Latin Jazz

The musical incorporation of Latin rhythmic elements in jazz has been around almost from its beginnings with the cultural intermingling in New Orleans. Jelly Roll Morton spoke of a “Spanish tinge” in his recorded music of the mid to late ‘20s. Duke Ellington and other bandleaders employed Latin forms.

A major (though not widely acknowledged) presence in the growth of Latin jazz, trumpeter/arranger Mario Bauza brought a Cuban orientation from his native Havana into Chick Webb’s band in the ‘30s, later in the decade moving on to the bands of Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway.

Working with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in Calloway’s band of the late ‘30s, Bauza brought in an influence that clearly led to Gillespie’s big bands of the mid ‘40s, as well as a continuing love affair with Latin musical forms for the remainder of Gillespie’s long career. Bauza went on in 1940 to become the musical mastermind of Machito’s Afro-Cubans, a band fronted by his brother-in-law, singer Frank Grillo, whose nickname was Machito.

There was a continuing flirtation with Latin rhythms through the ‘50s and ‘60s, with the addition of Brazilian samba elements in the bossa nova movement.

The musical melting pot of Latin jazz has spread further in the ‘80s and ‘90s to include not only bands and combos with first-rate improvisers of Latin American heritage but also a blending of domestic and Latin players creating some of the most exciting music on the scene.

This most recent Latin jazz renaissance has clearly been fueled by the influx of foreign players-some of them defectors from Fidel Castro’s Cuban regime-flocking to wider opportunities in New York City and Florida. There’s also a sense that the often intense yet danceable polyrhythmic qualities of the music have created a larger audience for jazz-something visceral to go with the cerebral.

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