Machito (born Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, December 3, 1908?–April 19, 1984) was a Latin jazz musician who helped refine Afro-Cuban jazz and create both Cubop and salsa music. He was raised in Havana alongside the singer Graciela, his foster sister.
In New York City, Machito formed the band the Afro-Cubans in 1940, and with Mario Bauzá as musical director, brought together Cuban rhythms and big band arrangements in one group. He made numerous recordings from the 1940s to the 1980s, many with Graciela as singer. Machito changed to a smaller ensemble format in 1975, touring Europe extensively. He brought his son and daughter into the band, and received a Grammy Award in 1983, one year before he died.
Machito's music had an effect on the lives of many musicians who played in the Afro-Cubans over the years, and on those who were attracted to Latin jazz after hearing him. George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton credited Machito as an influence. An intersection in East Harlem is named "Machito Square" in his honor.
Machito and Graciela performing at Glen Island Casino, New York, late 1940s
|Birth name||Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo|
|Also known as||Frank Grillo|
|Born||c. December 3, 1908|
|Died||April 19, 1984 (aged 75)
Machito gave conflicting accounts of his birth. He sometimes said he was a native Cuban from Havana. Other accounts place his birth in Tampa, Florida, making him an American of Cuban ancestry. He may have been born in 1908 in the Jesús María district of Havana or in Tampa, 1909 in the Marianao Beach district of Havana or in Tampa, 1912 in Tampa or Havana, or even 1915 in Havana.
Regardless of his place of birth, Machito was raised from an early age in the Jesús María district of Havana, where his foster sister Graciela was born August 23, 1915. Her parents raised both of them. Young Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, the son of a cigar manufacturer, was nicknamed "Macho" as a child because he was the first son born to his parents after they had three daughters. In his teens and twenties in Cuba, "Macho" became a professional musician, playing in several ensembles from 1928 to 1937.
"Macho" moved to New York City in 1937 as a vocalist with "La Estrella Habanera" (Havanan Star). He worked with several Latin artists and orchestras in the late 1930s, recording with Conjunto Moderno, Cuarteto Caney, Orchestra Siboney, and the bandleader Xavier Cugat. After an earlier attempt to launch a band with Mario Bauzá, in 1940 he founded the Afro-Cubans, their first gig on December 3 at the Park Plaza Hotel. "Macho" was at this time going by "Machito" out of respect for his new bride. A big band-style brass section with trumpets and saxes was backed by a Cuban rhythm section. Machito took on Bauza the following year as musical director; a role he kept for 34 years. Bauza also played trumpet and alto saxophone.
The band had an early hit with "Sopa de Pichon" in 1941. Its title is slang for "pigeon soup", a Puerto Rican joke about nearly starving as an immigrant in New York. Tito Puente played timbales on the track, and Chino Pozo played percussion.
Machito's bands of the 1940s, especially the band named the Afro-Cubans, were among the first to fuse Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz improvisation and big band arrangements. Machito was the front man, conductor, and maraca player of the Afro-Cubans and its successors while Bauza determined the character of the band. Bauza, Machito's brother-in-law from his marriage to Machito's sister Estela, hired jazz-oriented arrangers and musicians. As a result, Machito's music greatly inspired such North American jazz giants as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton. One of the most famous performances of the Kenton band is an idiomatic Afro-Cuban number known as "Machito", composed by Stan Kenton with Pete Rugolo and released as a Capitol 78 in 1947.
In April 1943 during World War II, Machito was drafted into the United States Army. After a few months of training, he suffered a leg injury and was discharged in October. Earlier, anticipating a long absence of the band's leader, Bauza had sent for Machito's younger foster sister Graciela, who traveled to New York from Havana where she had been touring with El Trio Garcia, and singing lead with the all-female Orquesta Anacaona. Graciela served as the lead singer of the Afro-Cubans for a year before Machito returned to front the band. Graciela stayed on—at performances, the two singers alternated solo songs and created duets such as "Si Si No No" and "La Paella". Adding to the percussion, Graciela played claves alongside Machito's maracas.
Beginning in 1947, teenager Willie Bobo helped move the band's gear to gigs in Upper Manhattan, just so he could watch them play. Near the end of the evening, if there were no musician's union leaders in sight (he was underage), he borrowed bongos from José Mangual and played with the band. Later, Machito helped him get positions in other Latin bands. Many years later, George Shearing pointed to Machito and Willie Bobo as two musicians who helped him learn "what Latin music was about".
