Jazz Plaza 2020: Embracing the Culture of Jazz

XV Coloquio Internacional de Jazz: Adolfo Guzmán and Tata Güines

Day one of the Coloquio Internacional de Jazz began with a tribute to the legendary bandleader, Adolfo Guzmán, pianist, music director, arranger and composer, on the occasion of his centennial. Mr Guzmán, a seminal figure in Cuban music for 40 years between 1936 and 1976, became the most famous director of Orquesta Riverside (between 1957 and 1962), and made several recordings for the legendary Cuban music label EGREM (Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales). He held the piano chair in the orchestra, splitting the gig with Frank Emilio Flynn and Pedro Nolasco Jústiz Rodríguez, better known as Peruchín. Between 1966 and 1967 Mr Guzmán directed the quartet Los Modernistas. Around this time he also became music director of Teatro Musical and in 1970 he conducted the Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión.

L to R: Adolfo Guzmán (Jr), Neris González Bello, Ligia Guzmán. Tribute to Adolfo Guzmán. Photo credit: Raul Da Gama
L to R: Adolfo Guzmán (Jr), Neris González Bello, Ligia Guzmán. Tribute to Adolfo Guzmán at FAC.
Photo credit: Raul Da Gama

A seminal figure in modern Cuban music, Mr Guzmán was a member of the jury at the Festival Internacional de la Canción de Varadero in 1970 and Festival de Música Cubana in 1975, both held in Varadero, as jury member and music director. In 1975, he wrote the music for Ulises, Los Tres Mosqueteros and Los Insurgentes. Mr Guzmán was a key innovator in Cuban popular music; a recognised poet of Cuban canción (and the more profoundly meditative bolero), a form he cultivated between 1938 and 1971, a period bookended by “Sin saber por qué” and “He perdido la fé”.

However, perhaps his most famous contribution to Cuban music was the expression he gave to filin, a romantic style of singing said to have begun after the advent of the microphone and probably influenced by American Jazz vocalists such as Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. In Cuba the most famous exponents were pianist Frank Emilio Flynn and vocalists Elena Burke and Omara Portuondo.

Jorge Aragón, Beatriz Márquez
Jorge Aragón, Beatriz Márquez. Photo credit: Danilo Navas

Yurien Heredia, a young Cuban musicologist presented a substantive thesis on the music of Mr Guzmán. The maestro’s sister followed the presentation with a critique, revealing many hidden insights into the maestro’s life and music. An expert panel including Marta Bonet, Adolfo Guzmán (Jr), the great vocalist Beatriz Márquez and pianist Jorge Aragón discussed Maestro Guzman’s work in extraordinary detail, the young Mr Guzmán bringing nuanced detail to a life, viewed from close-quarters. The morning session of the colloquium was brought to an end by Miss Márquez, accompanied by Mr Aragón; both of whom performed a glorious rendition of one of Mr Guzmán’ iconic works. That composition was part of the album Libre de Pecado – Beatriz Márquez Canta a Adolfo Guzmán, released in 2018 and beautifully arranged by Mr Aragón.

Tata Güines revolutionised the manner in which the tumbadora was played, creating masterful improvisations the like of which had never been heard in music

The afternoon session of the colloquium was dedicated to honouring the life and music of one of the greatest Cuban percussionists, Federico Arístides Soto Alejo, better known as Tata Güines. He is considered one of the greatest exponents of the tumbadora, a feature of Afro-Cuban music often mislabeled as “conga.” Tata Güines was at the height of his powers between 1950 and 2008, when he passed away at the age of 77. During that time Tata Güines revolutionised the manner in which the instrument was played, creating masterful improvisations the like of which had never been heard in music. His legacy rests in recordings made with Cachao, Frank Emilio Flynn, Estrellas de Areito, Alfredo Rodríguez and Jane Bunnett and Hilario Durán. Tata Güines’ name has become synonymous with the Cuban descarga and many of these iconic music jams feature benchmark improvised soli by him.

Tata Güines also spent some time prior to the Cuban revolution in New York City where he is known to have collaborated – like his illustrious forebear, Chano Pozo – with Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Miles Davis as well as with Josephine Baker and Frank Sinatra. After the revolution which swept Fidel Castro to power, Tata Güines returned to Cuba and began performing and recording extensively. He also drew many young players to himself including Miguel “Angá” Diaz, considered by many to be one of his most famous pupils.

Upon his return to Cuba in 1959, Tata Güines joined the Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna, a pioneering jazz combo founded by drummer Guillermo Barreto and pianist Frank Emilio Flynn. He remained a member of Flynn’s band for many years, under the name Los Amigos. In the 1960s, Güines recorded several sessions as a leader for EGREM with ensembles such as Tata Güines y sus Tatagüinitos and Tata Güines y sus Ases del Ritmo. He also backed Merceditas Valdés throughout the 1960s and later in the 1980s. In 1979, he took part in the Estrellas de Areito sessions and in the recording of Intercambio cultural by Típica ’73. He recorded an album of music Descarga (also called Descarga en Kawama featuring Bobby Carcassés).

During the 1990’s and the decades before his death Tata Güines also made some recordings under his own name, the most celebrated of these being Pasaporte and Aniversario. His composition “Pa’ gozar” has become a standard of the Cuban descarga. Among those who participated in this panel discussion – entitled “Tata Güines y la melodizacion del ritmo. Historias para contar” – were the renowned pianist and composer Ernán López-Nussa, who also recorded with Tata Güines and Yaroldy Abreu, one of the most celebrated protégées of Tata Güines. The audience also heard from Tata Güines’ son, who was later presented a memento by the organisers in honour of his father (who would have been 90 on that day, 14 January 2020).

Tribute to Tata Güines
Panel en Tributo/Homenaje a Tata Güines en el 90 Aniversario de su Natalicio. Photo credit: Danilo Navas
Raul Da Gama
Raul Da Gama
Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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