The decade of the 1940s was an age of economic bonanza for Cuba, due to the high prices for sugar during the Second World War.
The decade of the 1940s was an age of economic bonanza for Cuba, due to the high prices for sugar during the Second World War. In 1940 the Constitutive Assembly was meeting in Havana and the nation's new Carta Magna takes effect; then a coalition government would be formed in which the Partido Socialista Popular (Communist party) would participate for the first time. These were the years of Franklin Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy and the Frente Antifascista. And with the legalization of the communists the radio station Mil Diez appears, which would be of great importance particularly for music. Mil Diez would broadcast a wide variety of music, emphasizing national music, and would promote as well programs dedicated to jazz and tango. But above all, it is at this radio station where a movement of Cuban arrangers comes together, of which Félix Guerrero will be the indisputable leader (maestro) (1).
It is also through Mil Diez that the new style of song-writing and singing known as the "feeling" movement will find its outlet; influenced in part by jazz, it included in its ranks, especially among the instrumentalists and arrangers who supported jazz or collaborated in it, outstanding jazz musicians. The jazz program that Mil Diez broadcasted (from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m. daily), directed by Norman Díaz, would disseminate the latest to be released on jazz records in the United States, and was the first to introduce by way of Cuban radio the creators of bop, such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. This station was not, however, the vehicle for Cuban jazz musicians, who rather had the opportunity to appear playing live jazz, for the first time at a set place, on the station CMQ, then at Monte and Prado.
As a matter of fact, CMQ created a program called "El Club del Swing", which broadcasted an hour of jazz on Saturdays, and which included, among others, the tenor saxophonists Armando Romeu and Gustavo Más, the trumpet player Luis Escalante and the trombonist Pucho Escalante, the alto sax Rafael "El Cabito" Quesada and the jazz vocalist Delia Bravo. In turn the station RHC, which under the direction of Amado Trinidad was becoming CMQ's main competitor, presented among other groups, pianist Luis Mendoza's American Swing, which included Gustavo Más, another tenor player Emilio Peñalver, the drummer Evelio Quintero and the trumpet players Alejandro "Coco" Barreto and Raúl Hernández, better known as "Cootie Williams", for playing in the unique style of that great trumpet player from Duke Ellington's band. Raúl Hernández was the brother of René Hernández, who would later be the pianist and arranger for Machito y sus Afrocubanos.
In this group of Luis Mendoza, we find two important singers of our jazz movement: Delia Bravo and Dandy Crawford, of Jamaican origin. Dandy was very much connected with the feeling movement and was also the first Cuban singer to get involved in scat vocalizing. It's worth remembering that at the beginning of the decade the big swing bands were still at their height of popularity; the arrival of bebop is delayed somewhat due to the recording ban from 1942 to 1944, which set back the release of bop recordings until 1945 (2). The first Cuban bop group was organized in 1947, made up of musicians who just shortly before were playing in the swing style, but who adapted very quickly to the new language. Nevertheless, it's clear that swing and bop coexisted for many years in Cuba (as well as in the United States, to be thorough), and although bop came to dominate in the end, it's significant that the image of jazz as "Swing" would remain, even to the point that a magazine with the title Swing Makers would be published at that time in Havana (3). Another example: two of our first bop musicians, the drummer Guillermo Barreto and the pianist Bebo Valdés around 1940 formed a Benny Goodman style trio with Roberto Barreto as the clarinetist.
The work that Mil Diez did to attract a mass audience was important, as was its ability to find talent and its excellent organization and programming, but just as important, if not more, was the competition between the major commercial radio stations, primarily CMQ and RHC, for Mil Diez paid very low salaries. This competition turned out to be very beneficial for musicians, who began to receive higher and higher salaries in a medium that just in the previous decade had served solely as a way to gain exposure. Together with this, and as a result of the economic boom, in the late 1940s the competition intensified among bigger and bigger nightclubs capable of holding more than a thousand people and of putting on super-shows that became more and more expensive. The immenseness of cabarets, a trend which was begun by the Gran Casino Nacional and the Montmartre, increased with the Sans Souci and the Tropicana, and brought on a relative decline in cabarets such as the Tokio, the Eden Concert, the Infierno or the Mitsuko, and in smaller places, although nightclubs of this type would experience a comeback in the 1950s.
In 1942 the Sans Souci cabaret closed its doors until the end of World War Two in 1945, which caused the dissolution of the Bellamar Orchestra. Its conductor Armando Romeu was then hired to form an orchestra at the Tropicana, where he would remain for the next 25 years, except for a brief interlude, which we will get to shortly. This fourth jazz band of Armando Romeu now had four trumpets, three trombones and five saxes, plus a rhythm section that included the great guitarist Isidro Pérez. The singer Delia Bravo also took part, and in the future a series of authentic Cuban percussion stars would join the orchestra. The line-up of Armando's brilliant band was as follows:
Trumpets: Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill, César Godínez (Piyú), Alberto Jiménez (Platanito) and Dagoberto Jiménez (Rabanito); Trombones: Miguel Reina, Ernesto Romeu and Generoso Jiménez ("Tojo"); Saxophones: Amadito Valdés, Enemelio Jiménez (altos); Emilio Peñalver and Roberto Romero (tenors) and Orlando Fernández Walpole ("Macanta") or Ñico Romero (baritone); Piano: Pedro Jústiz (Peruchín); Guitar: Isidro Pérez (Isito); Contrabass: Enrique "Kiki" Hernández; Drums: Daniel Pérez. The singer Delia Bravo, unjustly forgotten today, was married to Armando Romeu. This orchestra, although it may seem incredible, not only surpassed even the Bellamar, but also in turn would be surpassed by the bands to follow that Romeu put together in the very same Tropicana during the fifties. It's important to point out not only the power of the trumpet section, in which the Jiménez brothers could divide up the lead with a "Piyú" Godínez, our first specialist in high-pitched notes, and in which Chico O'Farrill would perform the improvised jazz solos, but also the presence of Generoso Jiménez in the trombone section, later a key member of Benny Moré's band and the first trombonist to create a Cuban style of improvisation. Improvising on sax were Enemelio Jiménez (brother of Generoso), tenor Emilio Peñalver and the baritone "Macanta". The rhythm section was the best that had been put together to that point, with the great "Peruchín" on piano, creator of his own "Latin jazz" style, with Isidro Pérez on guitar mastering the style of Django Reinhardt and later that of a Billy Bauer or Barney Kessel, and two musicians as technical as they were imaginative on bass and on drums.
