MIAMI — Cuban bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who is credited with pioneering the mambo style of music, died Saturday (March 22, 2008) at age 89, a family spokesman said.
Known simply as Cachao, the Grammy-winning musician had fallen ill in the past week and died surrounded by family members at Coral Gables Hospital, spokesman Nelson Albareda said.
Cachao left Cuba and came to the United States in the early 1960s. He continued to perform into his late 80s, including a performance after the death of trombonist Generoso Jimenez in September 2007.
Cachao was born in Havana in 1918 to a family of musicians. A classically trained bassist, he began performing with the Havana symphony orchestra as a teenager, working under the baton of visiting guest conductors like Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky and Heitor Villa-Lobos during his nearly 30-year career with the symphony.
He also wrote hundreds of songs in Cuba for bands and orchestras, many based on the classic Cuban music style known as "son."
He and his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes Lopez, are known for the creation in the late 1930s of the mambo, which emerged from their improvisational work with the danzon, an elegant musical style that lends itself to slow dancing.
The mambo influenced the development of salsa music.
In the 1950s, Cachao and his friends began popularizing the descarga ("discharge" in Spanish), a raucous jam session incorporating elements of jazz and Afro-Cuban musical approaches.
Cachao left Cuba in 1962, relocating first to Spain, and soon afterward came to New York, where he was hired to perform at the Palladium nightclub with the leading Latin bands.
In the United States, he collaborated with Latin music stars such as Tito Puente, Tito Rodrigues, Machito, Chico O'Farrill, Eddie Palmieri and Gloria Estefan.
He fell into obscurity during the 1980s after he moved to Miami, where he ended up playing in small clubs and weddings.
But his career enjoyed a revival in the 1990s with the help of Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia, who made a 1993 documentary about the bassist's career and also produced several CDs, including the Grammy-winning album Ahora Si! in 2004.
In 2006, Cachao was saluted at two Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts.