The phrase Spanish tinge is a reference to an Afro-Latin rhythmic touch that spices up the more conventional 4
4 rhythms commonly used in jazz and pop music. The phrase is a quotation from Jelly Roll Morton. In his Library of Congress recordings, after referencing the influence of his own French Creole culture in his music, he noted the Spanish (read Cuban) presence:
Then we had Spanish people there. I heard a lot of Spanish tunes. I tried to play them in correct tempo, but I personally didn't believe they were perfected in the tempos. Now take the habanera "La Paloma", which I transformed in New Orleans style. You leave the left hand just the same. The difference comes in the right hand -- in the syncopation, which gives it an entirely different color that really changes the color from red to blue.
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.
What Morton described as a "Spanish" influence did not refer to Spanish culture. What he called "Spanish" were the tresillo and habanera rhythms of the Cuban contradanza ("habanera"). Morton demonstrated the "tinge" to Alan Lomax in the 1938 Library of Congress recordings. What is known in Latin music as the habanera rhythm (also known as the congo,tango-congo, and tango.), and tresillo, are in fact, two of the most basic duple-pulse cells found in sub-Saharan African music traditions.[original research?] They were brought to Cuba and elsewhere in the New World via the Atlantic slave trade.
Morton categorized his compositions in three groups: blues, stomps, and Spanish tinge, for those with habanera rhythms. Tunes with the "tinge" include "New Orleans Blues" (a.k.a. "New Orleans Joys"), "La Paloma", "The Crave", and "The Spanish Tinge". Morton also called attention to the habanera in "St. Louis Blues" as one of the elements in the song's success.
Morton's maxim, usually given now as "You've got to have that Spanish tinge", has proven to be apt for many artists to this day. Afro-Cuban rhythms and musical instruments are employed by artists of all sorts. Many jazz and pop compositions express Spanish tinge, as well as other Cuban rhythmic elements such as clave. Cuban percussion instruments are also popular. Notable examples include: