Afro-Cuban Jazz
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Afro-Cuban Jazz

Afro-Cuban jazz is the earliest form of Latin jazz. It mixes Afro-Cuban clave-based rhythms with jazz harmonies and techniques of improvisation.

Afro-Cuban jazz first emerged in the early 1940s with the Cuban musicians Mario Bauzá and Frank Grillo "Machito" in the band Machito and his Afro-Cubans, based in New York City. In 1947, the collaborations of bebop innovator Dizzy Gillespie with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo brought Afro-Cuban rhythms and instruments, most notably the tumbadora and the bongo, into the East Coast jazz scene. Early combinations of jazz with Cuban music, such as Dizzy's and Pozo's "Manteca" and Charlie Parker's and Machito's "Mangó Mangüé", were commonly referred to as "Cubop", short for Cuban bebop.[1] During its first decades, the Afro-Cuban jazz movement was stronger in the United States than in Cuba itself.[2]

In the early 1970s, the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna and later Irakere brought Afro-Cuban jazz into the Cuban music scene, influencing new styles such as songo.


"Spanish tinge"--the Cuban influence in early jazz

Although true clave-based Afro-Cuban jazz did not appear until the mid-twentieth century, the Cuban influence was present at the birth of jazz. African American music began incorporating Afro-Cuban musical motifs in the nineteenth century, when the habanera gained international popularity. The habanera was the first written music to be rhythmically based on an African motif. The habanera rhythm (also known as congo,[3]tango-congo,[4] or tango.[5]) can be thought of as a combination of tresillo and the backbeat.

    \new Staff <<
       \relative c' {
           \clef percussion
           \time 2/4   
           \repeat volta 2 { g8. g16 d'8 g, }

Musicians from Havana and New Orleans would take the twice-daily ferry between both cities to perform, and the habanera quickly took root in the musically fertile Crescent City. John Storm Roberts states that the musical genre habanera, "reached the U.S. 20 years before the first rag was published" (1999: 12).[6]Scott Joplin's "Solace" (1909) is considered a habanera.

For the more than quarter-century in which the cakewalk, ragtime, and proto-jazz were forming and developing, the habanera was a consistent part of African American popular music.[7] Early New Orleans jazz bands had habaneras in their repertoire and the tresillo/habanera figure was a rhythmic staple of jazz at the turn of the 20th century. Comparing the music of New Orleans with the music of Cuba, Wynton Marsalis observes that tresillo is the New Orleans "clave".[8] Although technically, the pattern is only half a clave, Marsalis makes the important point that the single-celled figure is the guide-pattern of New Orleans music.

WC Handy age 19, 1892

"St. Louis Blues" (1914) by W.C. Handy has a habanera/tresillo bass line. The first measures are shown below.

      \new PianoStaff <<
        \new Staff <<
            \relative c'' {
                \clef treble \key g \major \time 2/2
                \partial4. d8 d d
                <g, bes d>8 <g~ bes~ d~>4. <g bes d>2
                r8 <g c> c cis <g d'> <g bes>4.
                <d~ fis~ a~>1
                <d~ fis~ a~>2 <d fis a>8 <fis a c> <fis a c> <fis a c>
        \new Staff <<
            \relative c {
                \clef bass \key g \major \time 2/2
                \partial4. r8 r4
                g4. g'8 <bes d>4 g
                <c, es g c>1
                d,4. fis'8 <a c>4 fis
                <d, d'>4. fis'8 <a c>4 fis
    >> }

Handy noted a reaction to the habanera rhythm included in Will H. Tyler's "Maori": "I observed that there was a sudden, proud and graceful reaction to the rhythm...White dancers, as I had observed them, took the number in stride. I began to suspect that there was something Negroid in that beat." After noting a similar reaction to the same rhythm in "La Paloma", Handy included this rhythm in his "St. Louis Blues," the instrumental copy of "Memphis Blues," the chorus of "Beale Street Blues," and other compositions."[9]

Jelly Roll Morton

Jelly Roll Morton considered the tresillo/habanera (which he called the Spanish tinge) to be an essential ingredient of jazz.[10] Morton stated, "Now in one of my earliest tunes, "New Orleans Blues," you can notice the Spanish tinge. In fact, if you can't manage to put tinges of Spanish in your tunes, you will never be able to get the right seasoning, I call it, for jazz--Morton (1938: Library of Congress Recording)."[11] An excerpt of "New Orleans Blues" is shown below. In the excerpt, the left hand plays the tresillo rhythm, while the right hand plays variations on cinquillo.

