Havana, Cuba. – Jose Urfe, composer, clarinetist and music professor was born in the heart of a humble family in the town of Madruga, on February 6 1879. The also conductor of orchestras and music bands took his first music classes with Professor Domingo Ramos. The following year, after the beginning of the 1895 War, he moved to the capital city where he continued his studies with Hipolito Rodriguez. During the final years of the XIX century, young Urfe combined his artistic studies with the trade of shoemaker.
In Havana, he joined the Payret Theater orchestra, where he improved his skills under Pedro Pablo Diez’s guidance. With his help, he got better at the clarinet, further mastering theory and practice. In 1902, he was one of the founders of Enrique Peña’s typical orchestra, making a duet with another great clarinetist: Jose Belen Puig, with whom he soon joined Felix Gonzalez’s orchestra.
His perseverance and musical wisdom allowed him an unusual originality to write pieces based on daily life passages, including habaneras, criollas, religious music and countryside motifs, such as “A la orilla del palmar”, “Cuyaguateje”, “Cayajabos” and “El Campesino.”
However, his strong point was Danzon, to which he contributed rhythmic elements of Son that have ever since defined the current structure of that Cuban musical genre. In the specialists’ view, the most outstanding example was the famous “Bombin de Barreto” that saw the light in 1910, next to “Fefita”, “Nena”, “El churrero”, “El Dios chino” and “El progreso.”
He traveled to Mexico and United States many times as a member of theater orchestras and left for posterity a progeny worthy of his brilliancy as performer and composer. He had four children: Odilio, Orestes, Jose and Esteban.
The maestro, as his fellow citizens called him, deployed a vast cultural activity that went beyond music. He died in November 13 1957.
By: Jose Pendas
Translated by: Pedro A. Fanego