Already by this time, Armando Romeu had built an extensive jazz repertoire with the best arrangements of the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson and Woody Herman, which he himself would transcribe note by note from record recordings, in addition to his own compositions and arrangements. But in this band the presence of Chico O'Farrill now as an arranger is very important, as he contributed original arrangements that were ahead of their time. According to Horacio Hernández,
In 1942, Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill began his career as an arranger in the orchestra that Armando Romeu conducted at the Tropicana cabaret, an orchestra in which the most famous musicians of the time were concentrated. Around 1945, when the first recordings of bop arrived in Cuba, O'Farrill was one of the first to understand the innovations of that style, and in very little time his command of the orchestration and his knowledge of jazz allowed him to work in the bands of Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton. (4)
JAZZ GROUPS: FROM SWING TO BOP
In 1945 a group called Los Raqueteros del Swing was formed, which featured Arturo O'Farrill (trumpet), Roberto Sánchez Ferrer (clarinet), José Alvarez (piano), Rafael Mola (guitar), Rafael (Felo) Hernández (contrabass), Fausto García Rivera (drums) and Ana Menéndez as singer. It's interesting to note that Chico O'Farrill himself, who appears in this swing group, will organize a bop group two years later. Along with him, we find Felo Hernández, the oldest of three contrabass-playing brothers who are of great importance in Cuban jazz; the second, Kiki, will be in O'Farrill's next group and with Armando Romeu's band, and later Orlando ("Papito") Hernández will make his appearance. The drummer Fausto García Rivera for his part forms part of a trilogy along with Daniel Pérez and Walfredito de los Reyes, who take instrumental technique to a much higher level than that which previously existed in Cuba, and who will prove to be essential for the Cuban jazz scene in this decade and the next. Roberto Sánchez Ferrer will subsequently turn to orchestral composing and conducting, particularly in the lyrical and operatic genre. Ana Menéndez pursued a parallel career as an opera soprano and the two were married for a period of time.
Meanwhile, bebop was gradually taking hold and it was assimilated by a good many musicians. In 1947 Chico O'Farrill would create the group Los Beboppers, with whom he appeared on the marquesina at the Saratoga Hotel. It consisted of O'Farrill himself on trumpet, Edilberto (Eddy) Escrich (alto sax), Gustavo Más (tenor sax), René Urbino (piano), Kiki Hernández (contrabass) and Daniel Pérez (drums). With these and other musicians, O'Farrill made some recordings that we have categorized as "homemade"; they were paid for by the musicians themselves using an independent recording studio and were then passed out among themselves and a few jazz-fan friends. It's hard to forget Gustavo Más's tenor sax solo in the standard classic of tenor players, "Body and Soul", in a style that owes a lot to Lester Young (5). We remember as well several bop tunes in the string of recordings that Red Rodney and Neal Hefti made with their respective groups and which were brought together on the album Be-bop on the Mercury label. These and other recordings of Cuban jazz from that period are today not only collectors items; they've practically disappeared altogether.
Around 1946 another station, Radio Capital Artalejo, began to broadcast a Sunday spot on jazz, the "Club de Música", produced by Orlando Battle and Rafael Simón Jr. The studios were the property of another important Cuban radio promoter, Arturo Artalejo, and were situated on F Street between Third and Fifth (El Vedado). It was here that a jazz group described as "way ahead of its time" by Horacio Hernández appeared: it included César "Piyú" Godínez (trumpet), Pedro Chao (tenor sax), Agustín "Tico" Mercier (piano), Orlando "Papito" Hernández (contrabass) and Daniel Pérez (drums). At about the same time another group appeared at the Rívoli Theater (corner of 27th and 26th streets, La Sierra district); some sources cite them as New York Swing while others refer to them as Los Newyorkers; it included Chico O'Farrill (trumpet), Gustavo Más and Emilio Peñalver (tenor saxes), Kiki Hernández (contrabass), Diego Iborra (drums) and a pianist who, we surmise, may have been Agustín Mercier or Mario Romeu.
Another interesting development in this decade was the impact of the quintet Hot Club de France on Cuban musicians, with its legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt and the violinist Stephane Grapelli, another jazz legend. A similar group, which would perform a large part of the Hot Club's repertoire, was formed in Havana, although primarily they would get together to play at Kiki Hernández's house. It included three of the best jazz guitarists in Cuba: Isidro Pérez, Rafael Mola and Manolo Saavedra. The outstanding Isidro Pérez would form in those days one of the country's best jazz bands, which performed at the Montmartre cabaret. The violinist of the "Cuban Hot Club" was Manolo Triana, and the contrabassist Kiki Hernández. This group is another illustration of the "coexistence" of swing and bop among the same congregation of Cuban jazz musicians.
Along with the big cabarets, other smaller ones emerged, and some made room for jazz. In 1948, for example, an excellent bop group played for a time at the High Seas (at Monserrate and Empedrado); it was led by the North American Harry Johansson, who played the trumpet, the valve trombone and the vibraphone, and who lived for a few years in Havana and on two occasions was part of Armando Romeu's band, in this decade and the following. The group enlisted two tenor saxophonists who were beginning to shine at that time, Rafael "Tata" Palau and Pedro Chao; the pianist was Agustín "Tico" Mercier; the contrabassist was José Manuel Peña (also a trombonist), and the drummer, Fausto García Rivera. The High Seas was another one of those nightclubs that became a center for jam sessions which attracted musicians from a number of orchestras; among those who participated were contrabassist Reinaldo Mercier and trumpet player Wichy Mercier, brothers of the pianist Agustín Mercier, one of the first and most outstanding interpreters of bop on his instrument. More on the swing side, the Red Devils were a group which appeared regularly at the Casino Deportivo and which included musicians of the stature of Juan Jorge Junco (clarinet), the veteran Célido Curbelo (piano), Eddy Sastre (violin and conductor), and the tenor sax José "Chombo" Silva, later very successful in Cuba as well as the United States. Founded in the thirties, this group also included the singer Miguelito Valdés, the pianist Emilio Eguiluz and the tenor sax Leopoldo Junco, "Picolino".
JAZZ BANDS AND THE SUPERSHOWS
Although the 1940s can be considered the "Age of Conjuntos", since this was when the format created by Arsenio Rodríguez reached its peak, the jazz bands remained active and new ones even emerged. An exceptional jazz band was the one organized by the great guitarist Isidro Pérez in 1947, which performed in the Montmartre cabaret and played very advanced arrangements, written primarily by Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill. "Isito" lined up an impressive number of top musicians. Trumpets: Dagoberto Jiménez ("Platanito"), Armando López and Chico O'Farrill; Trombone: Pucho Escalante; Saxophones: Edilberto Escrich and Osvaldo "Mosquifín" Urrutia (altos), Gustavo Más and José "Chombo" Silva (tenors) and Pedro Ruiz (baritone); Piano: Mario Romeu; Guitar: Manolo Saavedra; Contrabass: Kiki Hernández; Drums: "El Gordo" Machado. The singer was Ray Carson, with a voice very much like Bing Crosby's. In addition to conducting, Isito would play the guitar solos, while Saavedra would play the accompanying guitar. The tenor player Pedro Chao also joined the band at times.
This orchestra of Isidro Pérez's was replaced at the Montmartre by a new version of the famous Casino de la Playa, although now without some of its great names. The alto saxophonist Liduvino Pereira conducted it and the tenor soloist Alfredo Sáenz remained with the band. A group of its musicians had come from Isito's band, such as the alto Eddy Escrich, "Mosquifín" Urrutia, who switched to baritone sax, and the trumpet player Alberto Jiménez, who became lead in the brass section. Meanwhile, at the Tropicana, which was already becoming the primary competitor of the Sans Souci and the Montmartre (the Casino Nacional had closed its doors), changes were occurring not only with respect to orchestras and show directing, but also with respect to promoters themselves.
