Celebrating One Year of “Jazz Latino” and 103 Years of Charlie Parker
By Matt Silver
Tito Puente played with Machito and his Afro-Cubans before joining his once-boss on the marquee as one of the Palladium Ballroom's 'Big Three' bandleaders.
Jazz will never die because its legends never do. We do our small part to make sure of that here at KSDS, which is why when there’s a birthday or anniversary to celebrate, we do it right.
Tune-in this Sunday afternoon (Aug. 27), from 3 to 5 p.m., when Raul Rico, Jr. celebrates the first anniversary of “Jazz Latino’s” KSDS debut by presenting a program devoted entirely and exclusively to “El Rey,” Tito Puente. That’s two hours of nothing but Tito: the percussionist, vibraphonist, and bandleader who, beginning in the 1940s, brought mambo to the masses at famed dance halls like New York City’s Palladium Ballroom and, over a career spanning six decades, earned a reputation for performing and recording tirelessly, doing so until his death in 2000.
With the Puente centennial (April 20, 2023) barely four months in the rearview, the moment for a well-curated Puente retrospective, as Raul Rico’s will surely be, is still ripe. You may recall that when the music world celebrated Charlie Parker’s centennial in 2020, the celebration lasted not for a day, but for the better part of that entire year!
And speaking of Parker: if that singular species of yard bird were still alive, he would be turning 103 this coming Tuesday, Aug. 29. We’ll be celebrating Bird’s 103rd all day and night at KSDS, with all your favorite on-air hosts bringing their favorite cuts of Bird to this aural potluck. True to form, Raul Rico, Jr. will be serving up the best of Bird’s “Latin side” in a special edition of “Jazz Latino” airing at noon this Tuesday, Bird’s birthday, Aug. 29.
You may be asking yourself: From Puente to Parker and back again…what’s the connection? The coolly erudite host of “Jazz Latino” is better positioned to clarify and illuminate that nexus — and you can bet that he will; that’s, in part, what “Jazz Latino” is all about — but here’s a maximally truncated history: Parker, living in New York City in the early 1940s, became quite enamored of the new strain of music local radio host Symphony Sid famously dubbed “Cu-bop” (a portmanteau of Cuban and bebop) and would’ve been among the musicians spotted in the crowd — possibly even sitting in with the bands — at the Palladium, making the short trip to 53rd and Broadway between or after sets at the clubs on 52nd Street.
One of those Palladium bandleaders we know for certain Bird played with was Frank “Machito” Grillo, who, in a perfect twist of history (at least for this little anecdote), was the bandleader Puente began playing under in the early 1940s, just a few years before forming his own band and joining Machito and Tito Rodriguez atop the marquee as one of the Palladium’s “Big Three” bandleaders.
Verve’s “South of the Border” (1995) comprises Charlie Parker’s recordings with Machito and his Afro-Cubans, as well as some Latin-tinged standards Bird recorded with smaller ensembles.
Norman Granz and co. ended up turning the music Bird recorded with Machito and his Afro-Cubans (as they were most commonly billed) into South of the Border: The Verve Latin-Jazz Sides (1995) — a compilation of master takes from various recording sessions between 1948 and 1952 — proving that “Cu-bop” was much more than passing fancy for the revolutionary alto saxophonist; Parker’s playing and Chico O’Farrill’s arrangements, including but not limited to his compositional masterpiece, the "Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite," are nothing short of American treasures — Latin American treasures, to be precise.
Expect cuts from these sessions and maybe even a few surprises when Raul Rico, Jr. gives Charlie Parker the Latin treatment on a special Bird’s 103rd edition of “Jazz Latino,” this Tuesday, Aug. 29 at noon. And don’t forget to tune-in two days prior on Aug. 27, at “Jazz Latino’s” regularly appointed day and time—Sunday afternoons, 3-5 p.m. (PST) — to celebrate the first of what we hope will be many "Jazz Latino" anniversaries here at KSDS. Listen live on KSDS Jazz 88.3 FM, stream live at jazz88.org or via the KSDS mobile app, or listen any time on-demand here.