      \new PianoStaff <<
        \new Staff <<
            \relative c'' {
                \clef treble \key bes \major \time 2/2
                f8 <f, f'> <g g'> <f~ cis'> <f d'> <f f'> <g d' g>4 
                r8 <f f'> <g g'> <f~ cis'> <f d'> <f f'> <g d' g>4 
                r8 <f d' f> <g d' g> <f~ cis'> <f d'> <f d' f> <g d' g> <f d' f> 
        \new Staff <<
            \relative c {
                \clef bass \key bes \major \time 2/2
                <bes bes'>4. <f' d'>8~ <f d'>4 <f, f'>4
                <bes f' bes>4. <f' d'>8~ <f d'>4 <f, f'>4
                <bes f' bes>4. <f' d'>8~ <f d'>4 <f, f'>4
    >> }

Although the exact origins of jazz syncopation may never be known, there's evidence that the habanera/tresillo was there at its conception. Buddy Bolden, the first known jazz musician, is credited with creating the big four, a habanera-based pattern. The big four (below) was the first syncopated bass drum pattern to deviate from the standard on-the-beat march.[12] As the example below shows, the second half of the big four pattern is the habanera rhythm.

    \new Staff <<
       \relative c' {
           \clef percussion
           \time 4/4   
           \repeat volta 2 { g8 \xNote a' g, \xNote a' g, \xNote a'16. g,32 g8 <g \xNote a'> }
           \repeat volta 2 { r8 \xNote a'\noBeam g, \xNote a' g, \xNote a'16. g,32 g8 <g \xNote a'> }

In Early Jazz; Its Roots and Musical Development, Gunther Schuller states

It is probably safe to say that by and large the simpler African rhythmic patterns survived in jazz... because they could be adapted more readily to European rhythmic conceptions. Some survived, others were discarded as the Europeanization progressed. It may also account for the fact that patterns such as [tresillo have]... remained one of the most useful and common syncopated patterns in jazz.[13]

The Cuban influence is evident in many pre-1940s jazz tunes, but rhythmically, they are all based on single-celled motifs such as tresillo, and do not contain an overt two-celled, clave-based structure. "Caravan", written by Juan Tizol and first performed in 1936, is an example of an early pre-Latin jazz composition. It is not clave-based. On the other hand, jazzy renditions of Don Azpiazú's "The Peanut Vendor" ("El manicero") by Louis Armstrong (1930), Duke Ellington (1931), and Stan Kenton (1948), are all firmly in-clave since the 2-3 guajeo provides the primary counterpoint to the melody throughout the entire song.

Mario Bauzá and Machito

The general consensus among musicians and musicologists is that the first original jazz piece to be overtly based in-clave was "Tanga" (1943) composed by Cuban-born Mario Bauza and recorded by Machito and his Afro-Cubans. "Tanga" began humbly, as a spontaneous descarga (Cuban jam session) with jazz solos superimposed on top.

The first descarga that made the world take notice is traced to a Machito rehearsal on May 29, 1943, at the Park Palace Ballroom, at 110th Street and 5th Avenue. At this time, Machito was at Fort Dix (New Jersey) in his fourth week of basic training. The day before at La Conga Club, Mario Bauzá, Machito's trumpeter and music director, heard pianist Luis Varona and bassist Julio Andino play El Botellero composition and arrangements of the Cuban-born Gilberto Valdez which would serve as a permanent sign off (end the dance) tune.

On this Monday evening, Dr. Bauzá leaned over the piano and instructed Varona to play the same piano vamp he did the night before. Varona's left hand began the introduction of Gilberto Valdés' El Botellero. Bauzá then instructed Julio Andino what to play; then the saxes; then the trumpets. The broken chord sounds soon began to take shape into an Afro-Cuban jazzed up melody. Gene Johnson's alto sax then emitted oriental-like jazz phrases. Afro-Cuban jazz was invented when Bauzá composed "Tanga" (African word for marijuana) that evening.

Thereafter, whenever "Tanga" was played, it sounded different, depending on a soloist's individuality. In August, 1948, when trumpeter Howard McGhee soloed with Machito's orchestra at the Apollo Theatre, his ad-libs to "Tanga" resulted in "Cu-Bop City," a tune which was recorded by Roost Records months later. The jams which took place at the Royal Roots, Bop City and Birdland between 1948 - 49, when Howard McGhee, tenor saxophonist Brew Moore, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie sat in with the Machito orchestra, were unrehearsed, uninhibited, unheard of before jam sessions which at the time, master of ceremonies Symphony Sid called Afro-Cuban jazz.

