1. Israel “Cachao” Lopez
Israel Lopez, better known as Cachao, was born to a musical family in Havana, Cuba during the year 1918. Cachao carried on the tradition proudly, playing with the Havana Philharmonic at the age of 12. In 1937, he joined Antonio Arcaño y sus Maravillas, and a year later, Cachao and his brother Orestes wrote the song Mambo, introducing the danzon-mambo rhythm to the world. In the mid-1950’s, Cachao arranged several after-hours recording sessions at Panart Records for Havana musicians involved in jazz improvisation. The resulting records, Cuban Jam Session, Vol. 1, 2, & 3 have gone down as landmarks in Cuban jazz. Cachao moved to the States in the early sixties, and worked with New York’s finest bands, including Tito Rodriguez and Machito. His career was fairly low profile until Cuban saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera featured Cachao on the 1993 album 40 Years of Cuban Jam Sessions. Actor Andy Garcia heard Cachao’s playing and was inspired to chronicle his life in the documentary film Cachao . . . Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos (Like His Rhythm There Is No Other). This movie, and the accompanying albums, Master Sessions, Vol. 1 & 2, propelled Cachao into the spotlight. He won Grammy awards for Master Sessions, Vol. 1, his 2003 collaboration with Bebo Valdes and Patato Valdés, El Arte Del Sabor, and for his 2005 album Ahora Si. The most influential bass player in Latin music, Cachao’s many musical landmarks are essential studies.
2. Andy Gonzalez
Andy Gonzalez grew up in the North Bronx amid a musical family and quickly developed strong musical skills. By the age of 13, Andy and his brother Jerry formed the Latin Jazz Quintet, a group inspired by Cal Tjader’s small group latin jazz recordings. After two years of professional experience with the Quintet, Andy scored his first major gig with Fania Records artist Monguito Santamaria. This led to an affiliation with Fania, who utilized Andy as a bassist on numerous recordings. He eventually became a major voice in the bands of Fania’s two most important bandleaders: Ray Barretto and Eddie Palmieri. After leaving Palmieri’s band, he became the musical director in Manny Oquendo’s Libre, a Salsa band that continued the classic New York sound. Striving to combine jazz ideals with a variety of traditional Latin music Andy and his peers produced two recordings as Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental. Soon after, Andy joined his brother Jerry to create The Fort Apache Band, which set the standard for cutting edge Latin Jazz. Andy’s in-depth knowledge of Latin music and innovative nature has made him one of the most recorded and respected bassists in Latin music.
3. Bobby Rodriguez
Bobby Rodriguez spent his career in New York’s Latin Jazz and Salsa circles, setting the standard for melodic and rhythmic bass playing in Latin music. At the age of 17, he was hired by the legendary Machito band, which became a major learning experience. Not too long after that, Bobby joined the Tito Puente orchestra, a musical association that would last a lifetime. Bobby’s bass became the rhythmic counterpoint to Puente’s timbale playing, and his sense of swing fueled the majority of El Rey’s recordings. Bobby also was an important part of the Fania music label, throughout all of its permutations, including the Tico and Alegre labels. During that time, he recorded with many of the Fania greats, such as Charlie Palmieri, Louie Ramirez, and Joe Cuba. One of the great recorded moments in Latin bass history is on the Tico All-Stars album Descargas at the Village Gate, Volume 3. The centerpiece of this album is an 18 minute song called “Descargas De Contrabajos” featuring a bass duel between Rodriguez and Cachao! The sheer mass of his recorded work, the high profile performances with Puente, and his extensive rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary puts Bobby Rodriguez in the legendary status.
4. Al McKibbon
Al McKibbon joined the Dizzy Gillespie band in 1947, and quickly built a musical language with Cuban conguero Chano Pozo. He recorded the legendary tumbaos on Manteca, Cubana Be, Cubana Bop, and Guarachi Guaro, and helped spark the Latin Jazz movement in the states. In 1951, McKibbon made an impact on the West Coast Latin Jazz scene when he joined George Shearing’s group and added an authentic swing to Shearing’s exploration of Latin rhythms. During this same time, McKibbon began working with Cal Tjader, recording a series of highly influential small group albums including Cal Tjader’s Latin Concert, Monterey Concerts, and In a Latin Bag. After several decades as a Los Angeles studio musician, McKibbon recorded his first album as a leader, Tumbao Para Los Congueros Di Mi Vida. This was a small group Latin Jazz date, featuring some of the best musicians from Los Angeles. He followed this album with another Latin Jazz release entitled Black Orchid. McKibbon died on July 29, 2005, at the age of 86, leaving a legacy of Latin Jazz bass work.
5. Carlos Del Puerto
Carlos Del Puerto was born into long line of bass players in Cuba in 1951. He received a classical traning at Amadeo Roldán Conservatory in Havana, and then began a professional career in Cuba’s capital. He joined the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna in 1967, a band that included the island’s best young musicians. This led to a jazz trio recording with Chucho Valdes and Oscar Valdes, which became the basis for the groundbreaking Cuban jazz group Irakere. Del Puerto was a member of Irakere for twenty-eight years, and during that time he played with Cuba’s top musicians on the island, including Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, José Luis Cortés, and more. Del Puerto also served as an important educator, introducing electric bass techniques into Cuban school system and writing the essential book “The True Cuban Bass”. At the beginning of the new century, Del Puerto moved to Turku, Finland and immediately became immersed in both Latin music education and performance. In 2005, he brought musicians from Cuba and recorded the album Impacto Cubano, a combination of Latin Jazz and Salsa. His current work continues the high standard of bass playing and musicianship now legendary through his work with Irakere.