[JPL] Re: Chano Pozo's demise story & bio

Arturo arturo893 at qwest.net
Tue Oct 31 19:13:56 EST 2006

DK wrote <<< That's an interesting story about Chano Pozo.  Know any more
details? >>>

But of course, Luciano "Chano" Pozo González is one of those music persons
that are part myth, part exaggeration, part truth and part obscure. I have
spent many years investigating him and recently with several detailed bios
and documentaries made on both sides of the Florida Straights his life is
now known among us fanatics.

Chano was raised in the most impoverished envoirments of the worse Havana
slum neighborhood called "solars" in Cuba, horse-shoe shaped, multi-floored
tenements with common facilities and yard, every family knew every other
families' business. Rumba, drum-jam sessions and dance music was a daily way
of life. Every solar and neighborhood competed against each other in the
yearly carnival procession. As a teenager Chano began writing songs that
became popular with Los Dandys, the name of his comparsa-carnaval group. He
also became an accomplished rumbero as a hand drummer and dancer, he had
huge hands. He was quite the ladies man and had a fearless attitude who
wouldn't take any guff from anyone, he developed a rep for his fighting ways
and no one would mess with him. In the late 30s the original Mr
Babalu-Miguelito Valdés began singing his songs and Chano began making
money, once he was shorted on a payment for a new song and he pulled a gun
on the publisher and with the other hand lifted him out of his chair until
the man forked over the balance of the money owed him. Another time he was
shot twice by a husband of a woman he conquered. In 1940 he formed a dance
music group that performed every day on the radio. Chano was an impeccable
dresser and always would return to his humble beginnings despite being able
to live better. By the mid-40s Valdés relocated to NYC and began singing
songs written by Pozo and it drew the attention of Mario Bauzá who by then
had left the Cab Calloway band and teamed up with his brother in law Machito
to form the Afro Cuban Orchestra. On one of his visits to Havana Mario
looked up Chano and told him if he came to NY he could make a lot of money.
Not too long afterwards Chano and a female arrived in NY as a dancing couple
and Chano began playing around town impressing every one with his drumming,
singing, dancing and compositional skills. Bauzá then decided to showcase
his talents and arranged for the recording session I mentioned in my
previous post. When Dizzy approach Mario-his former Calloway band mate about
recording jazz with afro-cuban rhythms, Bauzá told him he had just the man
for him and introduced Diz to Pozo. They hit it off immediately and Chano
was receptive to the music Diz proposed to him and understood how to
accompany jazz with his hand drumming. Pozo would hum the music to Diz who
would out it down on the piano and thus, songs like Tin Tin Deo, Cubano Be,
and Cubano Bop and the immortal Manteca were born. By the by and by, in
1940s Black Cuban street slang, Manteca, grease or lard was code for
marihuana which both Diz and Chano smoked daily.

Pozo toured with Diz's band in Europe, the West Coast, check out the 1948
Pasadena Civic Center concert on GRP, and the South. Although he faced
racism in Cuba, Chano could not deal with the segregation of the South,
something alien to him, so he told Diz he was returning to NY and after they
finished that leg of the tour he would rejoin the band and continue touring.
The band went back to NY and in the time they had before their next tour,
Moody, Cecil Payne, Al McKibbon and others recorded Moody and the
Modernaires LP for Blue Note. Once when Diz was asked how could he
communicate with Chano who spoke no English and Diz spoke no Spanish, Dizzy
replied, "we both speak African". Chano also was a practioner of Afro-Cuban
religion and was well versed in several Afro-Cuban dialects, rituals and
traditions. Chano used to hang out at El Rio Bar in Harlem, known hang out
for many Cubans and other afro-latinos. Chano's connection was a fellow
Cuban, a Purple Heart recipient during WW2, Eusebio "Cabito"(Little Sgt)
Muñoz. After buying a dime bag of grass from Cabito to share with some
friends, Chano became enraged when the smoke was not up to standards making
him look bag with his pals. The next day Chano awaited the daily arrival of
Cabito at the bar and when he arrived he publicly humiliated Muñoz in the
bar, slapping him around and yelling at him who do you think you are selling
my crap, don't you know who I am, bla bla bla and walked out. The day after
that encounter once again Cabito walked into the bar and calmly pulled out a
revolver and shot Chano dead in front of everyone in the bar then went and
sat at the bar awaiting for the police to arrive. Legend has it that the
jukebox which Chano would always sing along to was playing Manteca at the
time he was shot. After serving a few years of his sentence for
manslaughter, Muñoz was paroled for good behavior and because he was a
decorated WW2 hero.

After his release many musicians, most of which were his former clients and
friends treated him with disdain for killing Pozo and Eusebio was know to
have said, "if I meet him in the after life, I'll kill him again". Muñoz
eventually wound up living in Miami where worked as a janitor in the schools
and died there in the early 80s. I know several folks in Miami who
befriended him. There is an outstanding box set of Pozo recordings for the
Spanish Tumbao label with outstanding liner notes in several languages. It
even contains commentary by Dr Billy Taylor, Al McKibbon, Mario Bauzá, Dizzy
and others all talking about Chano. It has music with Chano and his
compositions performed by others, absolutely amazing stuff. Chano Pozo: El
Tambor de Cuba TCD 305 One last comment, the original chorus for Manteca
went like this, "Chano Pozo fuma manteca, fuma manteca, fuma manteca" or
"Chano Pozo smokes manteca, smokes manteca, smokes manteca"

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