Mario Bauzá (April 28, 1911 in the Cayo Hueso section of Havana, Cuba – July 11, 1993 in New York City) was one of the first musicians to introduce Latin music to the U.S. by bringing Cuban musical styles into the New York jazz scene, and is one of the most influential figures in the development of Afro-Cuban music, and his innovative work and musical contributions have many jazz historians to call him the "founding father of Latin jazz."
Trained as a classical musician, he was a clarinetist in the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra by the age of nine, where he would stay for three years. Bauzá traveled to New York in 1925 to record with Maestro Antonio Maria Romeu's band, Charanga Francesa, shortly after his fourteenth birthday. Bauzá returned to Cuba but moved back to New York in 1930 and reputedly learned to play trumpet in just over two weeks in order to earn a spot in Don Azpiaz˙ Orchestra, which was in need of a trumpeter to play on upcoming recordings for RCA Victor.
Bauzá had been hired as lead trumpeter and musical director for Chick Webb's Orchestra by 1933, and it was during his time with Webb that Bauzá both met fellow trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie and discovered and brought into the band singer Ella Fitzgerald.
In 1938 Bauzá joined Cab Calloway's band, later convincing Calloway to hire Dizzie Gillespie as well, with whom Bauza would continue to collaborate even several years after he left Calloway's band in 1940. The fusion of Bauzá's Cuban musical heritage and Gillespie's advancements in bebop eventually culminated in the development of cubop, one of the first forms of what is commonly referred to as Latin jazz.
In 1941, Bauzá became musical director of Machito and his Afro-Cubans, a band led by his brother-in-law, Frank Grillo (Francisco Raul Gutierrez Grillo), also known as Machito. The band produced its first recording for Decca in 1941, and in 1942 Bauzá brought in a young timbales player named Tito Puente. The band soon had a hit with "Tanga," written by Bauzá, which became a popular mambo dance number often played at venues like Manhattan's Palladium Ballroom. Bauzá would maintain his post as director of Machito and his Afro-Cubans until 1976, after which he led his own band until the early '90s.