Latin Jazz

Rhythm — and particularly syncopation — has always played an important role in the language of jazz, so it’s not surprising that musicians looked to Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music for rhythmic inspiration. You get Latin jazz when the swing rhythms of mainstream jazz are replaced by the heavily syncopated rhythms of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music.

Afro-Cuban music is notable for its use of ostinato (which simply means repeating) patterns, on percussion instruments — usually claves (pronounced 'cla-vays') which are two shaped pieces of wood that are held in each hand and struck together.

Clave is both the name of the instrument and the name of the type of rhythmic pattern that’s present in mambo, salsa, rumba and other Latin rhythms. Clave literally means 'key' in Spanish, and this simple little instrument, with its distinctive sound, is indeed the key to Latin music.

Latin influences can be traced back as far as 1910 when Jelly Roll Morton used Cuban rhythms in songs like 'New Orleans Blues' and 'The Crave'.

In the 1940s a number of prominent Cuban musicians arrived in New York. Among them was a multi-instrumentalist called Mario Bauzá, who brought with him some exotic percussion instruments — bongos, congas, and timbales and, most important of all, claves. In 1940 Bauzá  formed his band 'The Afro-Cubans’ with the legendary Cuban percussionist/singer Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, known simply as 'Machito' — who happened to be his brother in law.

As well as being Musical Director of the band, Bauzá worked with other musicians, and befriended Dizzy Gillespie, who soon incorporated Latin rhythms into his recordings. Dizzy asked Bauzá for a conga player, so in1947 Bauzá introduced Chano Pozo to him and, in less than a year they had co-wrote the Gillespie classics 'Manteca’ and 'Tin Tin Deo’.

Early hits such as Stan Kenton’s Latin-infused version of 'The Peanut Vendor' brought Latin jazz to the masses and it took off. The Bossa Nova became very popular through Latin artists such as Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto — who had a huge hit with 'The Girl From Ipanema', sung by Gilberto’s wife, Astrud Gilberto. Since that time Latin has cemented its place as one of the most enduring of jazz genres.

Key Artists


Mario Bauzá

Stan Getz

Tito Puente

Arturo Sandoval

Antonio Carlos Jobim 

João Gilberto

Dizzy Gillespie

Astor Piazzolla

Sérgio Mendes

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