The great Tropicana productions begin in this decade, although the nightclub situated in Villa Mina or Mansión Truffin (corner of 41st and 72nd, Marianao) was still lacking the extravagance that it would later acquire. Perhaps the show that inaugurated this era was the one entitled "Congo Pantera" (1940 or 1941) which presented Rita Montaner, Julio Richards, Carmita Ortiz, Ignacio Villa (Bola de Nieve) and the great drummer, composer and singer Chano Pozo. This super-show, which is of interest to us here because of the participation of Chano, was in part the result of pure chance, due to the presence of the great ballet choreographer David Lichine in Cuba. He had come to the country with Coronel Basil's Russian Ballet, which in spite of its fame went bankrupt, leaving its members to manage on their own. Hired to do this show, Lichine took the two leading figures from the Ballet, Tatiana Leskova and Paul Petrof, and part of the Coronel's dance corps; but he also found a number of extras (figurantes) "of color" to fulfill the demands of an international tourism eager to see "tropical exoticism", all of this with a distinctive Afro-Cuban music and original choreography, to which Julio Richards contributed, along with all of the resources of staging, lighting and wardrobe.
"Congo Pantera" turned out to be historic for various reasons, which can be reduced to the encounter of three such dissimilar performers as David Lichine, Chano Pozo and an individual who also participated as an assistant to Lichine and Richards, whose name was Roderico Neyra, later internationally famous as Rodney. This encounter Lichine-Rodney-Chano Pozo would be for the world of show business in Cuba as important as the one between Chano and Dizzy Gillespie was for Afro-Cuban jazz or Cubop some years later. The life of Rodney is one of those stories that Hollywood just loves, the poor person who makes it big, especially in show business. Roderico Neyra started out playing small roles and sketches at the Shanghai Theater, in Havana's Barrio Chino, then at the Actualidades Theater and at cabarets as a chorus dancer, and he was still a complete unknown when he worked alongside Lichine in Congo Pantera. In 1945, known as Rodney by then, he organized the show "Las Mulatas de Fuego", a big hit in Cuba and Mexico, and he would then be successful as an artistic director for shows at the Sans Souci, the Tropicana (where he stayed for 15 years), and even for a few seasons at the Waldorf Astoria in New York and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Rodney produced the shows that gave international prestige to the Tropicana, among them Omeleikó, Vodú ritual, Carabalí, Mayombe, Carnaval carioca, Copacabana, Tambo, and Sun sun babaé (which sold out the Flamingo in Las Vegas). And Rodney's shows included great artists such as Josephine Baker, Nat King Cole, Tongolele, Carmen Miranda, Benny Moré, Maurice Chevalier, Xavier Cugat and Liberace.
We should mention that when Chano Pozo was hired for Congo Pantera he had already become an important figure in the Cuban musical scene, contrary to the commonly held notion that he was just another drummer who happened to get a lucky break. The musical history of the era tells us that Luciano Pozo was more than just a well-known rumbero from the Africa solar, in the Cayo Hueso barrio, or La California of the Belén barrio, and in other rumbero barrios such as Atarés, Jesús María or Pueblo Nuevo. He was in addition a popular song writer of hits such as "Blen blen", "Nagüe", "Arinana", "Pin pin", "Ana boroco tinde", "Parampampin" and the theme song of the comparsa Los Dandys de Belén, a comparsa in which he danced together with other celebrities such as Rita Montaner and Bola de Nieve. He was a prominent member of the Sociedad de Autores Musicales, which Ernesto Lecuona presided over at the time. He was also well known for playing with the Orquesta Azul, from the station RHC Cadena Azul. But what is of more significance to us is the fact that Chano Pozo had performed as a soloist in a show presented at the Alkázar theater with Mario Santana's jazz quartet, which included Santana himself on piano, the contrabassist Luis "Pellejo" Rodríguez, the drummer César Sánchez and the bongo player Panchito Bejerano. This is of great importance to us, because it means that Chano Pozo had an understanding of jazz and that he had played with jazz groups in Cuba before traveling to the United States, which without a doubt enabled him to quickly pick up what Dizzy Gillespie was doing with his new band.
With respect to the Tropicana, a new era was beginning when its promoter Víctor Correa brought to Cuba in 1949 the Spanish orchestra-show Los Chavales de España, formed specifically to perform in our country, an interesting analogy --although inverted-- to the history of the Lecuona Cuban Boys 17 years earlier. And to complete the parallel, Los Chavales played in a "Spanish-society" style equivalent to the "Cuban-society" style of the Cuban Boys (aside from the fact that "chavales" is a translation of "boys"). But there are secondary aspects of this history of the "best cabaret in the world" as well: the promoter Correa, due to matters of personal and family favoritism and some kind of trouble involving women, decided to remove Armando Romeu so that he could name as leader of the Tropicana orchestra the Spaniard Adolfo Araco.
By then Romeu's orchestra had changed: the trumpet section included José Patino, Harry Johansson, Wichy Mercier and Pedro "El Guajiro" Rodríguez; on trombone was the Spaniard Alberto Martí and on sax Amadito Valdés and Santiaguito Peñalver (altos), with Roberto and Ñico Romero on tenor. The contrabassist was Fernando Vivar ("Yuca") and the drummer Guillermo Barreto. Dandy Crawford was involved as a singer. When Adolfo Araco arrived as the new leader, the rhythm section remained --almost intact-- as did Crawford for some time. Other musicians joined, among them the trumpet player Alejandro "Coco" Barreto and the Catalan pianist León Borrell, who would excel in Cuban jazz in the following decade.
At that time Ernesto Grenet, having returned from abroad, simultaneously led and performed as a drummer in the Tropicana's second orchestra. Among his musicians were the veteran contrabassist Tomás Barrenechea, the saxophonists Juanito Barrenechea and Osvaldo Urrutia ("Mosquifín"), and the trumpet players José Patino and Evelio Martínez ("El Manquito"). A little bit later the Tropicana had the wisdom to bring in, to the satisfaction of jazz purists who detested the Spanish orchestra-show, a group formed by Woody Herman with a constellation of jazz stars, whose performance will be covered in another chapter. Meanwhile, Adolfo Araco, on the advice of drummer Guillermo Barreto, over a period of time brought in the pianist Bebo Valdés, the trumpet players Alejandro "El Negro" Vivar and the brothers Alberto and Dagoberto Jiménez, as well as the alto sax Rafael Quesada ("El Cabito"), son of Primitivo Quesada, and the tenor sax Pedro Chao. Thanks to these musicians, and particularly to outstanding bop soloists such as Bebo Valdés, Barreto, Pedro Chao and "El Negro" Vivar, the Spaniard Araco all of a sudden found himself conducting an excellent jazz band which included an extensive repertoire of bop numbers, usually transcribed by Guillermo Barreto from records. But despite everything, the Tropicana had to call back Armando Romeu.
In addition to the competition among the big cabarets, but also because of it, the Tropicana needed somebody really talented at putting together original creations and arrangements for super-shows that were becoming more and more complex. At that time the sensational show provocatively entitled Cocaína, presented in theaters and cabarets, was a great success in Havana, with the South American (Uruguayan) dance couple Siccardi and Brenda as the main attraction. The music for this production was written by Armando Romeu; and one more time Armando was called upon to lead the Tropicana's first orchestra. But now the person who was besieged by problems was the promoter himself Victor Correa, as others who were more powerful and driven decided to take over the business which was becoming more and more profitable. The trilogy formed by Martín Fox, Oscar Echemendía and the ex-dealer Alberto Ardura (in charge of the shows from that point on) now had control of the cabaret's gaming room, and Correa, under pressure because of his own gambling debts, found himself in a bind to sell. Business related to cabarets, hotels, casinos, shows and music itself was beginning to enter into the realm of "la Cosa Nostra", and so we begin to see characters, seemingly Hollywood-type creations, such as Santo Trafficante, Frank Sinatra, George Raft, Lefty Clark or Meyer Lansky, during the "golden decade" of the 1950s.
