‘Jazz Latino’ explores the Cuban roots of this acclaimed musical genre



MIAMI – Who would have thought that the fusion of musical elements from Africa, Europe and the United States at the turn of the 20th century would ultimately produce the complex sounds of what is known today as Latin jazz?

A documentary released Wednesday by the Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami details how this marriage turned into a musical style that has become popular around the world.

Jaime Suchlicki, director of ICCAS and executive producer of the 31-minute documentary titled “Jazz Latino”, said he came up with the idea “because nothing was done for Latin Jazz.”

The producer and director of the documentary, Jorge Sotolongo, said that “this documentary is part of my life”, describing how he studied at the “Escuela Nacional de Arte” in Cuba alongside great musicians such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval.

At the start of the documentary, Raul Murciano, associate dean and professor at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, explains how Latin jazz dates back to English country dance. The English version of country dancing was popular throughout Europe in the 1700s. The French who called it, contradanse, brought the music to Haiti when they colonized the Caribbean island.

When Haitians revolted against the French in the late 1700s, those fleeing the violence migrated to eastern Cuba, as did the quadrangle. In Cuba, we called him contradiction and over time, the pace has changed.

“It had a very peculiar and identifiable rhythm,” Muricano told NBC News, speaking of the contradiction.

Cuban jazz musician Arturo Sandoval plays the trumpet as he leads his band during a performance at 92nd Street Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall, New York, New York, December 2, 2015.Jack Vartoogian / Getty Images

The modified contradiction was eventually exported to Spain where the new style took people by surprise and was labeled the “Habanera.”It became very popular in the 19th century as short pieces with a classic writing style. This generation of contradiction had a more romantic style.

“Each bar was a bit stretched. It has become a more romantic room, ”according to Muricano.

The rhythmic arrangement of the contradanza went well with another branch of Cuban music with African roots, which is the clave rhythm.

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“Now they were able to play a clave beat above the romantic style and this became known as the ‘danza’“said Murciano. It was also the start of son, which relies heavily on improvisation.

At the end of the 19th century, there was a lot of communication between Cuba and the United States, where a similar convergence of sounds was taking place with blues and ragtime in New Orleans.

During the documentary, Sotolongo interviews filmmaker and music producer Nat Chediak, author of the book “Diccionario de Jazz Latino” or “Dictionary of Latin Jazz”. Chediak describes one of the most defining moments of Latin jazz in the 1940s. Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo traveled to New York and met legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Pozo became the first Latin percussionist in Gillespie’s group and together they wrote the first jazz composition with a Latin flavor.

The film includes an old black and white interview with Gillespie where he describes his meeting with Pozo. “Until that point in 1947, there hadn’t been too much Cuban influences in our music,” Gillespie said.


In another interview, Gillespie recounts how he and Pozo together wrote the famous composition called “Manteca” based on the rhythm of the clave. Manteca, which means lard, was also a slang term for marijuana.

“It was similar to a nuclear weapon when it exploded at the scene,” Gillespie said in the same interview, referring to “Manteca”. “They had never seen a marriage of Cuban music and American music like this before.”

“Manteca” was the foundation of Latin Jazz.

The final part of the documentary reviews some of the influential musicians who helped shape what Latin jazz is today. The group “Grupo Cubano de Musica Moderna” also known as “Los Amigos” was formed in 1958 and left classic pieces of Cuban jazz like “Gandinga, Mondongo, Sondongo”.

Chediak described the Modern Jazz Quartet in the United States, “Los Amigos in Cuba” and the “Zimbo Trio” in Brazil as the “Santísima Trinidad” or the “holy trinity” at the time.

Other famous musicians interviewed for the documentary include Uruguayan violinist Federico Britos, Venezuelan-born saxophonist Ed Calle who grew up in Spain, and famous Cuban saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera who won 14 Grammy Awards.

“Paquito D’Rivera: Around the Americas” at the Rose Theater on Friday evening March 27, 2015.Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

D’Rivera described the difficulties of playing Latin jazz in Cuba in the early 1960s, when American music was banned. Despite the difficult times for Jazz, it flourished and the Irakere group was formed in 1973 which took Latin Jazz to new heights.

Latin jazz continues to evolve as musicians from different countries draw influences from their cultures. For Sotolongo, this documentary is just a brief summary of how it all started.

“Latin Jazz cannot be summed up in half an hour. This is a summary of how it started. Latin Jazz should be a series – Brazilian jazz on its own deserves a series, ”said Sotolongo.

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