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
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
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
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.
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
While seasoned musicians such as trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez and El
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).
Fiesta Time at the Festival…
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
gave an unforgettable concert, now issued on DVD. In 1988, gifted Cuban pianist
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
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.
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.