Music of the World

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Socarras started by playing the Cotton Club and in black revues, recording the first flute solos jazz with Clarence Williams, Sidney Bechets and Louis Armstrongs producer. Once he had built up a reputation, he founded a big band that mixed classical music, Cuban rhythms and jazz. His music was a total novelty at the time, and one contemporary American critic wrote of the savage intensity of the bands rhythm section. Although Socarras was black, he overcame racial barriers in many clubs that had previously been closed to coloured bands, taking his tropical drums as far afield as Illinois and Nebraska.

The Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol also embarked on an American jazz career, joining the Duke Ellington orchestra in the late 10s. For Ellington he composed the first Latin jazz numbers, Caravan and Perdido. He also introduced his boss to the structure of Cuban music which, unlike jazz which allows its soloists complete freedom of invention, is based on a very precise superposition of rhythms, each of which has its own particular part to play in an acoustic tapestry that is constantly changing. The conga follows one predetermined line, the bongo another. Bass and plano both also make their own contribution to the polyphonic rhythms. Whatever notes they may be playing, Cuban musicians must respect a particular style of phrasing that neophytes (and even experienced jazzmen) often find hard to pick up.

Other American bandleaders, among them Chick Webb and Cab Calloway, fell for the charms of the bolero, guaracha and rumba-all three of them Cuban imports. In turn, jazz made its first tentative incursions into Cuba. Duke Ellington went to Havana in 1, and American-style big bands began to be formed there. But New York in the early 140s was the real home of the fusion of jazz and Cuban music that became known first as cubop (from Cuba and bebop) then as Latin jazz once other rhythms were added to it.

In the late 10s Mario Bauza, a one-time trumpeter with Cab Calloway who had grown tired of the watered-down Cuban music then to be heard from Xavier Cugats orchestra and other dance bands, decided to form an ensemble that would blend real Cuban rhythms with jazz. He named his new band the Afro-Cubans, brought his brother-in-law, the singer Machito his real name was Frank Grillo), over to join it, and won the backing of Calloways arranger. At first the music was rough-edged; the band brought together Cubans, Puerto Ricans and an American trumpet-player, all of whom would riff wildly together at the end of the choruses. The trumpet-player sometimes stumbled on the Cuban rhythms, and the Latin members at first had difficulties with the complex harmonies of jazz. But Bauza gradually succeeded in blending the two musical languages, and the ensemble soldered itself into a cohesive whole. The Afro-Cubans made their public debut at an East Harlem club in 140, and their daring new music soon won over the dancers. American drummers were particularly struck by the bongos, never having seen bare-handed drumming before.


Some Americans criticized the new music for evoking the caricature of a primitive Africa as fostered by Hollywood films. Gradually, though, jazzmen lent an ear. Attracted by the bands signature tune Tanga, Stan Kenton in 147 hired the percussionists to record his big hit 7-he Peanut Vendor. But his grandiloquent style of jazz did little justice to true Cuban music. On the other hand Charlie Parker, who cut some tracks with the Afro-Cubans in 150, at once caught the spirit of the music. His alto saxophone flies high on Mango Mangue, Okidoke, Cancion and jazz, weaving a web of melody over a background of torrid rhythm.

A stunning conga player from Havana

The other great catalyzer of Latin jazz was Dizzy Gillespie. From the moment of his arrival in New York he fell in love with Cuban music, whose verve reminded him of the black rhythms of his native South Carolina. He first played with Socarras, who taught him Cuban rhythms, then became friendly with Bauza, who brought him into the Calloway band. It was Bauza who, in 146, recommended to Gillespie the extraordinary percussionist Chano Pozo, recently arrived from Cuba. Vain and a brawler, Pozo had built up a solid reputation in Havana as a conga player and composer. He belonged to a secret mutual aid society, the nanigo, that had originated in Nigeria and whose membership was limited to men who had proved their courage and virility. He was therefore well-placed to understand AfroCuban -ritual chants and the more arcane features of the rumba.

Impressed by his drumming, singing and dancing, Gillespie hired Pozo to play in his big band. But the Cubans rhythms clashed with those of the bands existing drummer, Kenny Clarke, since the downbeat of traditional jazz differed from that of Cuban music. Gillespie set about explaining jazz phrasing to Pozo, and the results were the classics of Latin jazz Manteca and Tin Tin Deo.

Latin jazz was also gathering momentum in Cuba, where some excellent bands were formed. But the Havana clubs, catering for the foreign tourist trade, generally preferred to hire bland cosmopolitan showbands rather than feature the invigprating local music. Nonetheless, the instruments and harmonies of jazz fused with Cuban percussion and rhythms in the remarkable big bands led by Bebo Valdes and Benny More.

Back in New York, Chano Pozo was shot dead in a Harlem bar in December 148 at the age of thirty-three. But he had paved the way for a stream of other Latin percussionists to record with jazz musicians.

Cuban jazz moved out of the limelight in the late 150s. h was Dizzy Gillespie who reanimated the Latin sound in the ensuing decade by bringing in fresh, Brazilian blood. On a trip to Rio he heard the popular samba and bossa nova, and brought the new sounds back with him to New York. In fact bossa nova, which had been created by the guitarist Joao Gilberto and popularized by the composers Carlos Jobim and Vinicius dc Moraes and the guitarist Baden Powell, already reflected a jazz influence. Unlike samba, which was carnival music, bossa nova was calm and sophisticated, full of refined and unexpected harmonies. Its principal charm, though, lay in its distinctive driving rhythm, the batida, born of a slight asynchronization between the melody and its accompaniment that created a climate of ambiguity, as though the music were floating, suspended between beats.

