December 3, 1909 in Havana, Cuba
April 15, 1984 in London, England
Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, or Frank Grillo
Machito & His Salsa Big Band ‘82 won a Grammy for Best Latin Recording in 1983.
Latin jazz bandleader Machito grew up singing and dancing with his three older sisters and the employees of his father, a cigar manufacturer. An early career as a singer led Machito to the United States, where he and his brother-in-law Mario Bauzá fused their Latin roots with American popular music to become the fathers of Latin jazz.
In his late teens, Machito was already an established singer and maracas player. He was a member of numerous groups, and his involvement in La Estrella Habañera brought him to the United States for engagements in New York and Detroit in 1937. He moved to New York City to record with the growing community of Cuban musicians.
In 1939, Machito and Mario Bauzá attempted to form their own group. The gigs they had lined up fell threw, however, and nothing became of the project until a year later. In 1940, the two musicians formed the Afro-Cubans. On vocals and maracas, Machito led the group, which also consisted of two trumpets, two saxophones, and a rhythm section of piano, double bass, timbales, bongos, and congas. Bauzá served as the musical director, a position he would hold for 35 years. The partnership was integral to the development of Latin jazz, as Bauzá hired jazz arrangers to harmonize Machito’s melodies.
The Rise of Cubop:
In 1943 Machito spent several months in the army, but was discharged because of a leg injury. When he returned to his band, the Latin craze had begun to settle in with jazz musicians and audiences. In the late 1940s, the Afro-Cubans’ hybrid sound was big enough to share the stage at New York City’s Town Hall with Stan Kenton’s band. Not only was Machito incorporating jazz into his music, but jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker began to inject bebop with Latin rhythms and melodies. The result of this convergence of styles was referred to as Cubop.
Throughout the late 1940s and 50s, many of the top jazz soloists shared the stage with Machito and his band, including Charlie Parker, Milt Jackson, Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Griffin, and Curtis Fuller. The Afro-Cubans were at the forefront of the mambo craze, and performed frequently at the Palladium Ballroom in New York, famous for showcasing the best of Latin jazz.
Latin jazz took several turns in the 60s and 70s. There were periods when the flute-based Charanga was most popular, and the funk and soul-influenced boogaloo dominated the recording market for a period. But Machito pressed on with his brassy large ensemble. He toured throughout the world in the 70s, and died on stage while performing at Ronnie Scott’s club in London in 1984. The fusion of Latin and jazz styles is a concept that today’s artists explore with undying fervor.
The large ensemble setting for Latin jazz persists as well, most notably in two Latin jazz big bands that are offshoots of Machito’s band and Mario Bauzá’s later ensemble. They are the Machito Orchestra, led by Machito’s son Mario Grillo, and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, led by Arturo O’Farrill.