Featured Artist

2022: Israel ‘Cachao” López

Israel "Cachao" López playing bass
Israel "Cachao" López photograph courtesy of Tom Ehrlich.

In the pantheon of Latino contributions to Jazz, one name that continues to stand out is Israel “Cachao” López. The Cuban bass player helped invent the mambo style in the late 1930s, speeding up the traditional Cuban dance music danzón by inserting a swing to it. The springy bass lines Cachao played, alongside his brother, pianist/cellist Orestes López, became a foundation of modern Cuban music, later influencing salsa, Latin-infused rock ‘n’ roll, and R&B.

Born in Havana in 1918, López came from a family of musicians. He studied classical music, was playing bongos in a children’s group at 8, and played upright bass with the Havana Philharmonic at the age of 13. Cachao later played with dance orchestras, joining the Orquesta Arcaño y sus Maravillas in 1937. The danzón was a very popular style in Cuba during the early 1900s, but it gradually moved away from its roots as a European, military-style march sound and more toward an Africanized sound with syncopated percussion, almost a mirror image of ragtime’s transition to early jazz. López integrated the popular Cuban musical tradition with the pulsating conga, resulting in the beginnings of the soon-to-be preeminent Latin musical genre: mambo.

In addition to pioneering mambo, López also was instrumental in the development of descargas: late-night jam sessions that combined Afro-Cuban rhythms, Cuban melodies, and elements of jazz. Cachao left Cuba in 1962, his departure brought on by the Castro government’s strict policy on American-influenced culture. Cachao spent two years in Spain, and living for a time in New York City. In the 1970s, he headlined at famous Las Vegas hotels, and ultimately settled in Miami in 1978. Cachao’s career took a slight dip in the 1980s—he only recorded three albums as a leader between 1970 and 1990—but Cuban-born actor Andy Garcia helped revitalize the musician, organizing recording sessions with leading Cuban musicians and putting together a tribute concert in Cachao’s adopted hometown in 1992. Cachao enjoyed a major resurgence in his career, winning a Grammy and recording a series of successful albums.

Cachao died of kidney failure in 2008 at the age of 89 in Coral Gables, Florida.

The artist for the 2022 JAM poster is Francis Henry Cuadro, a senior visual arts student at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, D.C.

2021: Nina Simone

 Nina Simone - Symphony Hall, Boston, Mass. - 1969
Nina Simone - Symphony Hall, Boston, Mass. - 1969
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Robert and Greta Houston

Featured on this year’s official 2021 poster is pianist, singer, songwriter, storyteller and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Born February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Simone became enamored with music at the early age of three when she learned to play the piano by ear. She went on to study classical repertoire and aspired to continue her education as a concert pianist at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but that future did not come to pass. An audition in 1954 at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was noted by historians as a defining moment in her career that introduced her talents as a pianist and singer to an unsuspecting and enthusiastic audience.

Some of her many recordings include her debut album, Little Girl Blue, on Bethlehem Records; the 1962 live recording Nina at the Village Gate; and 1964’s Nina Simone in Concert, which famously addressed racial inequality. Simone received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2000 and was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Her 1964 performance of “Mississippi Goddam” was selected as culturally and historically significant by the Library of Congress in 2018 and included for preservation on the National Recording Registry. To learn more about Nina Simone, visit ninasimone.com.

The artist for the 2021 JAM poster is Naa Anyele Sowah-De Jesus, a sophomore visual arts student at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, D.C.


Support for jazz programming is made possible by

LeRoy Neiman and Janet Byrne Neiman Foundation

The Argus Fund

Ray and Vera Conniff Foundation

Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation
founding donor of the Smithsonian Jazz Endowment

David C. Frederick and Sophia Lynn

Goldman Sachs