When Prudencio Mario Bauzá stepped off the boat from Havana onto the docks in New York, in 1930, he brought with him a sophisticated knowledge of Cuban music, and a respect and penchant for American jazz. He would be a key figure in the integration of both musical principals and come to be known as “the father of Latin Jazz”.
Born in the Cayo Hueso section of La Habana, Cuba, on Apr. 28, 1911, Mario had a special musical talent, and began formal lessons as a child. He studied music at the Municipal Academy of Cuba, and by the age of nine was clarinetist at the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra, where he remained for three years. He underwent intensive tutoring under Maestro Antonio Maria Romeu, joining his band Charanga Francesa and in 1925 traveled to New York with them to record. He had just turned fourteen years old! Upon his return to Cuba, he trained and practiced trumpet under Lázaro Herrera, a stellar trumpet master for the Septeto Nacional, the finest band on the island.
He returned to New York in 1930 and hooked up with Antonio Machin, who had a recent hit with “El Manisero”. He worked with several dance bands, then to Hy Clark’s Missourians, and in 1933 joined up with Chick Webb, the so called ‘King of the Savoy’, the baddest cats around. Chick Webb taught the young Mario how to phrase and pronounce the trumpet like a jazzman, and also the dynamics and confidence of musicianship. This he witnessed first hand in the legendary battles of the bands, where Webb’s band would wipe the noses of the white guys and sent them back downtown. It was around this time he met and jammed with Dizzy Gillespie, and begin a lifelong friendship He would stay with Chick Webb for five years, went through the bands of Don Redman, and Fletcher Henderson, joining Cab Calloway in 1938. He talked Cab into hiring Dizzy, they were band mates for two years, spending time working on their chops, and were even roommates on the road. He would be a major figure in the legacy of Dizzy.