The Apollo Theatre Celebrates the Legacy of Mario Bauzá

Bobby Sanabria Big Band, along with special guests, to salute Latin jazz legend in concert on June 18 at the iconic Harlem theater

Bobby Sanabria image 0
Andrew Lepley

Bobby Sanabria

The Bobby Sanabria Big Band will take the stage at Harlem’s own Apollo Theatre on June 18th for From Havana to Harlem: 100 Years of Mario Bauzá. This celebration of the Afro-Cuban jazz legend will feature Sanabria’s group in performance with Felipe Luciano, Candido, La Bruja, Charanee Wade and the legendary, David Amram. This performance will bring the community together to recognize of one of the music’s most fundamental genres: Afro-Cuban jazz. Given the recent decision by the Recording Academy to eliminate the Latin Jazz category for the Grammy awards, the concert appears particularly well-timed.

Widely recognized as the godfather of Latin jazz, Mario Bauzá was one of Harlem’s most treasured artists who never failed to give back to other aspiring talents, while forming his own unique blend of Afro-Cuban music that helped make jazz what it is today. With Dizzy Gillespie by his side in a few notable groups, including Chick Webb’s orchestra and Cab Calloway’s band, Bauza spread his inspirational sound to artists such as Tito Puente and eventually; Bobby Sanabria.

Although this will be a celebration of Bauzá, Apollo producer Laura Greer makes the distinction that the purpose isn’t to reproduce his music but to recognize his ongoing impact. “Bobby [Sanabria] is a great representative of this,” she said. “He is both a great performer and educator.” Sanabria said that this ongoing impact is not only crucial to the music industry, but to the education of jazz. “It’s about teaching kids the great legacy that they have in New York City,” said the bandleader. “For a 14-year-old child to walk down the street and not know who John Coltrane or Tito Puente is is pathetic.”

Leave it to Sanabria, Bauzá’s most acclaimed protégée and self-described “warrior for his craft,” to kick off the celebration in style with this Afro-Cuban music that has forever changed the world of Latin jazz. Sanabria says that his big band is looking forward to playing Bauzá’s “Tanga,” one of Bauza’s most renowned compositions. “This is considered to be the first true Afro-Cuban jazz music,” said Sanabria, “and it sounds as fresh today as it was in 1943.” Having been raised with the teachings of Mario Bauzá, Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente, Sanabria said that he feels now, more than ever, the importance of bringing back the popularity of Latin jazz. That is why he was careful to bring performers that draw in on the past, present and hopeful future of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Like Sanabria, Jon Faddis, the trumpet master and protégé of Dizzy Gillespie, has come in to his own and is also a major part of this effort to rejuvenate Latin jazz. “Jon has been part of our family in Latin jazz-oriented music in the tradition and beyond,” explained Sanabria. Given Faddis’ association with Gillespie, it should come as no surprise that Faddis’ involvement is an essential piece to this concert, as well as to the performance of “Tanga.”

Sanabria knows the importance of drawing in elements from the history of Latin jazz, when attempting to reach out to the audience, but is also optimistic about the future. “Hopefully this concert will bring back the younger audience, with La Bruja, who is very respected in the Latin and hip hop world,” said Sanabria. “She’ll do a poem that she’s composed for the event about the relationship between the African American and Latin communities in New York.”

Sanabria said that the community element of this concert and the connection of the music to Harlem made the Apollo the optimal site for the event. “It’s only natural that this music was born in Harlem,” said Sanabria. “New York is a port city where everyone came to not only find economic stability but also musical freedom and with the rise of Puerto Rican and Cuban people in Harlem. The music was naturally infused with jazz.” According to Greer, the decision to host the concert at the Apollo was a natural choice. “As we were thinking about doing a program that embraced the idea of cross cultural exchange, this idea of celebrating the influence of Mario Bauzá seemed to be a perfect fit,” explained Greer.

For more information on the event, check out the Apollo’s website.