The Machito orchestra's ten- or fifteen-minute jams were the first in Latin music to break away from the traditional under-four-minute recordings. In February, 1949, the Machito orchestra became the first to set a precedent in Latin music when it featured tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips in a five-minute recording of "Tanga." The twelve-inch 78 RPM, part of The Jazz Scene album, sold for $25.

-- Max Salazar (1997).[14]
Machito and his sister Graciella Grillo

The right hand of the "Tanga" piano guajeo is in the style known as ponchando, a type of non-arpeggiated guajeo using block chords. The sequence of attack-points is emphasized, rather than a sequence of different pitches. As a form of accompaniment it can be played in a strictly repetitive fashion or as a varied motif akin to jazz comping.[15] The following example is in the style of a 1949 recording by Machito, with René Hernández on piano.[16]

      \new PianoStaff <<
        \new Staff <<
            \relative c' {
                \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 2 = 100
                \clef treble \key c \major \time 4/4
                <g c e>4 r <f bes d> r <g c e> r8[ <f bes d>] r[ <f bes d>] r4
        \new Staff <<
            \relative c {
                \clef bass \key c \major \time 4/4
                \bar ".|:"
                c8 g c,4 bes'8 f bes,4 c'8 g c, bes' r[ bes] bes,4 \bar ":|."
    >> }

10 Innovations by the Machito's Afro-Cubans

  1. The first band to make the triumverate of congas, bongo, and timbales the standard battery of percussion in Afro-Cuban based dance music. Because of this, all three instruments heightened their respective roles in Afro-Cuban based dance music. The use of broken bell patterns by the bongocero in mambo horn sections, the increased rhythmic vocabulary of the conga drum and its function in a band setting, the increase importance of the timbales role in setting up figures played by the horns and accenting them as a jazz drummer would do in a big band. e.g. "Nagüe," also the first recorded example of all three percussion instruments playing as a section.
  2. The first band to explore jazz arranging techniques with authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms on a consistent basis giving it a unique identifiable sound that no other band in the genre of Afro-Cuban based dance music had at the time. Cuban big band arranger Chico O'Farill stated: "This was a new concept in interpretating Cuban music with as much (harmonic) richness as possible. You have to understand how important this was. It made every other band that came after, followers."[17]
  3. The first band to explore modal harmony (a concept explored much later by Miles Davis and Gil Evans) from a jazz arranging perspective through their recording of "Tanga." Of note is the sheet of sound effect in the arrangement through the use of multiple layering.
  4. The first big band to explore, from an Afro-Cuban rhythmic perspective, large-scale extended compositional works. e.g. "The Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite" by Chico O'Farill.
  5. The first band to successfully wed jazz big band arranging techniques within an original composition with jazz oriented soloists utilizing an authentic Afro-Cuban based rhythm section in a successful manner. e.g. Gene Johnson - alto, Brew Moore - tenor, composition - "Tanga" (1943).
  6. The first TRULY multi-racial band in the United States.
  7. The first band in the United States to publicly utilize the term Afro-Cuban as the bands moniker (Machito & The Afro-Cubans), thus identifying itself and acknowledging the West African roots of the musical form they were playing. This was/is in and of itself a long overlooked contribution by the orchestra in effect to the then burgeoning civil rights movement. It forced both NYC's Latino and African American communities to deal with their common West African musical roots in a direct way, whether they wanted to publicly acknowledge it or not.
  8. The first Afro-Cuban based dance band to OVERTLY explore the concept of clave conterpoint from an arranging standpoint. The ability to weave seamlessly from one side of the clave to the other without breaking its rhythmic integrity within the structure of a musical arrangement.
  9. The band because of its forward thinking, musical director, Mario Bauzá, and its lead vocalist, Machito, promoted and set a standard of professionalism and musical excellence that had to be met by other subsequent band leaders. José Curbelo, Tito Puente, Marcelino Guerra, Tito Rodriguez, Elmo Garcia and any other group that followed. Although it could be clearly argued that Xavier Cugat had established an extremely high level of professionalism much earlier with his orchestra at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel (1931), the sound emulated by the majority of bandleaders in NYC was not that of Cugat, but that of the Machito Afro-Cubans. Cugat performed for NYC's high society elite and not for NYC's Latino community, which was concentrated in East Harlem (El Barrio) and subsequently the South Bronx. Cugat's sound was one they may have experienced through recordings on radio, but this community had little direct live access to it both because of their social and economic strata.
  10. The Machito Afro-Cubans provided a proving ground for the exchange of progressive musical ideas, experiences, and performance of musical compositions and arrangements for Afro-Cuban based dance music and its fusion with jazz arranging techniques along with jazz oriented soloists in a multi-racial framework that had not existed until the orchestra was formed. Because of this, they completely revolutionized the way Afro-Cuban dance music and in a sense, the way jazz was played. Dizzy Gillespie and "Manteca" would never have even existed if it were not for the existence of Mario Bauzá and his influence on Dizzy Gillespie. Tito Puente's musical genius would not have developed in the way it did if this orchestra had not existed--Sanabria (2008).[18]

