Latin Jazz: The Perfect Combination



Latin Jazz: The Perfect Combination/La Combinacion Perfecta

Raul Fernandez (2002)

Chronicle Books

Published in association with the Smithsonian Institution Travelling Exhibition Service (SITES), this 144 page bi-lingual (English/Spanish) coffee table style book was launched to accompany the exhibition of the same name. This is a beautifully designed book containing numerous quotes and over 150 photographs/posters/album covers, many of which have not previously been published. You can read about the Smithsonian exhibition here and about the author here.

Why you might buy it:

You went to the exhibition and need this to remind you of the great time you had, you couldn’t get to the exhibition and need to see just what you missed, you love rare archive photos, you have access to a scanner/colour photo-copier and have a desire to redecorate the study with amazing images, you can practice your English/Spanish by reading the same material twice, it’s an easy read that will no doubt be re-visited time and time again, it is a lovely thing and you will be unable to stop yourself flicking through it when you see it, it might prompt you to read deeper around the subject.

Why you might leave it:

If you can speak either language you might feel that you have paid for 1/3rd of a book you don’t need (1/3rd English, 1/3rd Spanish, 1/3rd images), it’s not cheap, Salsa is not the primary focus (though plenty of relevant names mentioned) as a straight read it’s all over in an afternoon and nothing is covered in any real depth.


Foreword by Andy Gonzalez

Preface by Robert Farris Thompson

1. Roots and Routes

2. Soul of the People

3. The Latin Beat

4. Tradition and Innovation



Index of Musicians


Afterword by Al McKibbon

Selected extracts:

“Latin jazz possesses a level of energy unlike any other music I know. There is something about its rhythm that makes audiences very intensely involved. Latin jazz rhythms move the music in a way that energises and loosens up audiences. That is because the rhythms of Latin jazz have the power that dance music has … they contain the essence of dance. Dancers sometimes inspire a band to play in a particular manner, and sometimes our playing inspires the dancers to move in a certain way. The energy that passes between the performers and the audience is vital to Latin jazz. It’s a two-way exchange that expands the total energy involved”. (Andy Gonzalez)


“Be careful how you enter Latin jazz. It could change your life. In this world, metaphors become truth. What Martin Espada, in an ode to Mongo Santamaria, poetically described –

rumbling incantation

in the astonished dancehall

of a city in winter


– happened to me in the New York Palladium in the winter of 1955. During a break that night, a young black conguero suddenly seized the drum on the bandstand. He chanted out ‘Aguacero de mayo!’ (rain shower in May!) – then he vanished. It took me years to understand. Behind Latin jazz lies original mambo, where one chants to the nganga about one of its medicines, water collected from the first shower in May. This is water from God, amuletic, protective. Like a habenara bass line, this old palo song was a drum call to action. Latin jazz is a medicine, coded as music. Hear it, savour it, throughout this fine book”. (Robert Farris Thompson)


“Another significant intersection between Caribbean musicians and early jazz occurred during World War 1, when African American bandleader James Reese Europe was charged with the establishment of a ‘coloured’ army band. Seeking trained musicians who could read music, he went to Puerto Rico and recruited fifteen men to add to his 369th Infantry ‘Hellfighters’ World War 1 military band. The famous Hellfighters were credited with popularising American ragtime and early jazz music in Europe. After the war many veterans of the band found work in American jazz bands”. (Raul Fernandez)


“After an early career as a prizefighter, he (Miguelito Valdes) began playing with the Sexteto Habanero Infantil in the late 1920’s. In the 1930’s he travelled to Panama to work with local orchestras, and after his return to Cuba he became one of the founders of the very popular jazzband Orquesta Casino de la Playa. Valdes sang every style of Cuban music and popularised the tunes of Arsenio Rodriguez. He became most famous for his rendition of Babalu, which became a huge hit in the Caribbean and in New York. He moved to New York in the 1940’s, working first with Alberto Iznaga’s orchestra, later with Xavier Cugat, and eventually with Machito and the Asfro-Cubans. In the mid 1940’s he led his own orchestra in New York, and was instrumental in bringing famed drummer Chano Pozo to the United States. Valdes moved to Los Angeles in 1944 and was featured in the 1945 film Pan Americana singing Babalu”. (Raul Fernandez)


“When I was back in New York, I paid attention to Machito because he had been a sonero in Cuba. He knew that side of the music better than me. He used to explain tome the importance of the clave in the music. I would show him something I had written and he would say ‘ Careful, Mario, careful with the clave there….” (Mario Bauza)