The competition among the Sans Souci (reopened in 1945), the Tropicana and the Montmartre little by little would turn into a "fraternal emulation", in the sense that these three giants of the Havana nightlife were being gradually transformed into domains under the control of a few "families" with similar interests. Around 1950 the Sans Souci orchestra was led by the pianist Rafael Ortega and included the trumpeters "Coco" Barreto and Walfredo de los Reyes (senior), the saxophonists Amadito Valdés, Orestes Barbachán, Juanito Martínez and Charles Rodríguez, and the trombonists Ernesto Romeu and José Manuel Peña, whom we saw as a contrabassist at the High Seas. Ortega also hired the drummer Guillermo Barreto, who would subsequently return to the Tropicana with Armando Romeu.
JAZZ BANDS IN THE CONJUNTO ERA
One might imagine that the great popularity of the conjuntos during the 1940s would have negatively affected in some way the jazz bands, but that wasn't the case. The groups that suffered due to the prominence of the conjuntos were, once again, the danzonera orchestras, which would reemerge once more in the following decade with the tremendous popularity of chachacha. Jazz bands stayed around because of their ability to play any type of music, and their demand went up thanks to cabaret, theater and later television shows. With a conjunto or charanga format it was impossible to play North American or Spanish music or to accompany singers from Mexico, Argentina, Italy, France, Spain and the United States who performed frequently in Havana, for since 1945 our capital was quickly becoming the great tourist and musical destination that would define it in the ensuing decade. And by that time son, danzón and other Cuban rhythms had already been adapted to the jazz band format by the arrangers. But we must emphasize that the only bands that really played the best jazz and gave plenty of room to the soloists were those of Armando Romeu and Isidro Pérez, the Bellamar (Romeu-Luis Escalante), and occasionally Germán Lebatard's band. Aside from these and a few other exceptions, the Cuban bands, it must be said, didn't get any further than Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey, even though they did have a number of jazz musicians.
The Palau Brothers orchestra, for example, reached the height of their popularity in the 1940s, through radio programs in which they played Cuban music and with singers such as Orlando Guerra ("Cascarita"), Francisco Cova (El Indio) or Manolo Manrique ("El Morito"). Great instrumentalists passed through the Palau Brothers orchestra. For example, we find trumpet players such as Luis Escalante, José Patino, Julio Cueva, Leonardo Timor (junior), Eddy Martínez, "El Loco" Medina and Manuel Duchesne Cuzán (future conductor of the National Symphonic Orchestra), saxophonists such as Vincente Viana, Pedro Guida, "El Cabito" Quesada, Miguel Sánchez, Pedro Ruiz and Virgilio Vixama, and trombonists such as Alejandro Onésimo. In addition to the generation of the Palau family that founded the orchestra in 1922, another younger one played in the band in the 1940s; it included the saxophonists Rafael "Tata" Palau and Enrique Palau, the trumpeter Tony Palau and the drummer Luisito Palau. Working in this band as well were the pianists Mario Santana and Orlando Arango (Maíno), the contrabassists Luis Rodríguez and Felo Hernández, the drummer Merito Reyes and the percussionists Marcelo "El Blanco" González and the subsequently famous singer Rolando Lasserie. Among the arrangers, Muñoz Bouffartique and the previously mentioned Félix Guerrero stood out. A trumpet player with strong ties to the Palau brothers was Julio Cueva, who upon returning from Europe organized an orchestra which featured, among others, the trombonist Alejandro Onésimo, the trumpet player Remberto "El Chino" Lara, the saxophonists José Pérez Cedeño ("Bebo") and Enemelio Jiménez, the pianist Felo Bergaza and the great guarachero "Cascarita" as singer.
Upon the breakup of this band, Julio Cueva and Cascarita join the Palau brothers, who worked several seasons at the Sans Souci cabaret. When the radio station Mil Diez was created, Julio Cueva organized a new jazz band which included the saxophonists Mario Menéndez and Bruno Guijarro (altos), José Pérez Cedeño and Miguel Sánchez (tenors), as well as the trumpet player Alberto Jiménez (Platanito), the contrabassist Salvador ("Bol") Vivar, the percussionists Marcelo González (bongo) and Oscar Valdés (conga) and the singers Reinaldo Valdés ("El Jabao") and Juan Antonio ??? Ramírez ("Fantasmita"), who had performed with the Palau brothers. The pianist this time was the great René Hernández. At the end of this decade Cueva's band would split up, as would the Lebatard Brothers band. After the break up, Germán Lebatard worked in different orchestras, then formed a jazz group and after that moved to Miami, where he conducted the Hotel Fontainbleau orchestra.
Meanwhile, the renowned Casino de la Playa band started to fade when it lost Dámaso Pérez Prado and "Cascarita", and despite the acquisition of Julio Gutiérrez, who was also a pianist and composer, the Casino was no longer the same, and Julio Gutiérrez himself would leave in 1948 to form his own orchestra. In spite of everything, this famous jazz band was never without excellent musicians and jazz soloists, something that unfortunately we will never be able to prove based on its recordings. Led by Liduvino Pereira, the Casino played long seasons at the Montmartre, as we have already seen, with Ray Carson as singer and a repertoire that included jazz numbers in the dance sets. Among the musicians who make up the band, along with the founders and those already mentioned, were the trumpet players Dagoberto Jiménez, Alberto Jiménez and "El Loco" Medina, high note specialist; the alto saxes Eddy Escrich and Miguelito Franca; the tenors Alfredo Sáenz and Gustavo Más; the baritone sax "Mosquifín Urrutia; the contrabassist Carlos Villa, the pianist Luis Franca and the valve trombonist Alberto Giral ("El Men"), an excellent jazz musician.
It's important to remember that radio, growing rapidly in the 1940s, favored the hiring of big orchestras, sometimes enhanced with string sections. They were our first "studio orchestras", which guaranteed new sources of steady work for musicians. Gone were the difficult days when an orchestra could consider itself fortunate to perform live on the radio one night just to promote itself for upcoming dances. The main stations were CMQ and RHC, but a number of others soon began to form their own orchestras. Radio Cadena Suaritos, a strictly musical station which became very popular, hired as its orchestra leader the great flute virtuoso Roberto Ondina, who brought to the studios practically a "small symphony" to accompany the many foreign singers --particularly Spanish singers-- whom Suaritos would hire on an exclusive basis. And in 1943 RHC-Cadena Azul created an organization which it called "la Orquesta Gigante", with Rodrigo Prats as the conductor, and which alternated with a second orchestra, the Havana Casino conducted at that time by Leonardo Timor (senior).