Mario Bauzá developed the 3-2 / 2-3 clave concept and terminology. A chord progression can begin on either side of clave. When the progression begins on the three-side, the song or song section is said to be in 3-2 clave. When the chord progression begins on the two-side, it is in 2-3 clave.[19]

\new RhythmicStaff {
   \clef percussion
   \time 2/2
   \repeat volta 2 { c4.^\markup { "3-2 son clave" } c8 r4 c r c c r }

\new RhythmicStaff {
   \clef percussion
   \time 2/2
   \repeat volta 2 { r4^\markup { "2-3 son clave" } c c r c4. c8 r4 c }

In North America, salsa and Latin jazz charts commonly represent clave in two measures of cut-time (2/2); this is most likely the influence of jazz conventions.[20] When clave is written in two measures (above) changing from one clave sequence to the other is a matter of reversing the order of the measures. Bauzá consciously maintained a balance of Latino and jazz musicians in Machito's band, in order to realize his vision of Afro-Cuban jazz. Bauzá had the unique experience of mastering both types of music, but it took time for him to teach the jazz musicians in Machito's band about clave. The first time jazz trumpeter Doc Cheatham joined the band, Machito had to fire him after just two nights because he couldn't cope with clave.[21]

When Mario first utilized Edgar Sampson to write the very first drafts of arrangements for the Machito and his Afro-Cubans, he would draw three sticks for Sampson underneath the bar with the three-side and two sticks underneath the bar with the two-side. This way he would always know rhythmically where he was in the chart and supervise Sampson who was unaware of the clave concept in Cuban music. Mario utilized Sampson's harmonic mastery and Mario utilized his rhythmic mastery. Sampson asked Mario "Why does it have to be this way?" Mario told me that he looked at Sampson and said "This is what makes Cuban music Cuban!"

-- Sanabria (2010: 248).[22]

Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo

Dizzy Gillespie (1955)

Mario Bauzá introduced bebop innovator Dizzy Gillespie to the Cuban conga drummer, dancer, composer, and choreographer Chano Pozo. The brief collaboration of Gillespie and Pozo produced some of the most enduring Afro-Cuban jazz standards. "Manteca" (1947), co-written by Gillespie and Pozo, is the first jazz standard to be rhythmically based on clave. According to Gillespie, Pozo composed the layered, contrapuntal guajeos (Afro-Cuban ostinatos) of the A section and the introduction, while Gillespie wrote the bridge. Gillespie recounted: "If I'd let it go like [Chano] wanted it, it would have been strickly Afro-Cuban all the way. There wouldn't have been a bridge. I thought I was writing an eight-bar bridge, but after eight bars I hadn't resolved back to B-flat, so I had to keep going and ended up writing a sixteen-bar bridge."[23] It was the bridge that gave "Manteca" a typical jazz harmonic structure, setting the piece apart from Bauzá's modal "Tanga" of a few years earlier. Arrangements with a "Latin" A section and a swung B section, with all choruses swung during solos, became common practice with many "Latin tunes" of the jazz standard repertoire. This approach can be heard on pre-1980 recordings of "Manteca", "A Night in Tunisia", "Tin Tin Deo," and "On Green Dolphin Street."

Gillespie's collaboration with Pozo brought African-based rhythms into bebop, a post-modernist artform. While pushing the boundaries of harmonic improvisation, cu-bop as it was called, also drew more directly from Africa, rhythmically.

Early performances of "Manteca" reveal that despite their enthusiasm for collaborating, Gillespie and Pozo were not very familiar with each other's music. The members of Gillespie's band were unaccustomed to guajeos, overly swinging and accenting them in an atypical fashion. Thomas Owens observes: "Once the theme ends and the improvisation begins, . . . Gillespie and the full band continue the bebop mood, using swing eighths in spite of Pozo's continuing even eighths, until the final A section of the theme returns. Complete assimilation of Afro-Cuban rhythms and improvisations on a harmonic ostinato was still a few years away for the beboppers in 1947."[24] On a live 1948 recording of "Manteca," someone is heard playing the 3-2 son clave pattern on claves throughout a good portion of this 2-3 song.[25]

The rhythm of the melody of the A section is identical to a common mambo bell pattern.

