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Chucho Valdés, Eliane Elias and Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Latin Music

Latin music encompasses a broad sweep of musical styles including Cuban, mambo, bossa nova, tango and salsa - as well as rock and Hispanic pop. From Mario Bauza to Tito Puente, Chucho Valdés and Gilberto Gil, the genre has spawned no shortage of stars. Nowhere is this lush and fertile musical terrain more evident than in the development of Latin jazz.

Latin Music

Sowing the Seeds of Latin Jazz

An offspring of Latin music, Latin jazz is steeped in the Afro-Cuban percussion rhythms - and instruments - first introduced by African slaves in Cuba in the 16th century. The massive influx of African slaves onto this Caribbean island gave rise to an ethnic and cultural cross-pollination that sowed the seeds of contemporary Latin jazz.

After the abolition of slavery in 1886, a number of black Cuban musicians emigrated to New Orleans, bringing with them the habanera, a local musical genre held by many to be the precursor of ragtime and blues.

Then, when Spain ceded control of Cuba to the United States in 1898, a great many Afro-American musicians discovered the guaracha and the rumba - two of the island's most popular forms of music. Among them was bluesman W.C. Handy, who fell under the spell of the clave rhythms common to several forms of Latin music. His St. Louis Blues bears eloquent testimony to their influence. And Handy wasn't alone. With Tiger Rag, Louis Armstrong also borrowed clave rhythms, as did Jelly Roll Morton in his song New Orleans Joys.

New York, New York

In 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship, and the subsequent flight of newly-minted Americans to New York gave rise, in the 1930s, to the first Latin music orchestras, and to a more "formal" meeting between jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms.

Cab CallowayAmong the musicians who found their way to the U.S. was Cuban trumpeter Mario Bauza, one of the fathers of Latin jazz. Playing with orchestras led by the likes of Chick Webb, Don Redman and Cab Calloway, Bauza sought to fuse the syncopated rhythms of American jazz with Cuban rhythms.

Later, percussionist Machito founded the legendary Machito and His Afro-Cuban Orchestra, with Bauza serving as its artistic director. Machito's was the first orchestra to combine jazz harmonies with a complete Afro-Cuban percussion section. Bauza's 1943 song, Tanga, was a landmark work in the history of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Dizzy's Influence

Dizzy Gillespie Celebrated American jazz trumpeter, Dizzy Gillespie, a fervent lover of Latin jazz, integrated Afro-Cuban percussion into bebop, and much to the delight of fans, Cubop was born. In 1947, Gillespie and percussionist Chano Bozo released Cubop's seminal song, Manteca.

Other musicians to make important contributions were trumpeter Chico O'Farrill, also a prolific composer of arrangements, pianist Chucho Valdés, founder of Irakere, a group that blended jazz, rock and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and of course the great Tito Puente, the King of the Timbales, whose career spanned more than five decades.  

The 1980s and 1990s were marked by a resurgence of Latin jazz big bands, among them Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra and Tito Puente's Golden Latin Jazz All Stars. Also contributing to this renewed interest in Latin jazz was Bauza, with his signature album, My Time is now. And finally, the hugely successful Buena Vista Social Club album, released in 1997, reintroduced the music world to some all-but forgotten giants of Cuban music.

New Generation

Gonzalo Rubalcaba While seasoned musicians such as trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez and El Conguero, Poncho Sanchez, remain active on the current Latin jazz scene, it's the new generation of musicians who're making a splash. Among them are talented pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Omar Sosa, and trombonists Conrad Herwig (The Latin Side of John Coltrane) and Chris Washburne (Land of Nod).


Latin music's many sub-genres

Latin music's many sub-genres include:

  • Son cubano (the Cuban sound): The musical expression of traditional Cuban culture, it first appeared toward the end of the 19th century in Santiago de Cuba. The Cuban sound vaulted to popularity in the United States in the 1930s on the wings of the song El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor). In 1997, it marked a comeback with the eponymous album by the venerable Buena Vista Social Club.
  • Mambo: A form of dance music with roots in Cuba, mambo shot to worldwide success in about 1949 with the song Mambo # 5 by Cuban Pérez Prado, and again in 1954 with billboard successes like Papa Loves Mambo and Mambo Italiano. Riding this new-found wave of popularity were orchestras the Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez orchestras. In 1999, a dance version of Lou Bega's Mambo #5 also captured popular success.
  • Eliane EliasBossa nova: An offshoot of the samba, bossa nova, with its harmonic subtlety and suave vocals, first rose to prominence in Brazil toward the end of the 1950s. In 1963, The Girl from Ipanema, Antonio Carlos Jobim's monster hit from Getz & Gilberto, the album by João Gilberto and Stan Getz, spawned a worldwide love affair with bossa nova. Today's generation of bossa nouveau artists include Eliane Elias and Bebel Gilberto, daughter of the great João.
  • Salsa: Developing out of several Latin rhythms, salsa has roots in Afro-Cuban culture. Popularized by Ray Barretto, Oscar D'León and Eddie Palmieri, the genre enjoyed its golden age in New York in the 1970s, with a blend of percussion, piano, bass, brass and vocals. Pop singer Marc Anthony personifies the new generation of salsa artists.
  • Astor Piazzolla Tango: Tango first emerged in Buenos Aires toward the end of the 19th century, its featured instrument the bandonéon. Argentine bandonéon master and iconic tango figure, Astor Piazzolla, composed a number of tango classics, including Balada para un loco, Libertango and Amelitango. In the popular tango category, La cumparsita is considered a classic. On the current scene, the Gotan Project has gained popular favour with its blend of classic tango and electronic beats.

Fiesta Time at the Festival…

David Sanchez With its zest and pizzazz, Latin music has long coloured the history of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Examples abound: In 1981 illustrious trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie gave an unforgettable concert, now issued on DVD. In 1988, gifted Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba made a very good first impression. In 1993, virtuoso pianist Eddie Palmieri brought his infectious Latin rhythms to the Fest, performing alongside saxophonist Donald Harrison. Five years later, Palmieri was back to play his part in a tribute to Latin vibraphonist Cal Tjader.

In 1997, pianist Chucho Valdés presented a milestone concert as part of a trio with trumpeter Roy Hargrove and saxophonist David Sanchez. The following year, the historic show, Latin Crossing, saw British multi-instrumentalist Steve Winwood share the stage with percussionist Tito Puente and virtuoso trumpet player Arturo Sandoval.

Manu Chao Three years after his countryman Compay Segundo visited the Festival, Cuban singer Ibrahim Ferrer was among the guests of the 2001 edition – both vocalists were key members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Also appearing for the first time that year were Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto and self-described musical globalista Manu Chao.

To mark the Festival's 30th anniversary in 2009, the Afro-Cuban All-Stars and Los Van Van orchestrated the closing ceremonies with the show La fiesta cubana, which turned Sainte-Catherine Street into an open-air dance party.

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