For its part Mil Diez was able to organize an orchestra with 30 musicians, capable of performing any type of music: it was basically a jazz band, but with a string section (8 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos), a woodwind section (flute, oboe, bassoon, clarinet) and a Cuban percussion section, and sometimes large concertinas (bandoneones) were added for Argentinean music or a small tambourine (pandereta) and castanets for Spanish music. As conductors they had Enrique González Mantici, Félix Guerrero, Roberto Valdés Arnau and Adolfo Guzmán, who became the station's musical director. And a team of arrangers worked under the direction of Félix Guerrero: they were Francisco Melero, Rafael Ortega, Pepe Bravo, Bebo Valdés, Osvaldo Estivil, Rey Díaz Calvet, Humberto Suárez and Adolfo Guzmán (6). But Mil Diez also featured such distinguished bands as Arsenio Rodríguez's conjunto, Los Jóvenes del Cayo, Julio Cueva's orchestra, the Rigual Brothers trio, the Matamoros Trio and the Conjunto Matamoros, with which Benny Moré started his impressive career. And among all of the singers of different styles who became known through Mil Diez we should mention Miguelito Valdés, Orlando Guerra (Cascarita), Olga Rivero, Zoila Gálvez, Alba Marina, Pepe Reyes, Miguel de Gonzalo, Elena Burke, Reinaldo Henríquez, Berta Velázquez, Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot. As we shall see, the feeling movement was well represented in the broadcasts of Mil Diez.
In 1948 RHC hired Julio Gutiérrez, pianist and composer, to conduct the station's orchestra. The jazz band that Julio conducted at RHC lined up a good group of jazz musicians: the trumpet players Alejandro "El Negro" Vivar and Nilo Argudín (both later played with Armando Romeu at the Tropicana and with Machito in New York); the alto saxes Eddy Escrich and "Mosquifín" Urrutia and the tenors Emilio Peñalver and Rubén Morales ("Perro Chino"), excellent improvisers; the pianist René Urbino: the contrabassist Fernando Vivar (and then his brother Salvador); the great drummer Daniel Pérez and percussionists such as Oscar Valdés and Rogelio Darias. A few years later Gutiérrez along with some of these musicians would go on to Channel 4 television, while Roberto Ondina would go on to Channel 2, and Channel 6 (CMQ-TV) would absorb the rest of the musical personnel from the defunct Mil Diez, hiring Adolfo Guzmán and Roberto Valdés Arnau, among others.
From our jazz point of view, it's important to point out that the Cuban jazz bands stayed at the very height of their popularity in the 1940s, and even in the following decade, because it is precisely at the end of the 1940s in the United States when talk of the "decline of the big bands" begins; they were becoming economically untenable and thereby opening the way for the predominance of smaller groups, coinciding as well with the onset of bebop, or at least with its consolidation as a style. In 1955 none other than Woody Herman would tell Bill Coss, a critic from Metronome magazine, that since 1948 the whole big band business had gone to pieces, and that he himself had lost 175,000 dollars "which he didn't have", and as a result had to dissolve his band and form the very group (an octet) which he brought to Havana in 1950 (7). So we find ourselves dealing with two totally independent processes, for in Cuba the decline and essentially the complete disappearance of jazz bands occurred in the 1960s.
As radio reaches its highest point in the forties, so too do the attempts to create a national cinema, undertaken in the preceding decade under conditions similar to those of Mexican commercial cinema and sometimes in collaboration with it. In about 20 films which were made, music played the key role in this fledgling movie industry, as the titles indicate: La última melodía (1939), Cancionero cubano (1939), Siboney (1939), La canción del recuerdo (1946), Oye esta canción (1947), Música, mujeres y piratas (1950), Cuba canta y baila (1950) and many others. Singers, vedettes and orchestras worked in these as well as in Mexican and North American films. But these two motion picture industries at the same time were too much competition for the bold pioneers of a Cuban national commercial cinema, which finally succumbed after 1950, due to the rapid development of commercial television in Cuba, which was among the best in the world and attracted all of the support (8).
THE CONJUNTOS: SON, FEELING, BOP AND EL NIÑO RIVERA
The conjunto evolves from the enlargement of the old son septet, and its most obvious characteristic at a glance is that instead of a single trumpet it employs two, three and even four, and in the rhythm section a conga is added to the bongo. The creator of this format was Arsenio Rodríguez, the great tres player and composer, but as to the incorporation of the conga there exists a precursor, as the musicologist Jesús Blanco informs us: the Sexteto Afrocubano, formed by the great rumbero Santos Ramírez, from the Cerro barrio, who incorporated the conga into the son in 1936, four years before Arsenio (9). The conjuntos catch on among the public, basically in the playing of two genres: son and bolero, as well as guaracha with a son rhythm. But now Arsenio Rodríguez was using rhythmic variations that would later give rise to mambo, and which he called "diablo". With the triumph of mambo around 1950, the conjuntos experimented with a successful hybrid, bolero-mambo. The conjuntos achieved success not only through their performances at dances, cabarets and on radio, but were benefited primarily by the new market for victrolas, which spread like wildfire throughout the country, with more than ten thousand by 1954 just in Havana (10).
A large part of the conjunto popularity lay in its singers, something that happened only on rare occasions with respect to the jazz bands (in the cases of Miguelito Valdés, Tito Gómez, Cascarita or Benny Moré). The excellent sonero and bolerista Miguelito Cuní enjoyed great success first with Arsenio and then with Félix Chapottin. Roberto Faz, Roberto Espí, Agustín Ribot, Nelo Sosa and Orlando Vallejo sang in the Conjunto Casino, which became the most popular and sought-after conjunto in the country. La Sonora Matancera --which represents a third style as distant from Arsenio as from the Casino-- included Bienvenido Granda and Celio González, although it specialized more in accompanying singers such as the boricua Daniel Santos, the Dominican Alberto Beltrán and the Cuban Celia Cruz. In the Gloria Matancera conjunto Roberto Sánchez stood out, as did Faz, Vallejo and Carlos Querol in Alberto Ruiz's Kubavana. Other popular conjuntos were Nelo Sosa's Colonial, with the pianist and composer Pepé Delgado as musical director and the conjunto of Roberto Faz, who upon leaving the Casino would work with the pianist, arranger and musical director Rolando Baró, later a member of various jazz groups.
The conjunto trumpet soloists maintained the tradition of sonera improvisation with its characteristic Cuban phrasing, and some of these trumpet players were also excellent jazz soloists or leads in jazz band brass sections. José Gundín ("El Fiñe"), Alberto "Mazorca" Armenteros and Manuel Mirabal ("El Guajiro") were with Conjunto Casino. On contrabass, we have Cristóbal Dobal and Luis "Pellejo" Rodríguez, who worked with the best jazz bands and ensembles. Among the percussionists we should mention Carlos "Patato" Valdés, who was later famous in the world of New York Afro-Latin jazz. The pianist Yoyo Casteleiro worked with Conjunto Kubavana. Another percussionist who also worked with different conjuntos was Armando Peraza ("Mano de Plomo"), subsequently renowned in jazz with George Shearing's group and with Machito.