Top: opening measures of "Manteca" melody. Bottom: common mambo bell pattern (2-3 clave).

Other notables

In early 1947 Stan Kenton recorded "Machito," written by his collaborator / arranger Pete Rugolo.[26] Some consider the piece to be the first Afro-Cuban jazz recording by American jazz musicians. John Storm Roberts observes that the piece "has no Latino instrumentalists on it, a lack of that is obvious; the crisp, fast montuno with which the piece opens is weighed down by not-so-adept drumming from Shelly Mann."[26] Later, on December 6 of the same year, Kenton recorded an arrangement of the son "The Peanut Vendor" with members of Machito's rhythm section. Kenton continued to work with Afro-Cuban rhythms and musicians for another decade; the 1956 Kenton album Cuban Fire! was written as an Afro-Cuban suite by Johnny Richards.

Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaría first recorded his composition "Afro Blue" in 1959.[27] "Afro Blue" was the first jazz standard built upon a typical African three-against-two (3:2) cross-rhythm, or hemiola.[28] The song begins with the bass repeatedly playing 6 cross-beats per each measure of 12/8, or 6 cross-beats per 4 main beats--6:4 (two cells of 3:2). The following example shows the original ostinato "Afro Blue" bass line. The slashed noteheads indicate the main beats (not bass notes), where you would normally tap your foot to "keep time."

    \new Staff <<
       \new voice \relative c {
           \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"acoustic bass"
           \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 4 = 105
           \time 12/8
           \clef bass        
           \stemUp \repeat volta 2 { d4 a'8~ a d4 d,4 a'8~ a d4 }
       \new voice \relative c {
           \override = #'cross
           \stemDown \repeat volta 2 { g4. g g g }

In the mid-1940s the mambo craze originated with the recordings of Perez Prado, who included jazz elements, and ideas from Stravinsky in his arrangements.[29] The giants of this era in New York were Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, and Machito and his Afro-Cubans. Also important was the great double-bass player Cachao (Israel López), who organized a number of descargas (jam sessions) in Havana (1950s) and New York (1970s). One of the most respected Afro-Cuban jazz combos was led by vibraphonist Cal Tjader. Tjader had Mongo Santamaría, Armando Peraza, and Willie Bobo on his early recording dates. In 1975 Tjader hired a young Poncho Sanchez to fill the conga chair. Sanchez went on to become one of the most successful Latin jazz artists.

Guajeos (Afro-Cuban ostinato melodies), or guajeo fragments are commonly used motifs in Latin jazz melodies. For example, the A section of "Sabor" is a 2-3 onbeat/offbeat guajeo, minus some notes. The following excerpt is from a performance by Cal Tjader.

A section of "Sabor" by João Donato, as arranged by Mark Levine, and performed by Cal Tjader.

1980s New York City

Jerry Gonzalez (2011)

Afro-Cuban jazz has been for most of its history, a matter of superimposing jazz phrasing over Cuban rhythms. However, by the early 1980s a generation of New York City musicians had come of age playing both salsa dance music and jazz. The time had come for a new level of integration of jazz and Cuban rhythms. This era of creativity and vitality is best represented by the Gonzalez brothers Jerry and Andy, who in 1967, at the ages of 15 and 13, formed a Latin jazz quintet inspired by Cal Tjader's group.[30] Jerry plays congas and trumpet and Andy plays bass. During 1974-1976 they were members of one of Eddie Palmieri's most experimental salsa groups. Andy Gonzalez recounts: "We were into improvising. . . doing that thing Miles Davis was doing--playing themes and just improvising on the themes of songs, and we never stopped playing through the whole set."[31] While in Palmieri's band the Gonzalez brothers started showing up in the Down Beat Reader's Poll. In 1974, the Gonzalez brothers and Manny Oquendo founded the progressive salsa band Libre. While in the band, the brothers began experimenting with jazz, using a variety of authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms. Libre recorded Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee" as a danzón, Miles Davis's "Tune Up" as a conga de comparsa, and Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" as a mambo. In 1979, Jerry Gonzalez released his first album as a leader: Ya yo me curé. His Afro 6/8 rendition of Wayne Shorter's "Nefertiti," accompanied by three shekeres and a hoe blade as the only percussion, was a jazz milesone. Soon he formed his best-known band: Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band which included his brother Andy and other members as Kenny Kirkland, Sonny Fortune, Nicky Marrero, Milton Cardona, Papo Vazquez and the late Jorge Dalto. The ensembles first two albums were recorded live at European jazz festivals, The River is Deep (1982) in Berlin and Obatalá (1988) in Zurich. These were followed by their hit album, Rumba Para Monk (1988), earning them recognition from the French Academie du Jazz with the Jazz Record of the Year award. This was the record that caught the ears of the jazz community, and is still considered a stellar project. After that, the 15 member-band was compressed into a sextet: Larry Willis (piano), Andy Gonzalez (bass), Steve Berrios (Drums) and Carter Jefferson (sax) and Joe Ford (sax). The Fort Apache Band had established by this time, a new standard for the integration of jazz and Afro-Cuban music.

