Cuban Grooves Course: Cachao

In his opening comments about improvisation over montunos, Elio notes: “The basic form of the improvisation over montunos started within the cuban descargas in the 1950s by musicians such as Israel ‘Cachao’ López who started exploring ideas on how to improvise over this music.”

I thought you might have an interest in learning a bit more about Cachao. My interest was first piqued when I read Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report, Pat Metheny) calling him the greatest bassist in the world. (At the time, I was thinking that that was Pastorius himself.)

Though he made his primary innovation in the 1930s, Israel Cachao López has exerted an influence you can hear throughout pop music to this day. Working with his brother, pianist and cellist Orestes López, he hot-wired stately Havana ballroom music to create mambo, an Afro-Cuban fusion that would influence salsa, Cuban jazz, R&B, rock & roll, and by extension the entire constellation of Latin-influenced modern pop. “What’s Cuban in origin is also African,” he said years later. “The Africans had as much influence as the conquistadors on what is Cuban. Naturally, this being in the blood, many things have come into being always with an African influence.” His playing — a sumptuous rumble of crosscutting lines, probing yet elegant, gliding alongside the other instruments with relaxed precision — created a perfect backdrop for the rich, freewheeling improvisation that would become central to Cuban music thanks to another Cachao innovation of the 1950s, the descarga, a jazz-influenced jam session. Cachao moved to the U.S. in the Sixties, but didn’t find his widest recognition here until the 1990s and the release of the essential two-volume series Master Sessions. (Rolling Stone July 2, 2020. “The 50 Greatest Bassists of All Time”)

You can do your own search, but here are a few clips. The last is to the PBS American Masters series: “Cachao: Uno Mas.” It’s lengthy, but it offers both a heartfelt homage to the man and a great overview of Afro-Cuban music. Well worth a watch if you have the time. Enjoy! :musical_keyboard:

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