Machito accepted a recording date with Stan Kenton's band in December 1947, playing maracas on the tune "The Peanut Vendor", which turned out to be a great hit for Kenton. Other Afro-Cubans at the date were Carlos Vidal on congas and José Mangual on timbales. The next month, the bands of both Kenton and Machito shared the stage at The Town Hall, setting off a surging interest in Cubop. Machito named that style of music when he recorded an arrangement of Bauza's "Tanga" with the new title "Cubop City" in 1948. Machito was sought after by record producers, and in his live shows he featured soloists Howard McGhee on trumpet and Brew Moore on tenor sax. Late in 1948 he took to the studio with Charlie Parker, and Flip Phillips on tenor sax. Machito's star was ascendant, and he played Carnegie Hall on February 11, 1949, on a bill including Duke Ellington, Lester Young, Bud Powell and Coleman Hawkins. An album made from 1948 and 1949 recordings was issued: Mucho Macho. For these recordings, the 14-piece band had three trumpeters (including Bauza), four saxophonists, piano player René Hernández, a bass player, and three percussionists playing bongos, congas and timbales, augmented by Graciela on claves and Machito himself on maracas. A subsequent release was Tremendo Cumban featuring arrangements by pianist Hernández and vocal additions from the Rugual Brothers. This recording includes Mitch Miller playing oboe on one tune, "Oboe Mambo".
Each summer from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, a period of 22 years, Machito and his band played a ten-week engagement at the Concord Resort Hotel in the Catskills. Machito's album Vacation at the Concord was issued in 1958 as a representative experience of an evening's performance, but it was not recorded at the resort. Five-year-old Mario Grillo learned to play the timbales during the 1961 summer series, with lessons from Uba Nieto, then returned to New York with his father's band and played his first gig, taking a single timbales solo at the Palladium Ballroom while standing on a chair next to Tito Puente.
In 1957, Machito recorded the album Kenya, with mostly original songs by A.K. Salim, or Hernández collaborating with Bauza. The only cover tune was "Tin Tin Deo" by Chano Pozo. Guest musicians include Doc Cheatham and Joe Newman on trumpet, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, and Eddie Bert on trombone. Band regular and arranger band Ray Santos played tenor sax on the album as well. A seven-man percussion section (including Candido Camero and Carlos "Patato" Valdes) rounds it out. The album has shown significant longevity: a half century after its release it was named one of the thousand-most essential albums by one author.
In 1975, Machito's son Mario Grillo, known as "Machito Jr", joined the band for its recording with Dizzy Gillespie, Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods; the album, featuring arrangements by Chico O'Farrill, was nominated for a Grammy Award. Later in 1975, Machito determined that he would accept an invitation to tour Europe with a smaller eight-piece ensemble. Bauza quit; he had grave doubts that such an enterprise would work musically. Graciela left as well. The tour and the smaller band proved very successful; the start of perennial tours of Europe. (Bauza admitted, years later, that he had acted too hastily.) Mario Grillo took over the duties of musical director in 1977. That year, the band earned another Grammy nomination for Fireworks—a change of tone signaled by the appearance of Lalo Rodríguez as co-lead singer and composer of three tunes. Further European tours were undertaken using the band name "Machito and his Salsa Big Band", and Machito's daughter Paula Grillo carried female lead vocals, stepping into Graciela's shoes. When the band appeared in London in February 1982, they accepted long-term engagements, making London their "home base".
At Avery Fisher Hall in 1978, Machito and his band played for the New York portion of the Newport Jazz Festival. Dizzy Gillespie soloed with the band. Following his set, Machito and Tito Puente both brought their bands to the stage, and they swapped leadership positions: Machito led Puente's band and vice versa. The two bands played the song "Mamba Adonis" for 15 minutes, a tune that was later renamed "Machito Forever" by Puente. Subsequently, Machito's band and Gillespie finished the set with the tune "Manteca", an arrangement from 1948.
In 1983, Machito won a Grammy Award in the Best Latin Recording category for Machito & His Salsa Big Band '82. The recording was made in the Netherlands in about four hours, mostly one take per tune.
The first jazz song to be overtly based in-clave was "Tanga" (1942) composed by Mario Bauza and recorded by Machito and his Afro-Cubans.
The first descarga [Cuban jam session] that made the world take notice is traced to a Machito rehearsal on May 29, 1943, at the Park Palace Ballroom, at 110th Street and 5th Avenue. At this time, Machito was at Fort Dix (New Jersey) in his fourth week of basic training. The day before at La Conga Club, Mario Bauza, Machito's trumpeter and music director, heard pianist Luis Varona and bassist Julio Andino play something which would serve as a permanent sign off (end the dance) tune.
On this Monday evening, Dr. Bauza leaned over the piano and instructed Varona to play the same piano vamp he did the night before. Varona's left hand began the introduction of Gilberto Valdes' El Botellero. Bauza then instructed Julio Andino what to play; then the saxes; then the trumpets. The broken chord sounds soon began to take shape into an Afro-Cuban jazzed up melody. Gene Johnson's alto sax then emitted oriental-like jazz phrases. By accident, Afro-Cuban jazz was invented when Bauza composed "Tanga" (African word for marijuana) that evening.