Rebeca Mauleón in action

In the 1980s Tito Puente began recording and performing Latin jazz on a permanent basis. The Gonzalez brothers worked with Puente, as well as Dizzy Gillespie. Even McCoy Tyner hired the brothers when he tried his hand at this deeper level of Afro-Cuban jazz. The new wave of Latin jazz artists from the Big Apple include Bobby Sanabria, Steve Turre, Conrad Herwig, Hilton Ruiz, Chris Washburn, Ralph Irizarry, David Sánchez, and Dave Valentine.

Global resurgence in Afro-Cuban jazz

The new wave of Afro-Cuban jazz became global. In the San Francisco Bay Area John Santos' Machete Ensemble featured a stellar line up of artists who have gone on to record in the genre under their own names: Rebeca Mauleón, Wayne Wallace, and John Calloway. Other notable Bay Area musicians include Michael Spiro, Latin jazz veteran Mark Levine, and the Cuban-born Omar Sosa and Orestes Vilato.

Jan L. Hartong's Nueva Manteca is based in The Hague, Netherlands and Yilian Cañizares in Lausanne, Switzerland.[32]

The Cuban branch

"Jazz bands" began forming in Cuba as early as the 1920s. These bands often included both Cuban popular music and popular North American jazz, and show tunes in their repertoires. Despite this musical versatility, the movement of blending Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz was not strong in Cuba itself for decades. As Leonardo Acosta observes: "Afro-Cuban jazz developed simultaneously in New York and Havana, with the difference that in Cuba it was a silent and almost natural process, practically imperceptible" (2003: 59).[33] Cuba's significant contribution to the genre came relatively late. However, when it did come, the Cubans exhibited a level of Cuban-jazz integration that went far beyond most of what had come before. The first Cuban band of this new wave was Irakere.

With Irakere, a new era in Cuban jazz begins in 1973, one that will extend all the way to the present. At the same time, this period represents the culmination of a series of individual and collective efforts from our so-called transition period, which will end with the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. Irakere was in part a product of the Moderna, as its founding members completed their musical training in that orchestra and also played jazz in the different quartets and quintets that were created with the OCMM. Among the founders of Irakere were pianist Chucho Valdéz, its director since the beginning, [and] saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, who acted as assistant director--Acosta (2003: 211).[34]

"Chékere-son" (1976) introduced a style of "Cubanized" bebop-flavored horn lines, that departed from the more "angular" guajeo-based lines typical of Cuban popular music.

"Chékere-son" is an extremely interesting one. It's based on a legendary 1945 Charlie Parker bebop composition called "Billie's Bounce." Almost every phrase of the Parker song can be found in "Chékere-son" but it's all jumbled together in a very clever and compelling way. David Peñalosa sees the track as a pivotal one - perhaps the first really satisfying fusion of clave and bebop horn lines--Moore (2011: web).[35]

The horn line style introduced in "Chékere-son" is heard today in Afro-Cuban jazz, and the contemporary popular dance genre known as timba. Another important Irakere contribution is their use of batá and other Afro-Cuban folkloric drums. "Bacalao con pan" is the first song recorded by Irakere to use batá. The tune combines the folkloric drums, jazzy dance music, and distorted electric guitar with wah-wah pedal.

According to Raúl A. Fernández, the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna members would not have been allowed by the orquesta to record the unconventional song. The musicians travelled to Santiago to record it. "somehow the tune made it from Santiago to radio stations in Havana where it became a hit; Irakere was formally organized a little bit later" (2011: web).[36]

Ironically, several of the founding members did not always appreciate Irakere's fusion of jazz and Afro-Cuban elements. They saw the Cuban folk elements as a type of nationalistic "fig leaf," cover for their true love--jazz. They were obsessed with jazz. Cuba's Ministry of Culture is said to have viewed jazz as the music of "imperialist America." Pablo Menéndez, founder of Mezcla, recalls: "Irakere were jazz musicians who played stuff like 'Bacalao con pan' with a bit of a tongue in cheek attitude--'for the masses.' I remember Paquito d'Rivera thought it was pretty funny stuff (as opposed to 'serious' stuff)" (2011: web).[37] In spite of the ambivalence by some members towards Irakere's Afro-Cuban folkloric/jazz fusion, their experiments forever changed Cuban popular music, Latin jazz, and salsa.

