Thursday, October 06, 2005

Con Poco Coco

I named our family web site after Montesquieu. Recently, in updating my email address list as we prepare for the family runion in November, I found myself wondering about the origin of Raul's web site (ok Raùl's if you're set up to read ASCII char 151 properly).

Anyway, I put a few queries into the Scroogle Scraper search box on Firefox and came up with a strong possibility: Con Poco Coco is a historic Cuban jam session. According to the notes on the a CD I just acquired:
It is the first Cuban descarga or jam session, ever recorded in Cuba. According to Bebo Valdès, then pianist and arranger for Armando Romeu's Tropicana Hotel orchestra, he was approached by an American living in Havana who operated a record store:
One evening Mr. Irving Price, owner of Andre's record store, told me Norman Granz did not believe that Cuban musicians were capable of playing jazz. We recorded four tracks that were released as 45s. They were also going to be side A of a 10" Mercury LP, Cubano...Andre's All Stars. That is when we decided to improvise as we went along.

You can listen to part of a Chucho Valdis rendition of Con Poco Coco on a Smithsonian Folkways CD:
Con Poco Coco - Chucho Valdis. Here's a link to the Smithsonian page on the CD and the exhibition of which its a component: Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta

I bought myself the Verve recording of the the original cut recorded in Havana in October 1952 -- Mambo Kings. You can listen to excerpts from the CD's tracks on the Verve site. Here's a full citation: Various Artists, The Original Mambo Kings: An Introduction To Afro-Cubop 1948-1954 CD (Verve/Poly. 314 513 876), Released 1993.

About this Verve CD, Max Salazar says: "I consider this to be the best recording in my collection. It is the history of Afro-Cuban jazz with rarities from Machito, Dizzy Gillespie, Chico O'Farrill, Howard McGhee, and Bebo Valdes' 'Con Poco Coco.' The first Cuban descarga, recorded in October of 1952."

There's a transcription of a radio interview with our Chevy Chase neighbor Murray Horowitz in which he says
This CD really gives you the feeling of what it must have been like in New York and Havana in the 1940s and '50s, when some of the greatest jazz musicians and some of the greatest Latin musicians were playing together.

INTERVIEWER: I know that's one of the greatest: Charlie Parker.

HORWITZ: Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, Dizzy Gillespie, "Sweets" Edison, Buddy Rich, Lucky Thompson. There's a whole pile of familiar jazz names on this CD. But there's a lot of equally great musicians with probably less familiar names.

INTERVIEWER: Probably less Anglicized, too, Murray.

HORWITZ: You got it! Machito, Maurio Bauza, Jose Mangual, Ubaldo Nieto, Bebo Valdés, who is the father of Chucho Valdés, the pianist. And there is Chico O'Farrill, so I guess he's a little bit of both. But the mix of musicians gives a whole range of textures to this music.

Here's a more extensive narrative about the recording of Con Poco Coco from Latin Beat Magazine, Feb, 1997, written by Max Salazar:
Cuba's first recorded descarga occurred during 1952 when American jazz impresario Norman Grantz was vacationing in Havana. Grantz visited the Andres record store owned by Irving Price. Mr. Price mentioned he knew Cuban musicians who made him feel at home with their brand of jazz. Grantz laughed and said no one played like American jazz musicians. Price convinced Grantz to finance a recording session which was performed at the Havana Panart Studios. Price then contracted pianist Bebo Valdés, who selected the Hotel Tropicana musicians Gustavo Mas on tenor sax, Salvador "El Negro" Vivar on trumpet, Kiki Hernández on bass, Guillermo Barretto on timbales, and Rolando Alfonso on conga. Valdés' group recorded the tunes Desconfianza, Tabu, Duerme and Blues for Andre. Grantz was dumbfounded. His words of praise indicated that for him Cuban musicians were on the same level of proficiency with American jazz and Latin musicians. Grantz requested they record How High The Moon but Hernández said he was not familiar with the tune. In recalling this historical moment, Bebo Valdés said, "we were asked to do one more tune, so I started it with a guajeo, you know, a jam session for seven minutes... we called the tune Con Poco Coco." The reason Cuban music historians didn't know about the session is that it was recorded for Grantz and released a sa 45 in the United States in early 1953. To own Con Poco Coco, one had to purchase the 10" Panart label LP CUBANO...The Andres All Stars. This historic recording is available on the Verve CD The Original Mambo Kings.

This is Bebo Valdès. Click it for a photo-print version.

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