During the mid-Sixties, there was a thriving Latin music scene at a Boston nightclub called The Cave. On Boylston Alley, which is now behind the Transportation Building in Park Square, the venue was a hotbed of authentic Cuban music which attracted polished dancers to its floor. So serious were these terpsichorists that some of the men had their trousers made without pockets so as not to “disturb the line of the body”.
Los Muchachos was the house band. Sax player and band leader Dick Meza brought together some of the best musicians in the area: Mark Levine on piano, Skip Tosi (who had studied with renowned Cuban musician Walfredo Reyes Sr.) on percussion, Gene Perla on bass and Don Alias on congas. Guesting on timbales and vocals was Sheila Wilkerson. After Levine left for the West Coast, Vladimir Vasilyev took over on keyboards, with Carl Schroeder occasionally sitting in for him. On almost any night of the week, Los Muchachos played to a packed house, teeming with mambo, rhumba, and cha-cha-cha dancers and musicians. What is now called “salsa” is really a modern interpretation of the original Cuban rhythms of the 1930s and 1940s; the new dance starts on “the one”, the first beat, whereas the original started on “the two”. The band was the hottest Latin music group in town. Many of its members went on to great careers playing with the likes of Tito Puente, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Carmen Macrae, Miles Davis, Roy Haynes and David Sanborn, among many others. Perla went to Japan and opened a recording company there. Credited with introducing the electric bass to jazz, and recognized as a force on the instrument, he is now back in the U.S. and still playing with his band. Grammy nominee and author Levine is in L.A. composing, recording, playing and teaching. Wilkerson also went to the West Coast, earning a reputation as a vocalist and percussionist. Alas, she, Tosi and Meza have all joined that “big band in the sky”.
(by Fiona Cortland)