Even though the conjuntos never played jazz and didn't include saxophones and trombones, in them the sonero styles of improvisation that later became characteristic in Latin jazz and salsa were developed. Among the trumpet players, "El Negro" Vivar, Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, "El Guajiro" Mirabal, Jorge Varona and others took this style to the top. Along with the charanga flautists, this style and phrasing was for its part assimilated by saxophonists, such as Chombo Silva and Virgilio Vixama, who fused it with jazz improvisation. Even more so this could be said of the jazz pianists who worked in conjuntos or emerged from them; here it will suffice to mention Rolando Baró, Adolfo Pichardo, Bebo Valdés, Frank Emilio Flynn, Pedro Jústiz (Peruchín), Rubén González, Yoyo Casteleiro and Samuel Téllez.
On the other hand, we must point out the contributions to our popular music made by Arsenio Rodríguez, whose influence will be decisive in the fusion styles that emerge from the forties to the present. Arsenio kept the tres as a primary instrument (for accompaniment and solos) in his conjuntos, but the new format that he created has various implications that we should note:
1) The consolidation of the piano as a primary harmonic instrument, in place of the guitar; 2) The addition of the conga to the bongo, a combination which will also become standard in Cuban jazz bands (only Sonora Matancera always used pailas, which came from the danzonera orchestras), and 3) The presence of an arranger (necessary for the consolidation of a section of three or even four trumpets), who could integrate the typical jazz band harmonizations, although since dealing with a different music and format, arrangers would contribute their own innovations. Here El Niño Rivera will play an important role.
As to percussion, we should note how the combination of instruments used from the twenties to the forties changes. For example, traditional son has only the bongo, and traditional danzón timbales and pailas, while the congas were limited to the separate world of rumba. Subsequently, Antonio Arcaño incorporates the conga in charanga and in danzón as well, and Arsenio does the same in the realm of son. Meanwhile the Cuban jazz bands, which in the beginning only employed the drum set, gradually added the conga and the bongo to perform the Cuban numbers, before the existence of a fusion music. Later Machito y sus Afrocubanos will introduce the conga-paila-bongo combination, without drums, in what will be the standard layout in salsa ensembles. For his part, Dámaso Pérez Prado appears with two congas, a bongo and pailas with a top cymbal. Of course, the following instruments should be added to these combinations: claves, the güiro and maracas, which come from the sonero sextet and are normally played by the singers, as well as the "cow-bell" (cencerro), generally played by the bongosero or the timbalero.
Getting back to harmonic and orchestral aspects, in 1934 we see that the tres player Andrés Echeverría, better known as El Niño Rivera, has recently arrived in Havana from his place of birth Pinar del Río and is playing with sextets such as the Bolero, Gloria Habanera and the legendary Sexteto Boloña. Coming from a sonero background, El Niño begins to assimilate other genres and musical styles, and he gets to know Arsenio Rodríguez, jazz musicians and members of the future "feeling" movement, which will revolutionize Cuban canción and bolero. He works with the conjunto Los Astros, which René Álvarez conducted, and with Modelo. He takes guitar and harmony classes as well with Vicente González Rubiera (Guyún), who had incorporated classic technique and contemporary harmony in popular Cuban guitar. This allows El Niño to bring more advanced harmonies to the tres, surpassing in this area Arsenio himself as he creates a new sound for this typical Cuban instrument. El Niño also studies orchestration with Félix Guerrero, listens to the best in jazz and creates his own conjunto, Rey de Reyes, as he becomes involved in the "feeling" movement. In a recent book on this movement we read:
The rhythmic-harmonic renovation of son has two great innovators: Arsenio Rodríguez and El Niño Rivera. It could be said of El Niño that he represents the live bridge that connects feeling with son. It was his arrangements for conjunto and jazz band which brought the feeling style to dance conjuntos such as the Casino, Roberto Faz's and his own. (11)
Feeling represented a movement centered on canción and bolero, but which also encompassed other genres and which, surprisingly, shows a certain parallel with bebop, primarily an instrumental movement, which emerges in Harlem a few years before. It's true that bop (including in its sung variety, scat vocal) tends to convert the human voice into an instrument, which doesn't happen with feeling, and yet the first two scat singers in Cuba came out of this movement: they were Dandy Crawford and Francisco Fellove, who was the creator of a scat with Cuban phrasing. If it's possible to draw a parallel between what was happening in jazz (bop) and Cuban music in the 1940s, the point of reference cannot be our instrumental music and much less our jazz movement, while what our jazz musicians did in that era was assimilate the language of bop, and a few years later cool. On the other hand, the feeling movement is one of renovation within Cuban music, which implies not only another style or a new form of making or "saying", but a change of attitude toward musical creation and interpretation, a call not only for "sentiment", but also for experimentation and innovation with respect to the different musical parameters and in song texts, as well as a rejection of conventionalism and rhetoric.
A parallel between bop and feeling can be established in spite of the logical differences between a song movement and another predominantly instrumental one. Similarities exist in the social conditioning factors and the anti-racist motivations of both, in their shared rejection of commercialism and, musically, there exists an apparent affinity in the treatment of the melodic-harmonic material, which sometimes is manifested by an almost obsessive interest in "harmonic progressions". One time Charlie Parker said that bop basically consisted of "searching for the pretty notes". Of course bop was much more than that, and nobody new it better than Bird. But taking this line for what it is, a nice metaphor, what else did the creators of bop and their feeling contemporaries do? Both opened the way to a higher expressivity in melodic phrases, unusual intervals, original sequences, harmonic progressions and internal rhythm, all of which moved away from conventional practices, stale recipes, and the affectation of certain old styles and especially from their more commercial versions.
For their part, Cuban jazz musicians incorporated into their repertoire the bop classics, sometimes orchestrated for band and obligatory in jam sessions. Numbers such as "Now's the Time", "Anthropology", "Salt Peanuts", "Minor Walk", "A Night in Tunisia", "Lady Bird", "Manteca", "Algo Bueno", "Yardbird Suite", "Robbin's Nest", "Ornithology", "Oolya-Koo" and others from Bird, Dizzy, Monk, Bud Powell, Tadd Dameron, Gil Fuller, Johnny Mandel and other boppers. There were also the Broadway and Tin Pan Alley numbers which jazz musicians have always incorporated little by little turning them into standards, according to preferences that change with the times, it being not uncommon for a jazz musician to revive an old, almost forgotten standard. The boppers, starting with Charlie Parker, chose their own standards, although usually only the harmonic structure of these standards would be preserved and the original melody discarded. At that time, in the 1940s and early 1950s, Cuban jazz musicians adopted these same numbers, such as "How High the Moon", "Perdido", "I've Got Rhythm", "Indiana", "I'll Remember April", "Darn that Dream", "All the Things You Are", "Lady Be Good", "Out of Nowhere", "The Song Is You", "Cherokee", "Strike Up the Band", "Just Friends", "Tangerine", "Sweet Georgia Brown", "Lady in Red", "East of the Sun", "Stella by Starlight", and so many others, some of which had been around since the days of Swing. A little later they would assimilate the numbers of the cool style, as well as those of Shearing or Lennie Tristano's school and those of Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Benny Golson and the rest of the great hard boppers.
