Visiting Mexican Bands (1876-1955)

This book is an “accident.” While researching the careers of some Professors who directed large orchestras in New Orleans during the last part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, I came across several “Mexican bands” mentioned in the same newspaper articles as they often shared the same stages. Some were named, others were not, and this piqued my interest. In the Third Part of his “Mexican Band Legend” (The Jazz Archivist, Vol. XX - 1-10, 2007), New Orleans jazz historian Jack Stewart had hoped for additional research about the various Mexican bands that visited New Orleans between 1884 and 1920. Why not follow his advice? So, I decided to dedicate a few weeks to this research… which turned out to occupy a few years of my life. However, the fragments found finally proved to be in considerable number, as several important military and typical bands entertained the U. S. crowds between 1880 and the 1950s. So the puzzle began to take shape, revealing a different story than the one generally accepted. Capt. Payén and the Eighth Cavalry Mexican band who caused such a furor in New Orleans in 1884 were indeed the most well-known of the Mexican musicians who visited the northern “sister republic.” But their fame has overshadowed the reputation of bandmasters (many of them composers, too) like Fernando Villalpando, Miguel Rios Toledano, Lorenzo Santibanez, Velino M. Preza, Ricardo Pacheco, Alfredo Pacheco, Augusto Azzali, Antonio Cuenca, Juan Marcias, Domingo Lopez, Professors Mojica and Perez, Trinidad Concha, Carlos Melo, Nabor and Ambrosio Vázquez, Pedro A. Nieva, Jesse E. Roach, Francisco Duran, Ysaac Romero, Colonel Corella, Melquiades Campos, Juan Avalos, Ramon Hernandez, Eusebio Rojos Cabrera, Domingo Lopez, Juan Macias, Francisco Davila, Federico Gomez, José Briseño, Antonio R. Villalva, Victor C. Prescaldo, José Garcia, Federico Gomez, Capt. Caballero, Antonio R. Villalva, José Mangas, Manuel Escajeda, Angel Mercado, Antonio Maneiro, Louis Taforya, Casare Torsiello, Manuel Rosas… and several others.
It certainly overshadowed, too, the role of the Spanish orchestras (“estudiantinas”) that spread the “Spanish music” in the United States during the 1880-1890 period, and generated typical orchestras, notably the groups (Italian, then Mexican) led by Carlos Curti, which appeared in New Orleans in the 1880s. It certainly overshadowed, too, the importance of other typical orchestras which visited the United States from 1880 until the late thirties, especially Juventino Rosas’s, Juan N. Torreblanca’s, José Briseño’s, and Miguel Lerdo de Tejada’s orchestras.
After the French withdrawal in 1867, the social function of the Mexican military bands changed slightly. They were now asked by the government to play music for civilian crowds in Mexico and abroad, especially in the United States. For sixty years, music and politics were intertwined. During the Porfiriato, many Mexican bands were sent North, but mounting tension between the two republics often meant fewer visiting bands. This was most evident during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) because political instability curtailed their activities. The Depression of the 1930s also proved an unfavorable time for the appearance of Mexican bands in the States, and WWII ended the process.
Sent for diplomatic reasons, the Mexican military and the “typical” bands as well played the role of political and cultural ambassadors, and were often showcased with the best North American and European military bands at the numerous fairs and expositions that were held during this period. All these bands influenced each other in some way, either in repertoire, instrumentation or in style. The Mexican military bands played just about the same repertoire as the North American and European bands, consisting of European classical “heavy” music, military marches and popular “light” music, with the addition of Mexican vernacular music. These Mexican bands visited New Orleans a lot of times, as well as the main U.S. towns, and played at the White House at least three times.
During this period a number of Mexican military bands visited Spain, France and England. Oddly, most of the works that study the saga of Mexico and the World’s Fairs abound with information about the Mexican architecture, painting, agriculture, industry, ethnography, etc., but are almost totally oblivious of the music, although the Mexican bands sent abroad were probably highly influential in shaping a positive image of their nation.
While the main military and typical bands are mentioned in this study, we omitted a discussion of the local bands in the U.S. towns. Concert programs have been included in order to show the range of the different bands’s repertoires, and their evolution through the years, and essays of discographies of the main bands are presented. The book is structured in ten chapters, one for each decade, starting with the 1880s.
Antonio Saborit, director of the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology, and Bruce Raeburn, ex-curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive will write the prefaces.

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