Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra continues to mambo

By Jason Fierstein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

As singer, bandleader and creator of the Afro-Cuban jazz scene, one of the last wishes of the late Mario Bauza was to keep the Cuban music dream alive. The Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, founded by Bauza in 1976, has continued to do just that since he died of cancer in July of 1993. Rudy Calzado, a friend and confidant of the innovative Bauza for more than 30 years, assumed leadership of the 18-piece big band ensemble and has led them into new territory that definitely would have made Bauza proud.

The Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra and its distinctly flavored mambo flair have become one of the hottest tickets worldwide. Calzado has directed the ensemble on a nine-city national tour that started in Easton, Pa. Feb. 11, and struts into the UA's Centennial Hall Thursday at 8 p.m.

Bauza had the potential and the musical innovation from early on in the big band era of the 1940s, but was overshadowed by his more famous brother-in-law, Frank Grillo (alias "Machito"), a percussionist and early pioneer of the musical fusion between jazz and the Caribbean-based Afro-Cuban style. After Machito's death in 1984, Bauza grabbed hold of the musical conception and stepped into the spotlight with his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra as the reigning mambo king.

Named for his address on New York's West Side, Bauza's last contribution to the band was 944 Columbus, the last of three albums released by Bauza's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. German producer Gotz Worner, who took interest in Bauza's concept band, heard the cultural conglomeration play in 1991 and signed the band to a three-album deal on the German-based label, Messidor Records. The deal introduced the band to a wider listening audience, whereas in the past Bauza's music style was well-received primarily by the Latino music circles and radio stations.

Calzado has taken inspiration, apprenticeship and musical genius from the hands of Bauza and has kept the salsa train dancing. The band emits a powerful and sexy Latino speech from the brass and vocals of the talented musicians. The key to the Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra is diversity and cultural innovation. Bauza's cutting-edge tenacity has been passed on to Calzado, and through Bauza's soulful, Latin-based expression and guidance, their music has taken on a divine and higher-ordered form.

The Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra struts into town this Thursday. Showtime starts at 8 pm at the UA's Centennial Hall. Tickets are available at the Centennial Box Office for $12, $16 and $18, with $6 Student Rush tickets available 45 min. before the show.

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