Thereafter, whenever "Tanga" was played, it sounded different, depending on a soloist's individuality. In August, 1948, when trumpeter Howard McGhee soloed with Machito's orchestra at the Apollo Theatre, his ad-libs to "Tanga" resulted in "Cu-Bop City," a tune which was recorded by Roost Records months later. The jams which took place at the Royal Roots, Bop City and Birdland between 1948 - 49, when Howard McGhee, tenor saxophonist Brew Moore, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie sat in with the Machito orchestra, were unrehearsed, uninhibited, unheard of before jam sessions which at the time, master of ceremonies Symphony Sid called Afro-Cuban jazz.The Machito orchestra's ten- or fifteen-minute jams were the first in Latin music to break away from the traditional under four-minute recordings. In February, 1949, the Machito orchestra became the first to set a precedent in Latin music when it featured tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips in a five-minute recording of "Tanga." The twelve inch 78 RPM, part of The Jazz Scene album, sold for $25—Salazar (1997).
The right hand of the "Tanga" piano guajeo is in the style known as ponchando, a type of non-arpeggiated guajeo using block chords. The sequence of attack-points is emphasized, rather than a sequence of different pitches. As a form of accompaniment it can be played in a strictly repetitive fashion or as a varied motif akin to jazz comping. The following example is in the style of a 1949 recording by Machito. 2‐3 clave, piano by René Hernández.
- 1 - The first band to make the triumvirate of congas, bongo, and timbales the standard battery of percussion in Afro-Cuban based dance music. Because of this, all three instruments heightened their respective roles in Afro-Cuban based dance music. The use of broken bell patterns by the bongocero in mambo horn sections, the increased rhythmic vocabulary of the conga drum and its function in a band setting, the increase importance of the timbales role in setting up figures played by the horns and accenting them as a jazz drummer would do in a big band. e.g. "Nague," also the first recorded example of all three percussion instruments playing as a section.
- 2 - The first band to explore jazz arranging techniques with authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms on a consistent basis giving it a unique identifiable sound that no other band in the genre of Afro-Cuban based dance music had at the time. Cuban big band arranger Chico O'Farrill stated: "This was a new concept in interpreting Cuban music with as much (harmonic) richness as possible. You have to understand how important this was. It made every other band that came after, followers."
- 3 - The first band to explore modal harmony (a concept explored much later by Miles Davis and Gil Evans) from a jazz arranging perspective through their recording of "Tanga." Of note is the sheet of sound effect in the arrangement through the use of multiple layering.
- 4 - The first big band to explore, from an Afro-Cuban rhythmic perspective, large scale extended compositional works. e.g. "The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite" by Chico O'Farill.
- 5 - The first band to successfully wed jazz big band arranging techniques within an original composition with jazz oriented soloists utilizing an authentic Afro-Cuban based rhythm section in a successful manner. e.g. Gene Johnson - alto, Brew Moore - tenor, composition - "Tanga" (1943).
- 6 - The first truly multi-racial band in the United States.
- 7 - The first band in the United States to publicly utilize the term Afro-Cuban as the band's moniker (Machito & The Afro-Cubans), thus identifying itself and acknowledging the West African roots of the musical form they were playing. This was/is in and of itself a long overlooked contribution by the orchestra in effect to the then burgeoning civil rights movement. It forced both NYC's Latino and African American communities to deal with their common West African musical roots in a direct way, whether they wanted to publicly acknowledge it or not.
- 8 - The first Afro-Cuban based dance band to overtly explore the concept of clave counterpoint from an arranging standpoint. The ability to weave seamlessly from one side of the clave to the other without breaking its rhythmic integrity within the structure of a musical arrangement.
- 9 - The band because of its forward thinking, musical director, Mario Bauzá and its lead vocalist, Machito, promoted and set a standard of professionalism and musical excellence that had to be met by other subsequent band leaders such as José Curbelo, Tito Puente, Marcelino Guerra, Tito Rodríguez, Elmo García and any other group that followed. Although it could be clearly argued that Xavier Cugat had established an extremely high level of professionalism much earlier with his orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (1931), the sound emulated by the majority of bandleaders in NYC was not that of Cugat, but that of the Machito Afro-Cubans. Cugat performed for NYC's high society elite and not for NYC's Latino community, which was concentrated in East Harlem (El Barrio) and subsequently the South Bronx. Cugat's sound was one they may have experienced through recordings on radio, but this community had little direct live access to it both because of their social and economic strata.
