It has a long history in American music. Yet only in recent years has much effort been made to understand Latin jazz. I’m Steve Ember.
And I'm Mary Tillotson. Now, a traveling museum show aims to help more Americans recognize this form of jazz as part of their culture and history. “Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta” is our report today on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.
During the nineteen-forties, the music of Cuban, Mexican and other Latin musicians became very popular in the United States. But Latin jazz had begun to develop here by the late eighteen-hundreds. Music experts note the influence on some early twentieth-century jazz and blues songs. These include “St. Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy and “New Orleans Blues” by Jelly Roll Morton.
Today -- with Hispanics now estimated to be America's largest minority group -- college music students are learning more about Latin jazz. Cultural centers are forming Latin jazz orchestras.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington opened a traveling museum show in October. It is called "Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta" -- the Perfect Combination.
This exhibit teaches about the history of Latin jazz in the United States and the Caribbean. The walls of the show are brightly colored and rounded like conga drums. Information is printed in English and Spanish. There are pictures of musicians and singers from as far back as nineteen-ten.
Behind glass are instruments once played by great performers: timbale drums that belonged to Tito Puente, congas played by Poncho Sanchez, the famous bent trumpet of Dizzy Gillespie.
Visitors can make their own music with a conga drum, maracas and other tools of Latin jazz.
During the nineteen-forties, musicians Mario Bauza, Frank Grillo, Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo began to combine American jazz with Cuban music. Several names were used to describe this new form, names like Afro-Cuban jazz, Cubop and Latin jazz.
Frank Grillo was called "Machito." He and Mario Bauza formed Machito and his Afro-Cubans. The group first performed the song “Tanga” in nineteen-forty-three. It is widely considered the first piece of Afro-Cuban jazz.
(CUT ONE – “TANGA”, CDJ-7538)
In nineteen-forty-six, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, an African American, wanted a conga player for his bebop jazz band. He asked his friend Mario Bauza for help. They had played together in Cab Calloway's band. Bauza presented Chano Pozo, a percussionist who had just arrived in New York from Cuba and did not speak English.
Chano Pozo was killed one year later. He and Dizzy Gillespie wrote many songs in their short time together. Their mix of Cuban beats and bebop jazz remained an important part of Latin jazz. Music experts see this song, “Manteca,” as a perfect example of "Cubop."
(CUT TWO – “MANTECA”, CDJ-7538)
One of the best-known names in Latin jazz is Tito Puente. He died in two-thousand at the age of seventy-seven. This musician of Puerto Rican ancestry became famous as a percussionist and vibraphonist. Audiences loved his energy.
Tito Puente was also a bandleader and a composer and arranger of music. Here he plays timbales in a nineteen-fifty-seven recording of his song “Mambo Beat.”
(CUT THREE – “MAMBO BEAT”, CDJ-7538)
Another big influence in Latin jazz in America was Cal Tjader, a vibraphone player of Swedish ancestry. He was especially popular during the nineteen-sixties.
Cal Tjader recorded the popular Cubop song “Guachi Guaro” in nineteen-sixty-four. He renamed his version “Soul Sauce.”
(CUT FOUR-“Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro)”, CDJ-7538)
The traditions of Latin jazz remain strong. Today some musicians are exploring the Cuban bolero, a kind of love song made popular during the nineteen-fifties. Here is a nineteen-ninety-eight recording of David Sanchez playing “Los Aretes de la Luna.”
(CUT FIVE- “Los Aretes de la Luna”, CDJ-7538)
“Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta” had its first showing in Washington, D.C. Next comes Flushing, New York, beginning in April. The show is to end in two-thousand-six after stops in twelve cities in the United States and in the Caribbean. The exhibit Web site is smithsonianlatinjazz -- all one word -- smithsonianlatinjazz dot o-r-g.
This program was written and produced by Lawan Davis. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.