor of touring with him as his bongo player in the early-mid nineties and I’ll never forget the hair-raising, extended standing ovation he received each time he walked on stage—before he ever played a single note—in Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, The Hague, and other European cities. Underlying his consummate professorial demeanor, he is a sage, poker-faced joke teller, and philosopher in the tradition of the African griot. He emphasizes that musicians must study and aspire towards real professionalism, which he sums up like this, “If I have appendicitis, don’t look at my tonsils!”

This film is a glimpse into maestro Cachao’s music, world and legacy, revealing the warmth, humor and humility that have been his trademark for nine decades. 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.

Long live Papa Mambo—Israel López—CACHAO!!!

—John Santos, Historian/Percussionist

  • Tony Molina

    I was one of the top Latin vocalist of the 40s,50s,60s, and70s. Working at the N Y.Palladium with the Alfredito ,Jose Curbelo,and Joseito Romans orchestras. When we went to work at the Sahara hotel in Vegas, Cachao was with Noro Morales at the Sands Hotel- I think it might have been about 1959. I will always miss Cachao. He was a great friend and a gentleman. The last time we worked together was when we recorded the Lo Maximo Album with Hector Rivera -considered the best album recorded by Tico Records that year. I think. it was in 1974. PS: Ray Santo was in the sax section of the Joseito Roman orchestra. As for me? I am still doing my thing, Singing my heart out (in Southern California) and enjoying every moment. .My love to all my buddies. Don’t forget this chant . A LALA E LALA. tonymolina.com

  • Iris M. Gross

    Why is this man an AMERICAN master?!

  • Nicole Nelson

    Cachao is an AMERICAN master because he influenced, changed, and helped grow a new, branch of American music. Our country is very young- and all of our music has is roots planted all over the world. There’s no way around that.

    Music cannot be contained by lines on a map. it’s just not possible.

  • Migdia Chinea

    Cachao is an American master because he was an innovative musician who influenced jazz, the most American of all music. Great program and greatly overdue — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cachao.jpg

    Migdia Chinea UCLA MFA TFTDM Screenwriter & Digital Media

  • Linda Thomas

    Thank you for airing this wonderful, wonderful story about Cachao! I have always had a great interest in Cuba and its people. This man’s story is like many others who took a chance on life, shared his life, and made intentional connections with others. He was a jewel in Cuba and in America and his legacy is unique because he asked for so little and gave us so much by bring many exciting sounds and people together.

    This man is a AMERICAN master because he was real about his roots!!!!

  • GC Brad

    Is not Cuba part of “The Americas”? Ninety miles from Florida, I should think so. He also spent roughly half his life in the U.S. and was rediscovered here.

  • Bill Burdick

    The “definition” of American Master, according to PBS … see the American Masters home page for more

    AMERICAN MASTERS is an ongoing series of award-winning primetime specials examining the lives, works, and creative processes of our most outstanding cultural artists. … the series is both a celebration and an exploration of creativity in America… is a growing film library documenting the role important individuals, groups, and movements have played in the formation of our cultural identity.

    Since its premiere in 1986, AMERICAN MASTERS has been the only PBS primetime series committed to developing and producing comprehensive film biographies about the broad cast of characters who comprise our cultural history.

  • JOE ANN WALKER

    UNBELIEVABLE, AMAZING AND STUNNED AT WHAT I VIEWED FROM THIS DOCUMENTARY ON MR. CACHAO … I’VE NEVER BEEN MORE MOVED TO COMMENT ON AN ISSUE AS I AM ABOUT THIS ONE. I LOVE PBS SHOWS, ALL OF THEM. I AM INFORMED, ENLIGHTEN, EDUCATED AND AMUSED BY THE NEWS AND SHOWS LIKE WHAT YOU FEATURED ABOUT MR.CACHAO… I INTENTLY WATCHED HIS FACIAL EXPRESSIONS AND THE MAN IS SO HUMBLE AND TALENTED. IT BROUGHT TEARS TO MY EYES AND AT THE SAME TIME MY BODY ALMOST INVOLUNTARY MOVED TO THE RHYTHM. HAT OFF TO THE YOUNG MAN WHO WAS IMPELED TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE COME TO KNOW THIS MAN. I AM SADDEN IT WAS TOO LATE FOR SOME OF US TO FIND OUT ABOUT HIM. BRAVO AND KUDOES!!!

  • Isabella Livramento

    For years I heard my husband who was a professional musician who played with Machito and the Afro-Cuban Band with Frank “Machito” Grillo and Mario Bauza for 10 years constantly mention the name of Maestro Cachao as being the greatest and most outstanding artist of all time. I was absolutely taken in with my whole body, mind and senses as I watched this fantatic documentary about THE MAESTRO. I have never been so moved by a program as this one. He was such a humble, genius, absolutely a gentleman in every sense of the word. One of a Kind. I reiterate what JOE ANN WALKER said, She expressed my feelings about the program 100% It saddens me also to learn of all his accomplishments NOW. I just love Latin Music and that’s all my husband played most of his 66 year musical career was Latin Jazz, Cuban Jazz, Salsa and whatever. The music and legacy of Maestro Israel ‘Cachao’ López will live forever. To quote John Santos, Historian/Percussionist “This film is a glimpse into maestro Cachao’s music, world and legacy, revealing the warmth, humor and humility that have been his trademark for nine decades” Muito Bom Parabens. Very Good Documentary Congratulations.

  • Arnold Pomerantz

    I danced the ninety minutes away watching this absolutely brilliant composer and musician. His humanity and who he was so touched my heart. Gracias to Andy Garcia for the important role he played in helping bring this great talent to the American people. I want a DVD to share with all my friends. Why is not available.

  • Grace Landi

    I was born in NYC I never heard of cachao till today but I am so glad I have heard of him. I never realized he had such a hand in the making of Latin Music. I took it for granted that all this wonderful music all around me came from the radio, and records. I went to the clubs occasionally, and also to Las Vegas many times, I am 76 yrs. old and Boriqua My folks were born in Puerto Rico. Long live Cachao even in death. Thank you for everything!!!!

  • Annie Middleton

    I am so grateful to Andy Garcia and to PBS for the program about Cachao. It was a beautiful program about Cachao, a beautiful human being and the beautiful and fascinating musical tradition he advanced (or created?). Thank you so very much.

  • Sara B

    What a wonderful program. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you PBS for airing. Thank you Andy Garcia for recognizing and bringing Cachao’s music and legacy to the forefront!

    Loved how unpretentious Cachao was. How his Father taught him to remain humble and how he did just that . How he stayed married for so many years and seemed so close with his wife . How he lost almost everything and made it back again. How gifted, gifted, gifted he was and that smile! OMG

    Thanks again to Andy for seeing him through to the accolades he so very much deserved.

    A gringo in Miami

  • Sara B

    Also very much wish to purchase DVD when will it become available?

  • Luis E. Rincon T.

    It is a great pleasure read all about the Master ” Cachao ” his life story is unbelievable. Fantastic musician and better man . Please the DVD when will it become available ???

  • Barney

    Remember, America is comprised of 2 continents as well as the Carribean Islands. It was America before the US was born, so I think Cachao qualifies as an American artist….

  • Anna L

    It is a shame that you can’t watch this in Europe :( ‘not availabe in your region’.

Salinger

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