- 10 - The Machito Afro-Cubans provided a proving ground for the exchange of progressive musical ideas, experiences, and performance of musical compositions and arrangements for Afro-Cuban based dance music and its fusion with jazz arranging techniques along with jazz oriented soloists in a multi-racial framework that had not existed until the orchestra was formed. Because of this, they completely revolutionized the way Afro-Cuban dance music and in a sense, the way jazz was played. Dizzy Gillespie and "Manteca" would never have even existed if it were not for the existence of Mario Bauzá and his influence on Dizzy Gillespie. Tito Puente's musical genius would not have developed in the way it did if this orchestra had not existed—Sanabria (2008).
While music director for Machito, Mario Bauzá developed the 3-2 / 2-3 clave concept and terminology. A chord progression can begin on either side of clave. When the progression begins on the three-side, the song or song section is said to be in 3-2 clave. When the chord progression begins on the two-side, it is in 2-3 clave. In North America, salsa and Latin jazz charts commonly represent clave in two measures of cut-time (2/2); this is most likely the influence of jazz conventions. When clave is written in two measures (above) changing from one clave sequence to the other is a matter of reversing the order of the measures.
The 3-2/2-3 concept and terminology was developed in New York City during the 1940s by Cuban-born Mario Bauza while he was the music director of Machito and his Afro-Cubans. Bauzá was a master at moving the song from one side of clave to the other. The following melodic excerpt is taken from the opening verses of “Que vengan los rumberos” by Machito and his Afro-Cubans. Notice how the melody goes from one side of clave to the other and then back again. A measure of 2/4 moves the chord progression from the two-side (2-3), to the three-side (3-2). Later, another measure of 2/4 moves the start of the chord progression back to two-side (2-3). Clap clave along with the excerpt in order to hear and feel the melody move from one side to the other.
The first 4 1⁄2 claves of the verses are in 2-3. Following the measure of 2/4 (half clave) the song flips to the three-side. It continues in 3-2 on the V7 chord for 4 1⁄2 claves. The second measure of 2/4 flips the song back to the two-side and the I chord.
In songs like “Que vengan los rumberos,” the phrases continually alternate between a 3-2 framework and a 2-3 framework. It takes a certain amount of flexibility to repeatedly reorder your orientation in this way. The most challenging moments are the truncations and other transitional phrases where you “pivot” in order to move your point of reference from one side of clave to the other. Clap clave along with this excerpt.Working in conjunction with the chord and clave changes, vocalist Frank “Machito” Grillo creates an arc of tension/release spanning more than a dozen measures. Initially Machito sings the melody straight (first line), but soon expresses the lyrics in the freer and more syncopated inspiración of a folkloric rumba (second line). By the time the song changes to 3-2 on the V7 chord, Machito has developed a considerable amount of rhythmic tension by contradicting the underlying meter. That tension is then resolved when he sings on three consecutive main beats (quarter-notes), followed by tresillo. In the measure immediately following tresillo the song returns to 2-3 and the I chord (fifth line)—Peñalosa (2010).
Machito was somewhat short in stature, at 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m) in height. A lifelong Roman Catholic, he married Puerto Rican Hilda Torres on January 17, 1940, at which time he changed his nickname from "Macho" to "Machito". The cross-cultural marriage served as a sign to New York Latinos that it was possible to attain a sense of pan-Latino brotherhood. Frank and Hilda Grillo produced five children: Martha (1941), Frank Jr (1943), Barbara (1948), Mario (1956) and Paula. The family lived in Spanish Harlem at 112th Street and Second Avenue, where Machito enjoyed cooking for his children, writing the occasional song such as "Sopa de Pichon" while working in the kitchen.
Machito suffered a stroke before a concert in London, England in 1984, collapsing while waiting to go on stage at Ronnie Scott's club. He died four days later on April 19, 1984, at University College Hospital in London. His son Mario carried forward the legacy by leading The Machito Orchestra after his father's death. His daughter Paula, though dedicating her life to scholarly studies, has occasionally fronted the group as its singer.
In 1985, New York mayor Ed Koch named the intersection of East 111th Street and Third Avenue "Machito Square", a location in Spanish Harlem which is one block from East 110th Street, renamed "Tito Puente Way" after the 2000 death of Tito Puente. Machito lived as a young adult in an apartment on the southwest corner of the intersection.
A documentary film by Carlo Ortiz, Machito: A Latin Jazz Legacy, was released in 1987, showing an elderly Machito and his wife in their Bronx apartment, as well as archival footage from performances in the 1940s and afterward.
In the 2000s, the song "Mambo Mucho Mambo" was featured on the soundtrack for the game Grand Theft Auto Vice City. In 2005, Machito's 1957 album, Kenya, was added to the book: 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.