Welcome to SalsaLives.com


The Palladium opened in 1947 just as the bittersweet residuals of a finished war were hitting the country. New York’s Latin population boomed after the war, facilitating the need for larger entertainment venues outside of traditional Latin neighborhoods. This massive influx of people from Cuba, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Mexico and other South American countries inlaid bursts of different cultures into traditionally white — and whitebread– notions of nightlife. The Palladium would not follow in the relatively sedate footsteps of New York’s burgeoning 40s dance scene.

The epicenter of Afro-Cuban music would begin with a Jewish tailor Maxwell Hyman, owner of the Palladium, who introduced Latin music to his ballroom on a Sunday night, where it instantly caught fire. Hyman quickly filled every night with Hispanic and Caribbean entertainers and dancers, scouted from smaller venues and snatched up to fill the Palladium schedule.

As the club grew in popularity, it became the natural nesting ground for a new music craze jelling Cuban rhythms with African folk beats — The Mambo.


Credit to theboweryboyshistory.com

Israel Lopez or Cachao, as he was universally known, transformed the rhythm of Cuban music when he and his brother, the pianist and cellist Orestes López, extended and accelerated the final section of the stately Cuban danzón into the mambo. “My brother and I would say to each other, ‘Mambea, mambea ahí,’ which meant to add swing to that part,” he said in a 2006 interview with The Miami Herald.

The springy mambo bass lines Cachao created in the late 1930’s — simultaneously driving and playful — became a foundation of modern Cuban music, of the salsa that grew out of it, and also of Latin-influenced rock ’n’ roll and rhythm-and-blues. For much of the 20th century, Cachao’s innovations set the world dancing.

In the late 1950’s, he brought another breakthrough to Latin music with descargas: late-night Havana jam sessions that merged Afro-Cuban rhythms, Cuban songs and the convolutions of jazz.

Credit:  NY Times

Francisco ‘Machito’ Grillo was born in Tampa, Florida, on February 16 1912 (some sources claim the Maria district in Havana to be his birthplace). He was certainly raised in Cuba, where he came to be inspired by the sounds of the Orquesta Aragon and El Sexteto Habanera to pursue a career as a vocalist and maracas player. In 1926, Machito’s sister Graciela facilitated an introduction to the clarinettist and saxophonist Mario Bauza at the Havana Municipal Conservatory of Music. Bauza and Machito eventually became lifelong friends and moved to Manhattan, New York, where they played music for several Latin-style dance bands, including La Estrella Habanera. In 1940, Machito left Alberto Iznaga’s ‘La Siboney’ to form his own big band, the Afro-Cubans. A year later, he was able to entice Bauza to leave his chair as first trumpeter with Cab Calloway’s orchestra to join him as musical director and principal arranger. Tito Puente and legendary conga player Chano Pozo (1915-48), respectively, played timbales and percussion in this band and Machito’s sister Graciela was lead female vocalist.

Bauza’s jazz-infused arrangements blended perfectly with Machito’s traditional rhythms (rumba, guaracho, mambo) to create a fresh sound, which became enormously popular in America and attracted other innovators in Latin jazz to contribute ideas, among them Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton and Charlie Parker. Conversely, Machito also occasionally guested with other bands, for example, playing maracas on the original recording of Kenton’s seminal “The Peanut Vendor”. As members of the new BMI syndicate (Broadcast Music, Inc.), Machito and Bauza were unaffected by the ASCAP recording strike of the 1940’s and were able to make a number of recordings for Decca, including the first true Afro-Cuban fusion jazz number, “Tanga”, which was composed by Bauza in 1942 and became the band’s signature song. Another major hit was “Sopa de Pichon” (Pidgeon Soup), written by Machito himself.

Now given the sobriquet ‘El Rey del Mambo’ (The King of Mambo), Machito went from strength to strength in the 1940’s, playing at top venues, including at the Palladium Ballroom and at Carnegie Hall. Some of his best recordings arose from a 1948 collaboration (prompted by the producer Norman Granz) with Charlie Parker and tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips. His album “Kenya” (aka “Latin Soul Plus Jazz”, for Roulette) in 1958 put ‘Cubop’ on the map once and for all. The great jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordonalso performed solos with the band at New York’s Ebony Club in 1947.

Machito continued to remain a consistent favorite with dancers during the Mambo craze and the boogaloo fad of the 1960’s, and beyond that, through the growing popularity of salsa. He died in a London hospital from the effects of a stroke suffered just prior to being due to go on stage at Ronnie Scott’s nightclub in London in April 1984.