Another important Cuban jazz musician is pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whose innovative jazz guajeos revolutionized Cuban-style piano in the 1980s. Like the musicians of his generation who founded the timba era, Rubalcaba is a product of the Cuban music education system. Initially he studied both piano and drums. Rubalcaba began his classical musical training at Manuel Saumell Conservatory at age 9, where he had to choose piano; he moved up to "middle-school" at Amadeo Roldan Conservatory, and finally earned his degree in music composition from Havana's Institute of Fine Arts in 1983. By that time he was already playing in clubs and music halls in Havana.

Egrem Studios of Havana was the first to record his music during the early and mid '80's, and these discs are still being released (recently Inicio, an album of piano solos, and Concierto Negro.) With Orquesta Aragon he toured France and Africa in 1980. He introduced his own Grupo Projecto to the North Sea and Berlin Festivals in 1985. Beginning in 1986 Gonzalo began recording for Messidor of Frandfurt, Germany, and put out three albums for that label with his Cuban Quartet, Mi Gran Pasion, Live in Havana, and Giraldilla.

Today, Afro-Cuban jazz from Cuba is consistently the most rhythmically complex form of Latin jazz. Many outstanding Cuban jazz bands, such as the saxophonist Tony Martinez's group, perform at a level few non-Cubans can match rhythmically. The clave matrix offers infinite possibilities for rhythmic textures in jazz. The Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto in particular, has been a trailblazer in expanding the parameters of clave experimentation. See: "Drum Solo with Displaced Clave" (Dafnis Prieto). In other forms of virtuosity, the Afro-Cuban jazz singer, Daymé Arocena, has been described as a "cross between Celia Cruz and Aretha Franklin".[38]

Clave license

More than a half century ago, Mario Bauzá developed arranging in-clave to a high art. Another name for clave is guide-pattern, and that is certainly how Bauzá related to it. Bauzá taught Tito Puente, and Puente's arrangers in turn, learned from him.[39] The techniques were passed down from one generation to the next. It's worth noting that many of the highly educated, new generation of Cuban musicians reject the idea of 3-2/2-3 clave. Both the clave genius Dafnis Prieto, and Alain Pérez, an important innovator in timba and Cuban jazz, reject the concept.[40] Many of the younger musicians even reject the fundamental concept of "clave rules." Pérez states: "I just don't treat the clave as a study or a profound analysis conceived around where it overlaps and where it comes in. I didn't learn it in that way" (2002: web).[41] New York-based Bobby Sanabria laments the pervasiveness of this attitude in Cuba: "The lack of clave consciousness in Cuba is starting to be felt more and more where the rhythmic equilibrium established by the clave direction is being sacrificed due to lack of knowledge in how to work with it from an arranging standpoint by young arrangers especially in the timba movement" (2010: 251).[42] Perhaps Juan Formell, founder of Los Van Van, summed up this contemporary Cuban clave attitude best when he said: "We Cubans like to think we have clave license . . . and we don't feel obsessed about the clave as many others do" (1999: 16).[43] There is currently a "clave schism" between these two schools of thought.

Important albums

Machito's Kenya: Afro-Cuban Jazz was released in 1958, when Afro-Cuban jazz was no longer fresh and original, and was slipping into cliché and formula, but as there are not many classic Afro-Cuban jazz albums, this is regarded by Tony Wilds of Allmusic as "essential".[44]

Other important albums:


