Chapito Chavarria 100th Birthday Celebration

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The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) will honor musician, bandleader, composer and arranger Rafael “Chapito” Chavarria with a centennial birthday celebration and exhibit dedication.
Celina Chiarello, MIM public programs manager and Ray “Gumbi” Salazar, entertainer, singer and musical director for the “Chapito!” documentary talk about the celebration and life of Chapito Chavarria.

Jose Cardenas: This Sunday the Musical Instrument Museum known as the MIM will honor musician, bandleader, composer, arranger, Rafael Chapito Chavarria. Joining me to talk about the celebration of the life and impact of Chapito Chavarria, are Celina Chiarello, MIM public programs manager, and Ray "Gumbi" Salazar, a well-known entertainer and vocalist who performed in the early 1950s. That's really when you started performing, at the age of five.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: At the age of five, and I've kept on even until today. I'm singing in this concert.

Jose Cardenas: And you started with Chapito.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: I started with Chapito dancing, being in their floor show at the age of five. And now I'm singing those tunes. I'm going to sing those tunes that I danced to.

Jose Cardenas: We'll come back to that in a moment. Let's talk, Celina, about the MIM and what you're trying to do with this particular program.

Celina Chiarello: Well, this is building off a concert we had back in September with Chapito and his music. We held it in our MIM theater. We really want to show Phoenix, you know, those people who already know and those who don't know, who Chapito is and why his music was so influential to Arizona. This is not only a birthday celebration for Chapito, but it marks the opening of his exhibit within our MIM, his music display.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about what's in the exhibit.

Celina Chiarello: We have a lot of Chapito's instruments and those he played with. We have a saxophone, we have handwritten scores, and we have an upright double bass. All of those will be installed and on display.

Jose Cardenas: Ray, as Celina said, this is a birthday celebration as well as a concert.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: That's right.

Jose Cardenas: Chapito is about to turn 100.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: 100 years old.

Jose Cardenas: And what kind of shape is he in?

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: In great shape, his mind is intact. I sat down with him the other day and I was amazed. I was amazed how intact or how age hasn't bothered him at all.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about Chapito in his heyday. Why was he such a big name?

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: Because of his style of music. You know, he incorporated Mexico City's music, rhythms, and their music. He incorporated them to Arizona.

Jose Cardenas: A pretty sophisticated sound for the time.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: Sophisticated sound, plus doing, you know, the American swing at the same time. So he was, you know, sitting down, setting down the patterns of the music, like I said, jazz, swing and Tropicana.

Jose Cardenas: And he truly is an Arizona legend, born in Tempe.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: Born in Tempe.

Jose Cardenas: What was he dealing with, as he was coming up, as a musician?

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: Chapito was always a perfectionist. Everything had to be done correctly. His music, when he wrote it, he sat down and it was all written correctly. Practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. He also worked for the city. He worked for the city, he retired from the city. So he worked both jobs. But he was always playing, you know.

Jose Cardenas: And he toured to other parts of the country.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: Toured to other parts of the country, Kansas, all over. You know, embellishing this music.

Jose Cardenas: So Celina, how important is it to the MIM to recognize Chapito? I know it's part of your outreach efforts to the Hispanic community. Let's talk about that.

Celina Chiarello: We're a new museum; we will turn four this month actually. It's really important for us overall to connect with different communities in the Phoenix area. Phoenix is so diverse. One of the communities we have to connect with is of course the Latino community. And I think this is a way to do that, to reach into that heritage that is Arizona, that is Arizona music. And put it on this platform with all of these instruments and different forms of music from around the world, and show that it belongs here. Now, it's part of Arizona's story and also a part of the global story of music.

Jose Cardenas: Let's talk about the experience people will have when they go out for this big celebration, which is April 6th.

Celina Chiarello: This Sunday, April 6th.

Jose Cardenas: What will people be able to do?

Celina Chiarello: The museum is open 10a.m. to 5p.m., and the festivities will run from noon until four. There will be a specific dedication and a birthday toast to Chapito to kick things off.

Celina Chiarello: There will be dancing with the Chapito Chavarria orchestra and you're going to be singing.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: That's right, that's right.

Celina Chiarello: I'll also have a photo booth. There's going to be birthday cake and food and drink available for purchase. A chance to try your hand at drumming a different percussion instruments. It'll be fun for all ages.

Jose Cardenas: The last time you had a concert that focused on Chapito, you were sold out.

Celina Chiarello: We were.

Jose Cardenas: I think it would be fair to say the memory is not located in the heart of the Hispanic community. What was the attraction?

Celina Chiarello: It was Chapito himself, really. We really got the word out through word of mouth, through his friends and his family and those who had seen him perform. That was really the main demographic where people who had been dancing in the 40s and 50s and they brought their family members to see this music they had loved so much.

Jose Cardenas: Ray, when Chapito was in his heyday, it was ballroom dancing, you were there doing the mambo as I understand. How do you make that relevant to the younger generation?

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: Well, that's what's wrong; I'm here to try to bring it back alive. Because that is our heritage in this town. People believe that, you know, like polkas and all that, which is beautiful, I love all kind of music, but that wasn't our music in this town. It was the Tropicana music. And the young people gotta learn this, and keep this heritage, know where they come from, know they are not alone, you know. And we're here, and we have a history. And let's keep it alive.

Jose Cardenas: You're doing a number of things keep it alive. One of the activities is the concert. There's also as I understand a documentary being done.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: A documentary, right now being edited.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: Paige Martinez is working on it. Right now it's in the editing position. And she wants people to get involved. And the way they can get involved is to go to a If anybody has old pictures of Chapito, you know, because he's played for everybody's wedding. If you have old pictures or music, bring it down to If you want to get involved in money, $10, $20, whatever you can afford to get this documentary done, you can do that

Jose Cardenas: People can go online and contribute. Now I understand there is going to be some footage from what Paige has done so far that's going to be on display.

Celina Chiarello: Yes, we will have a monitor with about 12 minutes of footage. I really don't know what's on there yet, it'll be a surprise for everyone. It's never been seen before, footage from her documentary.

Jose Cardenas: And we're talking about a museum, which to most people implies this is the past. How do you make this relevant to the younger audience?

Celina Chiarello: I think that's a challenge for any museum. The MIM is really unique in that we engage people in a very different way. All of our objects are out in the open. There are a very few things behind glass, and we also utilize technology in a really unique way. Everyone who walks in the door gets a headset and you can hear the instruments. You're not just looking at something, you're engaged with it, listening, you're looking. You're having this unique, sort of intimate experience along with a lot of other people at the museum at the same time. I think that appeals to people who want to use technology to learn and to engage.

Jose Cardenas: So give us a little bit of a hint as to what the shows going to be like on Sunday.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: There's going to be -- this band has been refined by Chapito, he handpicked everybody. Last time we did the concert he got up and danced, and he was dancing.

Jose Cardenas: At almost 100 years.

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: He's so excited about this band. It's vibrant and they are going to hear his music but alive.

Jose Cardenas: And they will not see you dancing the mambo, but you'll be singing?

Ray "Gumbi" Salazar: I'll be dancing, too.

Jose Cardenas: Congratulations to both of you and now coming to "Horizonte" for what sounds like marvelous afternoon. That's our show for tonight. I'm Jose Cardenas, have a good night.

Celina Chiarello:Public Programs Manager, MIM; Ray "Gumbi" Salazar:Entertainer, Singer and Musical Director, "Chapito!"

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