All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


“Chapito” Chavarria’s 100th Birthday Celebration at the Musical Instrument Museum

Patricia Myers By

Sign in to view read count
"Chapito" Chavarria Orchestra
Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, Arizona
April 6, 2014

A 10-piece band of Phoenix-area musicians performed a concert celebrating the 100th birthday of longtime bandleader Rafael "Chapito" Chavarria. The musician, composer and arranger attended the event, which included the dedication of a new segment of the "I Am AZ Music" exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum. The display that honors him as one of Arizona's cultural treasures features two of his instruments, hand-written charts, 45 rpm records and music-video clips.

The tribute band's musical director, Devon Leal Bridgewater, was a Phoenix high school student when he began playing with Chavarria in the 1970s. He pored over musical charts with the leader to reconstruct his arrangements and assembled the band. The lead vocalist was Ray "Gumbi" Salazar, 65, who was five years old when he danced in front of the band as part of its "floor show."

The outdoor performance was a mixture of ballads and up-tempo charts, including the Mexican song "Perfidia" that became a 1940s jazz standard. The repertoire ranged from Mexican and Cuban mambos, cha-chas, boleros cumbias and rancheras to American swing and jitterbug music. The courtyard was filled with people of all ages and ethnicities, many of whom danced to every selection.

The three-trumpet front line delivered bright harmonies, Rod Larkins on lead trumpet, aided by Bill Maley and Bridgewater, who doubled on violin. Tenor saxophonist Larry Munoz was a featured soloist on many of the charts, along with a second vocalist, Ernie Garcia. The rhythm section featured Paul Lubben on electric piano, Felix Sainz on electric bass, Robert Scott at the drum set and Tony Valenzuela on percussion.

A similar concert was performed in the museum's theater in September 2013 to celebrate Chavarria's 99th birthday, occurring a few weeks after the death of his wife of 73 years. During the World War II era, Chavarria led bands at the elegant but racially segregated Calderon Ballroom and Riverside Ballroom, where separate nights were designated for Hispanics. The bandleader's songbook combined popular Mexico City of the 1940s and 1950s with American swing. Chavarria was a World War II veteran and a co-founder of the American Legion Post 41 in Phoenix, where his band regularly performed.

He performed during four decades, often for the second and third three generations of families at birthday, wedding and anniversary parties. He became such a star in the Latin community that couples would plan their weddings around his availability to play at their receptions. Even after he decided to retire in the 1980s, he still played occasional dates for two more decades before actually retiring 10 years ago.

Among the speakers saluting Chavarria before the concert were Mexican consulate general Roberto Rodriguez, Arizona native Joanne Goldwater (daughter of the late Barry Goldwater) and Cullen Strawn, the museum's curator of musical instruments.

Just before the music started, the man nicknamed "Chapito" (Spanish for "shorty") spoke in a strong voice to the crowd, recalling his years in music. "I'm self-taught, but the Lord gave me this talent. It's been a wonderful life and a lot of years, but people remember and they still love this music."

He left school after the seventh grade to work in the agricultural fields surrounding Tempe, then for a cotton ginning company. At the age of 16, he jumped a train to Los Angeles, where he lived with uncles and heard a wider Latin musical culture, American jazz and big band music. He learned to play banjo and began performing with Olvera Street musicians, then played bass in L.A. nightclubs and later at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix.

Chavarria was self-taught for playing and arranging, first learning violin then string bass, then electric bass. He said he played violin with my father's band group starting in 1923 at the age of 9, playing Sunday at afternoon parties called tardeadas.

The "Chapito" renaissance was launched by Paige Martínez, a documentary filmmaker whose work has been shown on PBS. Martinez wanted to tell the story of a man who was born in Solomonville, a small ranching and farming community in Graham County, only two years after Arizona became a state. She set up a crowd-funding site to help finance her documentary, "Chapito!" and showed clips of it in the museum lobby. The premiere is scheduled for September at the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Abdullah Ibrahim at the Michigan Theater Live Reviews
Abdullah Ibrahim at the Michigan Theater
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: April 25, 2018
Read The Jane Getter Premonition at Iridium Live Reviews
The Jane Getter Premonition at Iridium
by Roger Weisman
Published: April 24, 2018
Read Liberty Ellman Trio at Crescent Arts Centre Live Reviews
Liberty Ellman Trio at Crescent Arts Centre
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 22, 2018
Read Tallinn Music Week 2018 Live Reviews
Tallinn Music Week 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: April 19, 2018
Read James Blood Ulmer and the Thing at Bochum Art Museum Live Reviews
James Blood Ulmer and the Thing at Bochum Art Museum
by Phillip Woolever
Published: April 17, 2018
Read Jocelyn Medina at Jazz at Kitano Live Reviews
Jocelyn Medina at Jazz at Kitano
by Tyran Grillo
Published: April 16, 2018
Read "ELBJAZZ 2017" Live Reviews ELBJAZZ 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: June 15, 2017
Read "Newport Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews Newport Jazz Festival 2017
by Timothy J. O'Keefe
Published: August 18, 2017
Read "Pat Martino Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café" Live Reviews Pat Martino Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: April 5, 2018
Read "Curtis Brothers At Scullers" Live Reviews Curtis Brothers At Scullers
by Steve Provizer
Published: February 28, 2018
Read "2018 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit" Live Reviews 2018 Hope College Jazz Organ Summit
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: March 23, 2018