Cuban jazz musicians wrote their own numbers, as was the case with Arturo O'Farrill, Bebo Valdés or Armando Romeu, but even more important, from our point of view, was the incorporation of tunes written by feeling composers into the repertoire of Cuban jazz musicians, some of whom were very much into the movement. In this way we begin to have our own standards, consisting of ballads, boleros, sones and guarachas and then mambos composed in the feeling style. Among these numbers are "Delirio", "Noche cubana", "Nuestra canción" and others by César Portillo de la Luz; "Quiéreme y verás", "Si me comprendieras", "Decídete", by José Antonio Méndez; "Tony y Jesusito" and "Mi ayer", by Ñico Rojas; "El jamaiquino", by Niño Rivera; "Mango mangüé", by Francisco Fellove and others. And contrary to what had occurred in North America, Cuban jazz musicians were extending their repertoire of national numbers from the present to the past, incorporating into their "jazzed up" repertoire the most treasured numbers of our traditional song collection.
FUSION, FEELING AND THE WORLD OF JAM SESSIONS
To my way of thinking, the fusion styles which have rejuvenated popular music so much in recent years (Latin jazz, jazz-rock, salsa, Latin rock, bugaloo, etcetera) have their roots in the fusion that was taking place in Havana in the 1940s between jazz and different genres of Cuban music. Feeling is a crucial moment in this process, and involved in it we find, for example, three of the most important pianists in the history of jazz (particularly Latin jazz) in Cuba: Frank Emilio Flynn, Bebo Valdés and Peruchín Jústiz, who for their part became involved in the fusion of jazz, son, danzón and mambo. It is also within the feeling movement that a Cuban musician, and once again we are referring to Niño Rivera, attempts a fusion of bebop and our music, which can be seen in his arrangements for the conjunto Rey de Reyes. El Niño calls his new style Cubibop, and in it he would blend elements of son, danzón, mambo, feeling and bebop. What's most interesting is that Cubibop emerges totally independently from New York Cubop, which will gain world fame and bring together performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Mario Bauzá, Machito, Chano Pozo and Charlie Parker. And in contrast to what occurs in New York, El Niño develops his new concepts based on the conjunto format, not that of the jazz band, and utilizes vocal groups. The problem was that Cubibop, like Bebo Valdés's batanga rhythm afterward, lacked any promotion, or perhaps it didn't surface at the right time and place, and in fact it didn't even become popular on the island. It represented, nevertheless, a stimulating experience for the Cuban musicians who continued to work in this line of fusion.
The feeling movement was for two decades a subject of controversy, which seems to still exist. The very name feeling (sentiment), which the movement (and the style) acquired years after its inception, was a "lightning rod for trouble" for many who would object to it for selfish reasons or racial prejudices and label it "foreignizing". From our point of view, that same controversial name is further proof of its relation with jazz. According to one of its originators, Luis Yáñez, the name came up when they heard the number "I gotta feeling" sung by Maxine Sullivan, at the home of saxophonist Bruno Guijarro, who was then with Alfredo Brito's orchestra. At about that time, as in previous decades, the musicians who would later create feeling would get jazz records by way of black North American sailors, in the bars of the Havana port area, and preferably "race records" (12). Thanks to these contacts, the young musicians of feeling were introduced to Horace and Fletcher Henderson, Al Cooper, Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Lanceford, Cab Calloway. Also among their preferences were Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Nat King Cole, the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers. It's not surprising that around the same time, as the critic Max Salazar informs us, Puerto Rican musicians living in New York's Barrio district had identical preferences: Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Cab Calloway, the Ink Spots ... (13).
In my opinion, a musician who had a particularly strong influence on feeling was Nat King Cole, more as a singer than as a pianist, although he left his mark on various Cuban pianists, especially those who were involved in feeling. Nat King Cole, even after his more jazzy stage with his classic trio and as his career was in full swing (1950s), maintained a style, a resonance, a diction (in other words we would say that it was a particular "way of talking"), which were characteristics of the best feeling singers such as Miguel de Gonzalo, Pepe Reyes, Reinaldo Henríquez and particularly Leonel Bravet, who when singing in English sang just like Nat King Cole. A special admirer of Nat Cole was José Antonio Méndez, the leading exponent of feeling along with César Portillo de la Luz. José Antonio started the routine of calling every musician or singer who impressed him "King", using the nickname as synonymous with quality, which in the long run resulted in everybody calling him "The King".
Like other varieties of our popular urban music, feeling was born in private homes or rooms of different solares or neighborhood houses, where trovadores and other musicians would get together for the now historic jam sessions ("descargas"). Of these meeting places the most well known today is the home of the trovadores Tirso and Angel Díaz in Callejón de Hammel, in the Cayo Hueso barrio and close to the strategic corner of Infanta and San Lázaro. But actually the feeling group would meet at other barrio houses such as composer Rolando Gómez's (from the Yáñez and Gómez duo) or Pepito Franco's (son of the historian José Luciano Franco), in the home of the composer and singer Jorge Mazón (Marqués Gonzáles between Salud and Jesús Peregrino) and Eva and Estela Martiatu's (San José between Lucena and Marqués González). In addition they met in other barrios such as Belén, Atarés, Párraga, Jesús del Monte or El Cerro; for example, at the house of Aida Armenteros and "Papo" Morúa in Jesús del Monte, at Niño Rivera's house in Párraga and at Silvia and Gloria Consuegra's (Infanta and Pedroso) in El Cerro.
Something noteworthy that up until now has passed unnoticed is that while the movement was given an English name, "feeling", the group itself "Cubanized" the term "jam session" by replacing it with "descarga". For it was at the feeling sessions, starting in the late 1940s, that they began using the terms "descarga" and "descargar", which would then be taken up by Cuban jazz musicians who would in turn incorporate them into Latin jazz and salsa, after the series of records made by Israel "Cachao" López, Peruchín Jústiz, Walfredito de los Reyes and others under the common designation "Descargas". These albums were recorded between 1957 and 1959 and important Cuban jazz musicians such as Chico O'Farrill, Gustavo Más, Walfredito de los Reyes, Bebo Valdés and José "Chombo" Silva, as well as those already mentioned, worked on them, and from this, critics and Latin musicians from New York have inferred that the "descarga" as a concept and as a musical form (improvisations on Cuban themes and rhythm) originates with these records. They've even gone so far as to distinguish Cachao as "the creator of the descarga". The truth is something quite different.
As a concept and as a form, a descarga was nothing more than a jam session, an informal, spontaneous musical encounter; the only difference was the Cuban expression. And this Cuban term was originally used as a verb: descargar, with the multiple meaning "to fight, to reproach, to talk too much, to chat, to talk about one's own problems, to let it out / get it off your chest". And it's more or less this sense of letting it all out or expressing what one feels inside that applies to music, and basically to musical improvisation or to the performance of any music which might contain an "air of improvisation", as Fernando Ortiz would say about our music and about all music of African descent (14). That is, for us "descargar" meant to improvise in the sense that North American jazz musicians say "to jam" or "to blow". But descarga as a substitute for the term jam session was an "invention" of the creators of feeling, from whom Cuban jazz musicians, many of whom were closely associated with feeling, took the term. All of this was ten years before the famous records by Cachao and his brilliant fellow musicians, and undoubtedly before the 1960s when the term "descarga" would mean for the Palmieris, Ray Barreto or Tito Puente, the equivalent of a session (or a number, or a record) with improvisations based on montunos and on Afro-Cuban rhythms.
