The creation of Latin jazz began on Sunday evening, May 28, 1943, while the Machito Orchestra appeared at La Conga Club in mid-town Manhattan. A tune had just ended and Mario Bauzá, the musical director, yelled out the number of a music chart he wanted next. While the sidemen searched for the chart, pianist Luis Varona had the next tune’s music ready. All of a sudden he began playing the piano vamp introduction to the tune “El Botellero” (The Bottlemaker). Then, without warning, bassist Julio Andino began plucking his bass strings. Bauzá listened as he stared into space, and after a few more seconds began stomping his foot to kick off the next number.

The following evening, the band’s day off, the band reunited for its weekly rehearsal at 110th Street & 5th Avenue’s Park Palace Ballroom. Bauzá started the rehearsal by urging Varona to play the same “Botellero” piano vamp. He then sang out what Andino should play along with the sounds he wanted from the reeds and brass sections. The broken scale sounds soon took form as a jazz melody. Bauzá began blowing jazz riffs on top of the melody, then nodded to his alto saxist to ad lib. At the end of two hours, Bauzá successfully merged Cuban music with jazz and a new industry came into being (Latin Jazz).

Dizzy Gillespie, an onlooker, behaved madly—he acted as though he couldn’t believe what he had just heard (He wanted to capture that sound and was given the chance four years later when he met Cuban drummer Chano Pozo). Gillespie excitedly asked Bauzá what he was going to title the song. Another onlooker remarked that the sound was as exciting as “Tanga” (the African word for Marijuana). The tune was thus called “Tanga.” Afro-Cuban jazz was copyrighted by Peer International and the new sound of Latinized jazz joined the family of Cuban rhythms.

There have been several versions of “Tanga,” the most memorable one which featured tenor saxist, Flip Phillips, for Norman Grantz’s 1949 recording for the Verve LP “The Jazz Scene.” In 1989, Dr. Bauzá commissioned Latin jazz’s most revered orchestrator, Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill, to expand “Tanga” into four movements. Months later it was performed at a church in Harlem and the raucous standing ovation determined that it had to be recorded. Messidor Musik made it possible for music aficionados the world over to enjoy “Tanga” (considered the national anthem of Latin jazz, in five movements (as of 1992).

The history of Latin jazz and this collector’s item recording became a reality because one Sunday evening at La Conga Club in 1943, the alert mind and ears of Dr. Mario Bauzá heard a sound. The following day he turned that sound into music when he united Cuban music and North American jazz forever.

— Max Salazar
Latin Beat Magazine
February 1992