Profile of Trumpeter Mario Bauza

© Pimienta Records


April 28, 1911 in Havana, Cuba


July 11, 1993 in New York City

A prodigious talent, trumpeter Mario Bauzá is considered a founding father of Latin jazz. His formal music training, combined with a deep understanding of traditional Cuban music as well as a love for jazz, allowed him to play a key role in the integration of Afro-Cuban music and jazz in the 1940s.

Cuban Roots:

Growing up in Havana, Cuba, Mario Bauzá displayed signs of a special talent.

He began formal music training as a child at the Municipal Academy of Cuba, and developed great enough skill on the clarinet and oboe to play in the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra at age nine. He got a chance to study under some of the best Cuban musicians, including Antonio Maria Romeu and Lázaro Herrera. At age 19, he moved to New York, and switched his focus to the trumpet.

New York:

New York in the 1930s was jumping with the sounds of big band swing music. Bauzá adapted to the style easily, and played with several groups before joining drummer Chick Webb’s famous band in 1933. Webb pushed him to his full potential, and Bauzá played with the group and acted as its music director for five years. He is credited with convincing Webb to hire the young Ella Fitzgerald. During his stint with Webb, Bauzá befriended the young Dizzy Gillespie.

Later, after joining Cab Calloway’s orchestra, Bauzá was responsible for getting Dizzy in the group, thereby launching the career of one of the biggest contributors to jazz.

Part of Dizzy’s contribution was fusing Afro-Cuban music with jazz, inspired by his friendship with Bauzá. Almost a decade later, Bauzá introduced Dizzy to the gregarious and volatile Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo. Together, Dizzy and Pozo composed “Tin Tin Deo” and “Manteca,” two of the most famous examples of the melding of bebop and Latin music.

Integrating Styles:

Bauzá’s brother-in-law, Frank Grillo, better known as Machito, had also become a major figure in the New York music scene. He conducted, led, and sang in his own big band, called the Afro-Cubans. In 1941, Bauzá left Cab Calloway and joined Machito’s group. He acted as music director and played trumpet in the band for 35 years.

The Afro-Cubans performed music that was based on traditional Latin rhythms, and yet involved jazz harmonies and improvisation. The style soon caught on, and became wildly popular as dance music. The arrangements that Machito and Bauzá wrote and arranged became the seeds of Latin jazz.

A Legacy:

In 1976, Bauzá left the band, but continued to compose and perform for the rest of his life, dedicating himself to Latin jazz. He became a mentor for younger musicians, including Bobby Sanabria, Conrad Herwig, and Michael Philip Mossman, each of whom has gone on to develop and spread the music that Bauzá formed. By the time he died in 1993, Latin music had already become embedded in the modern jazz landscape.