I myself heard the word "descarga" more than one time from José Antonio Méndez, Frank Emilio, César Portillo, Luis Yáñez, Francisco Fellove and others in the late 1940s, and in those descargas feeling numbers were played for the first time, be they canciones, sones or guarachas and jazz improvisations would often be played on top of them. Shortly thereafter the term became common in jazz sessions, and at one jam session around 1950, when somebody from the audience requested a popular commercial number, the saxophonist Gustavo Más responded: "Sh...! I came to jam (descargar)!" With respect to improvisations to montunos and Afro-Cuban rhythms, they always existed in one form or another in all of our main genres, whether it be danzón, rumba or son, as we have seen throughout. Getting back to the historic 1956-1959 recordings, it's not just a coincidence that two of them would be designated Cuban Jam Sessions, and that Cachao himself, who used the term Descarga for three albums, would record a forth with the very descriptive title Jam Session con Feeling (15).
Participating in the jam sessions of "los muchachos del feeling", as they were paternalistically called in the beginning, were first and foremost the trovadores José Antonio Méndez, César Portillo de la Luz, Jorge Mazón, Rosendo Ruiz Quevedo, Angel Díaz, Armando Peñalver, Roberto Jaramil, Enrique Pessino, Luis Yáñez, Rolando Gómez, Giraldo Piloto and others such as the great guitarist and composer Ñico Rojas, whose contribution to the renewal of the guitar in popular Cuban music can only be compared to that of el maestro Guyún (Vicente González Rubiera). Other guitarists who followed this course of innovation were Elías Castillo, Manuel Herrera Dreke and Octavio Sánchez (Cotán). Among the pianists associated with feeling and dedicated to the jam sessions (descargas) were Frank Emilio, Bebo Valdés, Isolina Carrillo, Enriqueta Almanza and Aida Diestro. Also committed to these descargas were Marcelino Guerra (Rapindey), El Niño Rivera, Vicentico Valdés (singer in Vicente Viana's Cosmopolita orchestra at the time), Miguelito Valdés ("Mr. Babalú") and Pacho Alonso. An immediate forerunner to these sessions were the "descargas de jazz y son" that the composer and pianist Isolina Carrillo would organize, in which Paulina Alvarez, Dandy Crawford, the saxophonist Virgilio Vixama and the contrabassist Alfredo León also participated (16).
GROUPS, ARRANGERS AND SINGERS
Among the arrangers who dedicated the most time to orchestrating feeling numbers, whether it be for records, radio or TV, to accompany a singer or in an instrumental version for a jazz band, we find several who are involved in jazz and "Latin jazz", such as Bebo Valdés, Peruchín Jústiz, El Niño Rivera, Félix Guerrero, René Hernández and Chico O'Farrill. It's worth remembering that René Hernández was later, as a pianist and arranger, one of the pillars of the band of Machito y sus Afrocubanos, and that Chico O'Farrill included on his records three instrumentals based on numbers of feeling songwriters, namely: "El jamaiquino", by el Niño Rivera, "Mango mangüé" by Francisco Fellove, and "Delirio" by César Portillo, with an extraordinary solo by the trumpet player Art Farmer. But perhaps more telling than the work of the arrangers in the jazz-feeling relationship would be the mention of some of the groups created by musicians of the movement, which invariably included jazz numbers in their repertoires.
Some of the groups --or combos-- of feeling included saxophone, trumpet or electric guitar, in addition to piano, contrabass, drums and Cuban percussion. The most well known, and a precursor of the rest, was founded in 1946 and was called significantly Loquibambia Swing. Its leader was José Antonio Méndez, who played lead guitar, and it also featured Alberto Menéndez (2nd guitar), Eligio Valera and Leonel Bravet (singers), Oscar ("Kiko") González and then Isauro Hernández (contrabass), Frank Emilio (piano), and a little bit later Omara Portuondo, who distinguished himself as a singer of jazz and feeling. El Niño Rivera and the guitarist Froylán Amézaga often worked with Loquibambia Swing, as did at times the trumpet player Edelburgo ("Wichy") Mercier. The group, like others that were organized by the members of the movement, would adopt different formats and personnel according to the circumstances, since sometimes a few members would get steady work in cabarets and on radio and others would substitute for them. For example, on one occasion I played in a group consisting of: José Antonio Méndez (electric guitar), Rosendo Ruiz (acoustic guitar), Dandy Crawford (jazz singer), Luis Yáñez (vocalist and maracas), Francisco Fellove (vocalist and conga player), Isauro Hernández (contrabass), Frank Domínguez (piano, substituting for Frank Emilio) and Leonardo Acosta (alto sax, substituting for the trumpet player Wichy Mercier).
In 1951 Frank Emilio Flynn formed his own group, which included two excellent singers: the great ballad singer Pepe Reyes and the guarachero and "bibosero" Francisco Fellove, initiator of a typically Cuban scat; rounding out the group were José Antonio Méndez (guitar), Isauro Hernández (contrabass) and the percussionists Augusto Barreto and Oliverio Casanova (half-brother of Miguelito Valdés). For his part El Niño Rivera and his conjunto Rey de Reyes, employing three trumpets, would experiment with bop passages. One of the three was César "Piyú" Godínez, jazz improviser and high note specialist, an ability which El Niño made use of by writing passages in which Piyú would play an octave above the high voice (voz prima). Another feeling group was Los Leoneles, led by the singer Leonel Bravet, "the Cuban Nat King Cole"; it included Roberto Lausán (piano), Froylán Amézaga (guitar), Ernesto Cordobés (contrabass) and Alberto Menéndez (güiro and cencerro/cowbell). When Cordobés left the group, Froylán Amézaga switched to contrabass and the great composer César Portillo de la Luz came in as a guitarist. This group worked at the Sans Souci, Chez Merito (in the Hotel Presidente), Calypso Club and Pigalle, a club that jazz musicians would regularly frequent later on.
With feeling, a new way of singing emerges as well, closer to that of jazz singers than to the lyric and operatic voices of the 1920s and 1930s or to that of the soneros and first bolero singers, with their typically Cuban nasal voice. Although creators or trovadores of feeling sing or "say" their own songs, formidable performers appear in the 1940s, such as Berta Velázquez, Olga Rivero, Elena Burke, Pepe Reyes, Reinaldo Henríquez, Leonel Bravet, Moraima Secada, Aurelio Reinoso, Omara Portuondo and the most consummate of all, Miguel de Gonzalo, one of the most versatile singers that Cuban popular music has produced. Other singers outside of the movement were attracted to it and contributed to its dissemination. We've already mentioned the bolero singer Roberto Faz; we should also mention Vicentico Valdés, who from New York was able to popularize many feeling numbers, as Fernando Alvarez, Pacho Alonso and the multifaceted Benny Moré did on the island.
Along with feeling or within the movement itself vocal quartets proliferated, in which there is obviously a jazz influence in the way the voices are harmonized and in the phrasing that moves away from the traditional son duos and trios as well as the "Mexican style" trios, which were/had been numerous ever since the success of Los Panchos. The only trio linked directly to feeling was that of the Rigual Brothers, which established itself successfully in Mexico, popularizing feeling classics such as "Contigo en la distancia" by Portillo de la Luz. The only Cuban group to precede feeling in its approximation to North American vocal groups was the Marvel Sisters trio, who performed in several Hollywood films and lived for a long time in the US as the De Castro Sisters. Perhaps one of the secrets of the De Castr