A.B. SPELLMAN, National Endowment for the Arts: Hello, I'm A.B. Spellman, and that there is the real thing. That's the jazz they call Afro-Cuban and the man they call Machito. Murray Horwitz, it goes into our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library.
MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: A.B., my wife was dancing around the kitchen when I was playing this. This is, to me, as good as Afro-Cuban gets. Just hearing the adjective, Afro-Cuban, makes you think of rhythm, and you hear congas and bongos in your head. Well, the congas and bongos are here in force, but when I think of Machito, I think of a big band with a great ensemble sound — not wild, but disciplined and clean.
SPELLMAN: Now, who exactly was Machito?
HORWITZ: He was a singer. His real name was Frank Grillo, but it was as a leader that he made his mark. Most of the people, who write abut this music, will tell you that this was the most important Latin jazz band ever.
SPELLMAN: I believe it. You hear things that you don't hear in every dance band. I mean, the textures, the variety of the sound, and as you say, the execution.
HORWITZ: And the harmonies — real full-throated, big chords.
SPELLMAN: Machito always had great players in his band.
HORWITZ: He did, especially the famous percussionists Jose Mangual, Luis Miranda, and Ubaldo Nieto, and one of the most underrated and important of all musicians in American music, the trumpeter and composer Mario Bauza.
SPELLMAN: Well, that's not Desi Arnaz, but it's pretty darn good.
HORWITZ: It's the original.
SPELLMAN: All of these tunes were recorded in 1948 and 1949.
HORWITZ: Right, and what a time it was. Our producer Felix Contreras says that if he could take one trip in a time machine, it would be to New York in the late '40s, with Machito on fire at the Palladium ever night, and Dizzy and Charlie Parker on 52nd Street. How glorious that would be.
SPELLMAN: Well, here's the next best thing to that time machine. The CD is called Mucho Macho, Machito & His Cuban Salseros. It's on the Pablo label. You'll find it and the rest of our NPR Basic Jazz Record Library on our Web site.
HORWITZ: We're supported in part by the Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.
SPELLMAN: And, I'm A.B. Spellman.