Credit: IMDb

“The Mambo King.” Prado grew up in Cuba and worked with casino orchestras in Havana for most of the 1940s. In 1948, he moved to Mexico to form his own band and record for RCA. He quickly specialized in mambos, an upbeat adaptation of the Cuban rhumba. Prado’s mambos stood out among the competition, with their fiery brass riffs and strong sax counterpoints, and most of all, Prado’s trademark grunts. In 1950, arranger Sonny Burke heard “Que Rico Mambo” while on vacation in Mexico and recorded in back in the U.S. as “Mambo Jambo.” The single was a hit and Prado decided to profit himself from the success and tour the U.S. His appearances in 1951 were sell-outs and he began recording U.S. releases for RCA.

In 1954, a number of novelty mambos, including “Papa Loves to Mambo” were recorded by mainstream artists, spurring a wave of mambo dancing and recording. Prado was clearly the leader in this movement, but his greatest success came a year later. He recorded a French song he had first covered in 1951 on the soundtrack of the movie, “Underwater,” and when it attracted some attention, RCA released it as a single. “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” reached #1 in the Top 40 charts and held the spot for 10 weeks. He followed this with Top 20 singles of “Anna” and “Skokiaan,” but fell out of the charts for the next two years, although his albums continued to sell well.

For all his cheerful demeanor on stage, Prado was a ruthless taskmaster as a bandleader. Trombonist Milt Bernhart recalled an incident during the recording of “Voodoo Suite,” a collaboration with arranger Shorty Rogers:

One of the movements involved a supposed street-fight in Havana – Carlos Vidal (conga drums) and another Cuban percussionist were to play the roles of the two participants in the rumble. After running the music down once or twice, one of them decided to really get into the spirit of the thing – he stripped down to his shorts!Now, we began to record it. In the middle of their chanting and howling, they forgot where they were and really started to grapple. They were mad and they were wrestling. Half the band fell completely apart. The “take” stopped cold, and I fell on the floor convulsed. Prado seemed to be offended by our laughter and was glaring at me – and possibly Maynard Ferguson – we were in hysterics! The trombone player next to me, who was a regular Prado member, sat staring straight ahead, he didn’t get it or he was afraid of Prado’s anger.

I learned later that Prado fired him – he hadn’t done anything.

In 1958, his own song, “Patricia,” reached #1, and was later featured in the “scandalous” strip scene in Fellini’s film, “La Dolce Vita.” His last big hits in the early 1960s were “Guaglione” and “Patricia Twist.”

After 1963, RCA stopped releasing Prado in the U.S. market. He returned to Mexico and continued to record and perform in Latin American countries until he retired in the early 1970s. Prado’s brother, Panteleon Perez Prado, who moved to Europe in 1956, also ran a mambo band and was so infuriated with his younger brother’s success that he even tried to sue in court to be declared as the superior bandleader.

Tito Puente , byname of Ernesto Antonio Puente, Jr., (born April 20, 1923, New York, New York, U.S.—died May 31, 2000, New York City), American bandleader, composer, and musician who was one of the leading figures in Latin jazz. His bravura showmanship and string of mambo dance hits in the 1950s earned him the nickname “King of Mambo.”

The son of Puerto Rican immigrants, Puente grew up in New York City’s Spanish Harlem and became a professional musician at age 13. He later studied at the Juilliard School and eventually learned to play a number of instruments, including the piano, saxophone, vibraphone, and timbales (paired high-pitched drums). After an apprenticeship in the historic Machito Orchestra (a New York-based Latin jazz group established in 1939), he served in the navy during World War II.

In 1947 Puente formed his own 10-piece band, which he expanded two years later to include four trumpets, three trombones, and four saxophones, as well as a number of percussionists and vocalists. With other Latin musicians such as Tito Rodríguez and Pérez Prado, he helped give rise in the 1950s to the golden age of mambo, a dance form of Cuban origin; his infectious energy and dynamic stage presence quickly made him a star. As his reputation grew, so too did his repertoire, through the addition of other Latin and Afro-Cuban dance rhythms such as Dominican merengue, Brazilian bossa nova, and Cuban cha-cha. The term salsa first appeared in the 1960s, when it was used to describe the music that had been the mainstay of Puente’s repertoire for decades. Although salsa—as a specific genre—is rooted in the Cuban son music, the term has often been applied generically to a wide variety of popularized Latin dance forms, such as those performed by Puente. Aside from his activities as a bandleader and instrumentalist, Puente also wrote many songs, among which “Babarabatiri,” “Ran Kan Kan,” and “Oye Como Va” have been the most popular.

In the course of his career, Puente recorded some 120 albums and maintained a busy performance schedule, appearing with leading jazz musicians such as George Shearing and Woody Herman, as well as with many stars of Latin music and, in later years, with symphony orchestras. He also performed in several films, including Radio Days (1987) and The Mambo Kings (1992), and was responsible for introducing American audiences to a number of Latin musicians, most notably Cuban singer Celia Cruz. Puente received five Grammy Awards as well as numerous other honours, and he played 200 to 300 engagements a year until shortly before his death in 2000.

Credit:  Encyclopedia Britanica