The concept of an "all-star" cast was initially associated with sports activities such as the "annual baseball all-stars game," the National Basketball Association's (NBA) annual all-star weekend, and the worldwide annual soccer all-star selection teams battling for regional supremacy, which ate equivalent in many ways to a day at the Roman coliseum of yesteryear.
In the music world, I initially experienced the all-star concept via the Blue Note sessions, which featured an all-star cast of jazz players, ranging from Art Blakey to Ron Carter, as well as Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis' powerful bands, always featuring the top jazz players of the times. While numerous improvisational all-star Latin sessions did take place in after-hours clubs almost nightly throughout New York City, Havana, San Juan, and Los Angeles (as early as the 1940s), it was Machito's orchestra that attracted musicians from all styles to levitate to wherever he was playing nightly, hoping to sit in with his amazing Afro-Cubans. At about the same time, vibraphonist bandleader Cal Tjader was moving to the west coast with an all-star band that featured Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo and Al McKibbon. But it was the loose, funky sound of the live-instudio LP Cuban Jam Session Vol.1 on the Panart label (1957), led in Havana by Julio Gutierrez and Niño Rivera, that started the all-star craze in the new home of the mambo.
Powerful descargas featuring some of the top Cuban musicians of the times were second only to amazing chachachás, mambos and montunos, also featured in the recording. A Cuban Jam Session Vol.2 followed, featuring Israel "Cachao" López, another pioneer of the 1950s descarga movement. In the late 1950s, Alegre record label cacique Al Santiago, inspired by these Panart recordings, organized a similar session in New York City, which came to be known as the "Alegre All Stars," including many of the artists signed to his label and released in 1961. A few years later, the Tico record label issued the Tico All Stars LP (1966).
In 1964, the Dominican-born bandleader Johnny Pacheco and the Italian-American lawyer Jerry Masucci established Fania Records with the purpose of creating a platform for Latin music artists and bands to excel and market their music. It was comparable to the efforts of Motown Records, the home of R&B and soul music artists since the early 1960s. Fania surpassed all expectations at a national, as well as an international level, as its popularity grew rapidly and its artists soon morphed into social superheroes. In the midst of the civil rights movement and at a time in which U.S. Latinos were searching for their identity as a distinct group, the new salsa movement became the magnet that attracted the growing Hispanic population, baby boomers with a Latin beat. Salsa music had evolved from being an entertainment form to becoming the voice of a new generation of Latinos. The salsa tune was a war song as strong as the sounds of its drums; it had become a life style.
Pacheco and Masucci rapidly exploited the power of Fania and capitalized on it, hence the creation of the "Fania All Stars," the house band for Fania Records, comprised of all the bandleaders of the label, the top sidemen, plus all the vocalists. While the fans were already buying records of all of their favorite artists and bands, a new concept emerged--the best of the best, under the banner of the Fania All Stars. And so it was, the Fania All Stars became the powerhouse of the label, representing the rise and...