Afro-Cuban Jazz



Afro-Cuban Jazz: 500 recordings reviewed and rated

Scott Yanow (2000)

Pub. Third Ear

Essentially this book is one mans review of part of his record collection and well over 500 recordings are reviewed and given a rating. Each artists work, and some 200 feature in this volume, is accompanied by a biographical outline as well as recommendations for albums representative of the artists work. In many ways it encyclopedia like in its layout. Interviews with Paquito D’Rivera, Jane Bunnett, Susie Hansen and Danilo Perez make brief appearances at the end. A handful of photographs enhance an otherwise sparse looking 212 page book that begins with an eight page introduction/history of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Why you might buy it:

You enjoy reading album reviews, you have bought Latin-jazz albums by people you know and want to see what else is out there, you want to know more about artists you are unsure about, it has a decent shelf life as it is something that you can dip in and out of as you discover new artists for yourself over time, you don’t want to spend hours on the internet tracking down this information – some of which just is not there anyway, the author is a well respected, gainfully employed and busy jazz aficionado (info here) giving you confidence about the overall contents.

Why you might leave it:

The salsa content is reasonable but not the main focus of the book, you are quite happy to make up your own mind about which albums are good and which are not, it is not really something to sit down and read cover to cover, if you have the time a lot (but by no means all) of this information is available on the internet, there are several minor text errors.



A brief history of Afro-Cuban jazz

Afro-Cuban jazz: 1930-2000

Conversations with four Afro-Cuban jazz greats

They also recorded Afro-Cuban jazz

Various artists

Recommended books

The future of Afro-Cuban jazz

About the author


Selected extracts (from):


“ A clarification of a few terms is necessary from the start. In this book Afro-Cuban Jazz means the mixture of jazz improvisations with Cuban and African rhythms. The style of jazz is generally Bebop oriented, but it can be more modern or even tied up to an earlier form, such as swing. Quite often the idiom is called Latin Jazz, but I have decided to forgo that term for three reasons: (1) Latin Jazz is already the name of a fine book by John Storm Roberts. (2) Both Ray Barretto and the late Mario Bauza hated the term. (3) Since bossa novas from Brazil, tangos from Argentina and various local folk musics that have some improvising can be called Latin Jazz but are outside the confines of this book, a slightly more restrictive term was needed”


“Afro-Cuban Jazz is designed as an introductory guide for listeners who wonder who the main innovators of the wide ranging style have been and which recordings are most representative. Because there has been relatively little written about this idiom, my early fear was of leaving someone major out all together, although I am now confident that, possible minor omissions aside, every significant figure appears somewhere in this book. As with the other books in this series, not every recording by each artist is here. In fact, in some cases the artists recordings are difficult to obtain, particularly those made for such legendary labels Fania, Tico and Seeco. Hopefully the recordings that are most highly recommended in this book will whet the readers appetites to explore fully their favorite artists other work”.

Francisco Aguabella

b. 1925, Matanzas, Cuba

One of the most significant Cuban percussionists of the 1950’s, Francisco Aguabella has remained quite busy up to the present time. He began to play the sacred Bata drum at the age of ten. Two years later Aguabella dropped out of school to work with his father on the docks, playing music at night. By the mid-40’s he was a full time musician, moving to Havana. In 1950 Aguabella worked at the Caberet Sansuci with the musical review Sun Sun Ba Ba Ey. Katherine Dunham in 1953 hired him to play percussion for her dancers, and he spent the next four years primarily in Italy, working on the film Mambo (1953-54) and performing for her shows.

In 1957 Aguabella moved to the United States, where his friend Mongo Santamaria introduced him to Tito Puente. He appears on Puente’s notable RCA recording Top Percussion and contributed two songs to Puente’s Dancemania album.

Aguabella spent time living in Oakland (playing conga with the Duran Brothers) and Los Angeles, where he worked with Rene Lopez, Rene Touzet and Perez Prado. He played with Mongo Santamaria (including recording Yumba And Mongo, to which he contributed some arrangements), led his own set (The Latin Way) for Fantasy in 1961 and recorded The New Continent with Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra in 1962; Aguabella would gig with Gillespie on several occasions through the years.