Stan Getz made the new rhythm his own, and even while he was still coming to grips with its complexities made the album Bossa Nova that was to be one of his greatest successes. Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Byrd and the musicians of the Modern Jazz Quartet (which played with the Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida) also showed an interest in the subtle, swaying rhythms of bossa nova and in the sambas irrepressible energy.

In the early 150s, Latin jazz combos gradually supplanted the big bands, made obsolete by the rise of rock n roll. In 15 the English pianist George Shearing formed a group in California that included several Cuban percussionists, one of whom was Mongo Santamaria. Shearing brought discs by local pianists back from Havana-, he was particularly struck by their rhythmic understatement and their habit of playing melodic lines with both hands at once.

New York combos and Havana big bands

The other great combo of the 150s was formed by Santamaria himself in New York, for as well as being an outstanding percussionist in the AfroCuban tradition he was also a formidable talent scout. First he hired the still-unknown Brazilian pianist joao Donato, then Chick Corea, Hubert Laws and other future jazz stars. In the 160s Santamaria spent some time in Brazil, fascinated by Afro-American music as well as Latin rhythms (Watermelon Man was his first big hit). He managed to integrate these different influences in a cohesive style that reflected his own strong personality.

In the 170s, the young Colombian Justo Almario, a magisterially talented flautist, saxophonist, arranger and composer, collaborated with Santamaria, bringing fresh dynamism to the line-up. Witness the superb 7-be Promised Land, in which a richly harmonic passage for flute and saxophone follows a prelude reflecting the influence of john Coltrane; while Almarios improvisation with Al Williams on Song for You is one of the most exquisite and rigorously constructed flute solos to be heard in either the jazz or Latin traditions. On his Ubane album, Santamaria introduced the cumbia, a traditional Colombian rhythm played on the hand drum, while on Red Hot he featured a richly melodic little samba of Almarios.

Politics cut Cuba off from America after 160, but young Cuban musicians nonetheless continued eagerly to soak up the jazz influence. It came as a surprise to Dizzy Gillespie, when he visited Havana in 177, to find just how high a standard the local musicians had maintained. His present big band includes three Cubans the trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, whom he met in Havana; the drummer Ignacio Berroa; and the saxophonist Paquito DRivera. Gillesple, a long-time connoisseur of tropical rhythms, also hired, alongside his American sidemen, a Puerto Rican percussionist, a Panamanian pianist, a Dominican saxophonist, three Brazilians and a trombone player of Mexican descent.

Two years after Gillespies Cuban trip, the Havana-based band Irakere, mixing African drums, electric guitars and synthesizers, swept into the United States like a musical whirlwind, carrying off a Grammy award-the nations highest music-industry honour.

The present generation of Cuban musicians remains open to outside ideas, but combines the search for a determinedly new sound with the desire to remain within the islands musical heritage. Among the best of them is the young pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, a scion of one of the islands most distinguished musical dynasties whose group has performed successfully at several international festivals.

Brazil, like Cuba traditionally a musical melting pot, also has an active Latin-jazz scene. To create original sounds, the Zimbo Trio, guitarists Egberto Sigmondi and Toninho Horta, the saxophonist Paolo Moura, the pianist Wagner Tiso and the multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal all draw on a variety of sources samba, bossa nova, the folk traditions of the Northeast coast, and the music of the African-inspired cults, batucada, candomble and afoxe

Hailing from Belo Horizonte, Milton Nascimento draws inspiration from his native Minas Gerais for his moving and dream-like music, full of unfamiliar harmonies, whose rhythms are unlike those of the samba and the bossa nova. The poignant beauty of his compositions has attracted the attention of such American jazz musicians as Stanley Turrentine, Sarah Vaughan and Herbie Hancock, all of whom have provided loving cover versions.

On the whole, however, the Brazilian music industry has not proved very welcoming to Latin jazz, so many of the best practitioners such as Airto Moreira, Tania Maria, Eliane Elias and Dom Salvador have found larger audiences for their music abroad, particularly in the United States. In American clubs and recording studios, the jazz and Latin traditions continue to enrich each other as happily as in the past, and Brazilian music still offers jazz its subtle harmonic palette.

In New York, a magnet for people of many cultures, Latin jazz is currently engaged in a process of intense cross-fertilization. Besides the Brazilians, there are Argentine musicians drawing on the lyrical inspiration of the tango, Colombians with the warm rhythms of the cumbia, Dominicans with the turbulent merengue, as well as musicians brought up to the rhythms of the languid jamaican calypso, the cadenced tamborcito of Panama and the fiery bomba and plena of Puerto Rico. New York Puerto Ricans like Tito Puente, growing up at the meeting place of all these divergent styles, integrate many different influences in their music, including jazz, soul, salsa and Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican folklore. The Cubans who arrived after 180, among them Paquito DRivera and Ignacio Berroa as well as the master-drummers Daniel Ponce and Puntilla, also spice their music with the rhythm of the songo, invented in Havana in the 170s, as well as with elements of the black traditional music of their homeland.

Today Latin jazz is enjoyed around the world by a growing number of enthusiasts. Bands from Africa, Japan and Europe happily try their hand at it, showing that while it is sometimes difficult for the different nations to reach political accord, musical unity is already a reality.

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