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Uploaded on Oct 27, 2009

"Noche De Ronda" de Maria Teresa Lara. In May of 1943, Graciela returned to New York City to fill in for her brother, Frank "Machito" Grillo, who was drafted into the U.S. Army. When she arrived, the orchestra was the house band at La Conga Club in Manhattan and had added singer Polito Galindez from Puerto Rico. They were broadcasting through radio station WOR and had a buzz going as one of the most popular bands in the city.

"La Conga was a good club on 53rd St.," recalls Graciela. "Everybody would come out and dance to Mario Bauzá's Afro-Cuban jazz. We were always called The Afro-Cubans, but it was Mario who said we should put Machito's name in front. People make the mistake of thinking that Machito was the director. He was just a singer. It was Mario who ran the band and married jazz with Afro-Cuban music."

Bauzá dreamed of a big band fusing the rhythmic fire of Afro-Cuban music with hip North American jazz. Bauzá landed in Harlem at age 19 in the midst of an artistic renaissance. He made important contributions as a reed player and trumpeter, with Chick Webb, Cab Calloway and Don Redman. "Directly, Mario helped many artists get started in their careers, like Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Tito Puente and Ella Fitzgerald," adds Graciela about her brother-in-law.

It was Mario who invited Machito to come to NYC in 1937. Married to Estela (Machito and Graciela's sister), Bauzá hoped the two could start a band. That would not happen until a few years later. Early on, Machito sang with Las Estrellas Habaneras and recorded on coro (vocal chorus) with El Conjunto Moderno in 1938. His first sides as a lead vocalist were with Noro Morales, Conjunto Caney, Augusto Coen, and Xavier Cugat.

By 1940, Machito was a force to contend with. He was with La Siboney when he started getting offers for gigs. He formed a small combo but soon began to assemble an orchestra. Bauzá joined the band as its musical director in 1941 and began to refine it into the Afro-Cuban jazz aggregation of his dreams.


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