Aguabella worked regularly with Peggy Lee during 1963-70 and Frank Sinatra (1970), playing with the Latin rock group Malo (1971-74). Otherwise he has worked with virtually everyone at one time or another. His list of credits include trumpeter Don Ellis, tenor-saxophonist Joe Henderson, the Jazz Crusaders, Emil Richards, trumpeter Al Hirt, Rosemary Clooney, Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente (recording El Rey), Eddie Palmieri (1989’s Sueno), Carlos Santana, Cal Tjader, Machito, Cachao, and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, among many others. Based in California since 1987 and leading three albums for Cubop in the late 1990’s (Hitting Hard, Agua de Cuba and H2O), the veteran percussionist is portrayed in the Les Blank film Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella.

Agua de Cuba / 1999 / Cubop 0018

The percussion work is so dense, complex and exciting on the opening, “Dajomy Blue,” that listeners could be excused for thinking that the rest of this CD (just Francisco Aguabella’s fourth as a leader) would be anticlimactic. However, the solos of the trumpeter Ramon Flores, trombonist Isaac Smith, and Charles Owen on tenor and flute (even if his spots on tenor are sometimes over the top) keep the momentum flowing. A strangely unidentified pianist is also a major asset. Aguabella, whose conga playing is joined in the rhythm section by Humberto Hernandez on timbales and Josey de Leon on bongos (drummer-timbale player Tiki Pasillas is sometimes in Hernandez’s place) plus an unlisted bassist, is heard throughout in peak form. The repertoire, which includes Watermelon Man, Manteca, Milestones and Aguabella’s Salsa Latina among the highlights, is particularly strong. Highly recommended.

[end of extracts]

Other reviews: by Kyle Simpler (2004)

Considering the rising popularity of latin music, it seems only natural that someone would come out with a guide to Afro-Cuban Jazz ideal territory for Miller-Freemans Third Ear series. Third Ear offers music listeners an in-depth look into genres that might not receive full coverage in more general guides. Scott Yanows Afro-Cuban Jazz is the latest addition to this catalog, which also includes books on Bebop, Swing, Alternative Rock, and Celtic Music.

Yanow, who also did the Third Ear Bebop and Swing guides, has written for numerous jazz publications. With Afro-Cuban Jazz, he presents an insightful and entertaining introduction to this important but, as he describes it somewhat neglected segment of jazz. Rather than approaching the material in an overly academic manner, though, he assumes the tone of a knowledgeable friend offering advice and providing informative background material on the performers. He reviews some of the artists available recordings along with a few harder to find ones to be aware of.

He uses a ten-point system for reviewing CDs, as opposed to the usual four- or five-star ratings. But theres more than just details on the recordings; he also provides interesting information about the artists and their role in the Afro-Cuban scene. This helps the reader obtain an understanding of the music, along with its history.

While the latin influence in jazz music goes back to its earliest days, it wasnt until the 1940s that it really became popular. Thanks to musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, and Stan Kenton, the Afro-Cuban sound became a popular import and an important part of the jazz canon. But Yanow doesnt limit himself solely to the obvious performers; lesser-known artists get covered as well. He includes important sidemen like Jose Mangual and Sonny Bravo, pre-1940s artists such as Don Azpiazu, and younger musicians worth checking out. Theres also a section of interviews and another part covering artists like Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rollins, who arent considered Afro-Cuban players, but incorporated elements of it into their music.

Lets face it, though, pretty much any reference book is going to have its limits certain things just arent going to make the cut. As a writer, you simply cant cover all of the bases. Of course this doesnt mean that artists not included arent worthwhile. Take The Buena Vista Social Club, for example. With all of their recent popularity, it seems logical that this volume would offer plenty of coverage. Beside a mention in the introduction, though, pianist Reuben Gonzales is its only artist receiving an entry. Of course, some might argue that Cuban Son music isnt exactly Afro-Cuban jazz. Fair enough. However, Yanow does have a very good entry for Carlos Santana, who seems to get shelved a lot in rock sections for an Afro-Cuban jazz artist.

Just because there are a handful of omissions, though, doesnt detract from the books validity. Yanow knows his subject well and has a great appreciation for jazz music. Afro-Cuban Jazz offers interested listeners an excellent starting point for exploring Afro-Cuban sounds.



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