Orlando Marín and His OrchestraQue Chévere, Vol. II
Bronx-born timbalero and bandleader Orlando Marín has been a part of New York’s Latin music scene since his mid-teens when he formed his first band with vocalist Joe Quijano and pianist Eddie Palmieri. By the age of eighteen, Marín was leading his own orchestra and playing dance venues like the Tropicana, Stardust, and Hunts Point Palace. At a time when competition was strong and the top Latin bandleaders all battled for the title “Mambo King,” Marín built a reputation for having one of the tightest dance bands in the city. ...MORE >
Bronx-born timbalero and bandleader Orlando Marín has been a part of New York’s Latin music scene since his mid-teens when he formed his first band with vocalist Joe Quijano and pianist Eddie Palmieri. By the age of eighteen, Marín was leading his own orchestra and playing dance venues like the Tropicana, Stardust, and Hunts Point Palace. At a time when competition was strong and the top Latin bandleaders all battled for the title “Mambo King,” Marín built a reputation for having one of the tightest dance bands in the city. Marín describes his mind-set in this competitive environment: “My mentality is that I’ll get on the stage before or after anybody, and I’m going to leave the stage burning. And whoever burns it the best, that’s the king that night.”
Orlando Marín’s first big record deal came in 1956 with Fiesta Records, where he recorded two (shared) albums and several singles before being drafted to serve in Korea. “I had the hottest band in New York when I went to the Army in 1958,” Marín explains. “I had the top young musicians in New York at the time. I had [bongosero] Luis ‘Chicky’ Pérez, who Tito Puente grabbed after I left.” Being drafted may have altered the course of Orlando Marín’s career as a professional musician, but his connection to music remained strong even while in the Army. “I was drafted sometime in the early summer, April or May, and by Christmas, I was feeling brokenhearted. My band broke up, I was in the hills of Korea—there were no showers, nothing,” Marín explains. “We were living in Quonset huts—you know, with oil burners and stuff like that. So one night, someone said, ‘They’re having live music at the USO show; you should go down.’ So I got dressed up and went down there, and would you believe it, Noro Morales, the great pianist from Puerto Rico, is playing. On the drums, he’s got a kid called Mikey Collazo, the drummer from my [high] school. I knew the whole band—it was like a miracle. But the bigger thing that happened was that later on I joined an all-Army [music] contest that was done every year, and I won in the Pacific command. I toured the Pacific and played in different places, like Japan, Korea, Hawaii, and then Washington, D.C., for the finals. The finalists all went to The Ed Sullivan Show in 1959.”
After returning from military service in early 1960, Orlando Marín reorganized his orchestra and began playing clubs again, eventually gaining the attention of Alegre Records, one of the premier labels in Latin music during the 1960s. Marín explains in detail how he came to record for Alegre: “Mike Amadeo used to work for Alegre Records and Al Santiago, in their record shop [Casalegre], which was on Westchester and Prospect Avenue. He heard me play opposite [Johnny] Pacheco with my trumpet band here in 1960, and my band was cooking, you know. So he said, ‘Man, you guys are great, and we are going to recommend you to Al Santiago.’ And sure enough, Santiago said, ‘Yeah, we want to record you’—on the word of Mike Amadeo. Also, Mikey Collazo’s brother, Harold, worked [at the record store], and he recommended us too. So it was like heaven sent, you know, everything fell into place. But a very unusual story happened there, because Chivirico Dávila had just come to New York—he had left the Pérez Prado orchestra where he had substituted for Beny Moré, who quit and went back to Cuba to make his band. So Chivirico Dávila, in 1960, came to New York. He was in the store, the record shop, with Al Santiago when I walked in to tell Al, ‘Look, I can’t do the recording session now, because I have no singer.’ And he says to me, ‘Oh, don’t worry. You see that guy over there? He’s the best singer in the world.’ It happened to be Chivirico Dávila. You can’t plan this. You know what I’m saying? It’s unbelievable. I used the guy, I showed him the style I wanted, and he fell in like...coffee and milk. Absolutely. The guy was one of the best singers in the world for what they call salsa today, but then it was mambo, bolero, cha-cha-cha—he sings everything. A very nice man too.”
In 1961, Alegre Records released the single “La Casa” by Orlando Marín and His Orchestra, and it quickly became a big hit in New York and abroad, particularly in Colombia, where Marín’s music was widely popular. Soon after the success of his first Alegre single, Marín recorded his first album for Alegre Records, Se Te Quemó la Casa. The success of the album helped keep Marín’s band in demand, and in 1964, they recorded a second album for Alegre, titled Que Chévere, Vol. II.
On Que Chévere, Orlando Marín and His Orchestra played a mix of up-tempo mambos, guaguancós, and son montunos. Absent from the album was the pachanga, a style that was featured prominently on Marín’s previous album but that was waning in popularity by that time. According to Marín, the personnel on Que Chévere was “very similar but not exactly the same” as the personnel on Se Te Quemó la Casa, which included Francisco “Paquito” Pastor (piano), Julio Andino (bass), Tito Jiménez (percussion), Pedro Chaparro (trumpet), and “Chicky” Pérez (percussion), among others. Like his first Alegre album, Que Chévere sold well and added to the popularity of Marín’s orchestra, and in the summer of 1965, they were contracted to play for two weeks along with Tito Puente and his orchestra at Club Virginia in Los Angeles—an experience that is a major highlight of Marín’s career.
After parting with Alegre in the mid-1960s, Marín recorded another mambo album with the Fiesta label, then a boogaloo album with the Brunswick label, and finally a Latin jazz album with Mañana, a small label run by Al Santiago, a man whom Orlando Marín holds in very high regard for his contribution to Latin music. “A person who needs a lot of credit is Al Santiago, who was a great thinker, you know, very progressive in his thoughts and very open-minded to many things. He opened the door for Pacheco, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, and many others—not so much for me, because I had recorded albums before [Alegre], but he did give me the chance to come back and do my thing.”
Although Orlando Marín has not recorded an album since the 1970s, his band continues to play and pay homage to the mambo era and to the many bands and musicians who never received proper recognition in their time. “They were all kings,” Marín said when talking about his peers in Latin music, many of whom have passed away. “Every band had a following, and, to your following, you were the king.”