Pozo spent time in reform school and lived with a bullet lodged near his spine, a souvenir from a shooting in a dispute over royalties for his songs. He grew up motherless in Cayo Hueso, then a poor, tough neighborhood of Havana, and was a member of a secret Afro-Cuban religious society whose ritual music informed his singing and drumming. Pozo made his way into the music business quickly, from playing street parades and religious events to appearing in hotel shows and a musical and making a name for himself as a songwriter. His hit Blen Blen Blen was recorded by the band Casino de la Playa featuring his reform school friend, singer Miguelito Valdés. And it was Valdés who encouraged Pozo to move to New York in early 1947. By then, Machito and His Afro-Cubans, one of the great Latin big bands in history, had recorded several songs by Pozo and also worked and recorded with Valdés. Bauzá, as the band’s music director, was obviously well aware of Pozo’s talents as a player and songwriter.
“Mario [Bauzá] was the master builder of Latin Jazz, and he initiated Dizzy in Afro Cuban music back in their days with Cab Calloway,” says author and multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winning producer Nat Chediak. “Dizzy was a sponge, always very interested in different rhythmic possibilities, and when he met Chano he seized the moment. Dizzy didn’t invent Latin jazz but he became its most visible spokesperson.”
Faddis recalls that even many years later, when reminiscing about their time together, “Dizzy would always speak of Chano with a lot of love. You could see it in his eyes, in his body language. He wouldn’t talk so much about the music but about the man.”