  1. ^ Fernandez, Raul A. (2006). From Afro-Cuban rhythms to Latin jazz. University of California Press. p. 62. ISBN 9780520939448. Retrieved 2011.
  2. ^ Acosta, Leonardo (2003: 59). Cubano be, cubano bop: one hundred years of jazz in Cuba. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Books. ISBN 158834147X
  3. ^ Manuel, Peter (2009: 69). Creolizing Contradance in the Caribbean. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  4. ^ Acosta, Leonardo (2003: 5). Cubano Be Cubano Bop; One Hundred Years of Jazz in Cuba. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books.
  5. ^ Mauleón (1999: 4) Salsa Guidebook for Piano and Ensemble. Petaluma, California: Sher Music. ISBN 0-9614701-9-4.
  6. ^ Roberts, John Storm (1999: 12) Latin Jazz. New York: Schirmer Books.
  7. ^ Roberts, John Storm (1999: 16) Latin Jazz. New York: Schirmer Books.
  8. ^ "Wynton Marsalis part 2." 60 Minutes. CBS News (26 Jun 2011).
  9. ^ Father of the Blues: An Autobiography. by W.C. Handy, edited by Arna Bontemps: foreword by Abbe Niles. Macmillan Company, New York; (1941) pages 99,100. no ISBN in this first printing
  10. ^ Roberts, John Storm 1979. The Latin tinge: the impact of Latin American music on the United States. Oxford.
  11. ^ Morton, "Jelly Roll" (1938: Library of Congress Recording) The Complete Recordings By Alan Lomax.
  12. ^ Marsalis, Wynton (2000: DVD n.1). Jazz. PBS
  13. ^ Schuller, Gunther (1968: 19) Early Jazz; Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford Press.
  14. ^ Salazar, Max (1997). "The Beginning and Its Best" Latin Beat Magazine v.7 n. 1.
  15. ^ Peñalosa, David 2010. The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins p. 256. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  16. ^ Moore, Kevin (2009). Beyond Salsa Piano; The Cuban Timba Piano Revolution v.2 Early Cuban Piano Tumbao (1940-1959) p. 17. Santa Cruz, CA: Moore Music/ ISBN 144998018X
  17. ^ Notes from The Mambo Inn -The Story of Mario Bauzá. PBS documentary (1998).
  18. ^ Bobby Sanabria, posting to the Latinjazz discussion list (2008).
  19. ^ Peñalosa, David 2010. The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins p. 133-137. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  20. ^ Mauleón, Rebeca (1993: 52) Salsa Guidebook for Piano and Ensemble. Petaluma, California: Sher Music. ISBN 0-9614701-9-4.
  21. ^ Don Cheatham quoted by Roberts (1999: 78). Latin Jazz.
  22. ^ Bobby Sanabria quoted by David Peñalosa (2010: 248). The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  23. ^ Dizzy Gillespie, from his book To Be or Not to Bop (1985); cited by John Storm Roberts in Latin Jazz 1999. p. 77.
  24. ^ Thomas Owens from his book Bebop: The Music and Its Players; cited by Roberts (1999). Latin Jazz. p. 77.
  25. ^ Dizzy Gillespie and his Big Band, featuring Chano Pozo. GNP CD 23 (1948).
  26. ^ a b Roberts (1999: 73).
  27. ^ "Afro Blue," Afro Roots (Mongo Santamaria) Prestige CD 24018-2 (1959).
  28. ^ Peñalosa, David (2010). The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins p. 26. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  29. ^ Acosta, Leonardo 2003. Cubano be, cubano bop: one hundred years of jazz in Cuba. Smithsonian, Washington, D.C. p. 86 etc
  30. ^ Andy Gonzalez interviewed by Larry Birnbaum. Ed. Boggs, Vernon W. (1992: 297-298). Salsiology; Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313284687
  31. ^ Boggs 1992 p. 290. Andy Gonzalez quote.
  32. ^ "Die Sängerin und Geigerin Yilian Cañizares in Moods". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 16 September 2013. Retrieved 2015.
  33. ^ Acosta (2003: 59). Cubano be, cubano bop: one hundred years of jazz in Cuba. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Books. ISBN 158834147X
  34. ^ Acosta, Leonardo (2003: 211). Cubano be, cubano bop: one hundred years of jazz in Cuba. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Books. ISBN 158834147X
  35. ^ David Peñalosa quoted by Kevin Moore (2011: web). "Areito 3660 and 3926 (1976)," History and Discography of Irakere. Web.
  36. ^ Raúl A. Fernández quoted by Moore (2011: web).
  37. ^ Pablo Menéndez quoted by Moore (2011: web).
  38. ^ "NPR Music's 50 Favorite Albums Of 2015". Retrieved .
  39. ^ Bobby Sanabria quoted by Peñalosa (2010: 248). The Clave Matrix; Afro-Cuban Rhythm: Its Principles and African Origins. Redway, CA: Bembe Inc. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.
  40. ^ Peñalosa (2010: 249).
  41. ^ Interview with Alain Pérez by Pepe Martínez. Web.
  42. ^ Bobby Sanabria quoted by Peñalosa (2010: 251).
  43. ^ Juan Formell quoted by Rebeca Mauleón (1999: 6). 101 Montunos. Petaluma, CA: Sher Publishing.
  44. ^ Tony Wilds. "Kenya: Afro-Cuban Jazz - Machito | AllMusic". Retrieved 2011.

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