Say the name Cachao and you immediately think of mambo-and rightfully so. The bassist/composer Israel “Cachao” Lopez has the honorable distinction of being heralded as the inventor of the mambo. He’s the man who helped make the mambo all the rage in America during the early ’50s.
Born into a family of musicians in Havana, Cuba, in 1918, Cachao would go on to become a master of Cuban descargas (jam sessions). By the age of 9, the already adept bongo player was earning a living playing double bass with pianist Ignacio Villa, providing the music for silent movies being shown at the theater in their community.
Cachao’s parents nurtured his innate musical gift. Initially, they provided classical training for him at home, following which he studied at a conservatory. Beginning in 1930 as a youth, he enjoyed a 30-year career playing contrabass with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Havana.
In addition, the talented Cachao and his brother, Orestes Lopez, a multi-instrumentalist, are credited with composing thousands of songs. From 1930 to 1950, they were among the leading influences in Cuban music. Sometime in the late 1930s, they introduced an African cadence into Cuban music; with this new rhythm, the mambo was born. So, too, was the popular hit “Mambo,” which writer G. Cabrera Infante dubbed the “Mother of all mambos.”
In 1957, the introduction of the descargas was set in motion when Cachao got a group of master musicians to jam at a recording studio. The jazz improvisation model was evident; however, the expression was distinctly that of the uniquely popular music of Cuba. This was the blueprint that would make live shows of Afro-Cuban music so demonstrably hot.
The critically acclaimed 1957 release “Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature” has been called “one of the most essential contributions to the Latin jazz genre.” It also served to help make Cachao one of the two most sought-after bassists in New York City.
And now, as we continue into 2012, Jazz at Lincoln Center pays homage to the innovative mambo composer with the presentation “The Music of Cachao,” Jan. 20-21 at 8 p.m. Performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by Carlos Henriquez, the concert will take place at Rose Theater at Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, at Broadway at 60th Street.
The two special evenings, which will celebrate Cachao’s groundbreaking work that ingeniously transformed the rhythm of Cuban music, will begin with a free pre-concert discussion at 7 p.m. Henriquez will then get down to work with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Prior to joining the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Henriquez, a bassist, worked with the bands of the renowned Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri as a teenager. Henriquez will draw upon his experience with these two great music giants to lead his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra bandmates down that magical road of ingenuity anointed by the king of mambo.
Tickets for “The Music of Cachao” are $10, $30, $50, $75, $95 or $120, depending upon the seating section. Hot Seats, $10 orchestra seats that are available for every Rose Theater performance except Jazz for Young People concerts, can be purchased subject to availability on the Wednesday of each performance week. Hot Seats are available only by walk-up at the box office, with a maximum of four per person.
All tickets can be purchased at jalc.org by calling CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500 or at the Jazz at Lincoln Center box office, open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s major corporate partners are Brooks Brothers, Centric, the Coca-Cola Company, Con Edison, the Related Companies, Harman, Entergy, HSBC, Bloomberg and SiriusXM.