“If you know clave, then it’s very uncomfortable when someone you play with is not in clave. It looks like nothing, but those two little sticks … wow! That’s the foundation of your house”. (Candido Camero)


“When we came to New York with the all woman Anacaonas orchestra, the bass player didn’t come because her husband didn’t want her to travel. So Alberto Socarras, who had been put in charge of the rehearsals, grabbed me and tried to show me how to play the bass. I had played banjo before, but I had difficulty, because it didn’t seem natural the way you have to get the low notes and the high notes, it’s like … backwards. Anyway we opened at the Ambassador. The bassist of the other orchestra that was playing there told Alberto Socarras, ‘You know, that young girl, she has a very odd technique for playing her bass’. Socarras told him, ‘well, you know, she learned in Cuba from this very old musician, and that’s the way he played’. (Graciela Grillo)


“One of my aunts was Catholic but like a lot of us Cubans, she was also Santera and into spiritism. My mother went to a session, and she was holding me in her lap. And I am told that somebody, maybe my aunt, pointed to me and said ‘That boy is going to be a great violinist’. My mother nearly killed herself trying to find me a violin, and when she thought she had one, it turned out there were no violin teachers anywhere near. Now I’m eighty-two, and I still have never held a violin in my hands”. (Bebo Valdes)


“Whenever I hear a great conguero like Armando Peraza, Mongo Santamaria, Francisco Aguabella, Tata Guines or Patato, I don’t hear a conga, I hear life. Every time I hear Francisco Aguabella and Armando Peraza play together, the walls sweat. To me the conga is their voices, and I love it”. (Carlos Santana)


“The mambo beat is the beat from the Congo, the river of Africa and the world; it’s really the world beat”. (Jack Kerouac)


“One time I was vacationing in New York and had to get my hair cut, so I went to this barber, who was Duke Ellington’s barber. He was a Puerto Rican by the last name Hernandez. So he says to me ‘Man, I would like for you to meet El Duque’. ‘How come?’ I said. ‘Because I gave him some of your recordings, like Canta Contrabandjo and he wants to meet you very much’. But the Duke was in Turkey and was not returning until the week after I had already gone”. (Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez)


“We carry with us our African roots, sometimes without realising it, because it is so natural. It is part of our heritage, like the language we speak, which we speak without thinking. So we play the music just like we engage in conversation – sometimes I may play something on the piano and later realise that I was using elements from the voices of the bata drums, but not consciously…..spontaneously”. (Chucho Valdes)


“When you get into categories it’s tough … is it salsa or Latin jazz? Some of the new music from Cuba has a lot of improvisation, what is it, is it Latin jazz? Is it Afro-Cuban? To me, when you have these discussions about categories, it means that the music is growing and developing in a lot of new directions”. (Jose Rizo)


“In Southern California, especially in Los Angeles, which has become the immigration capital of the country, we can’t say that our jazz audience is primarily black, or white, or middle class, or anything because the audience is everything and everybody. There is a tremendous diversity … the beast that is L.A. does not exist anywhere else, it is totally different from Chicago, or New York, there is an emerging America here”. (Alfredo Cruz)


“Of course, traditional Afro-Cuban music, like salsa and ‘danceable’ Latin jazz, will go on, like New Orleans jazz or the everlasting blues. So, more than ever we must reject those prophets of doom who either predict the crisis of jazz or Latin jazz, or announce that globalisation will bring a boring and sterile uniformity to music and the arts, which is exactly the opposite of what is happening. Latin jazz proves it, growing in depth as well as its variety of styles, and like jazz itself, proving its definitely here to stay”. (Leonardo Acosta)


[end of extracts]

Other Reviews
Here is the real story of Latin jazz – the perfect combination of Afro-Cuban beats and jazz sounds that energizes audiences like no other music. Published in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution, this fully bilingual book traces the roots and routes of Latin jazz from its early beginnings to its worldwide popularity today. With a rich narrative history, fresh interviews with the greats, and more than 100 rare images, Latin Jazz is the definitive celebration of this exciting musical fusion.

From the publisher
Latin jazz-the perfect combination of Latin rhythms and hot jazz phrasing-energizes audiences like no other music.. As part of the Smithsonian Institution’s series of major exhibitions on jazz music, Latin Jazz traces the music’s roots and routes, from the Caribbean to New Orleans and the clubs of New York City to its booming international popularity today. More than 100 rare photos from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s show musicians and audiences in full swing, along with dozens of album covers and posters from the heyday. Stories told by the greats who were there, such as Mario Bauzá and Cal Tjader, convey all the zest for life that has made the music so exciting, and contributions by renowned musicians Andy González and Al McKibbon attest to its legacy. With all text in both English and Spanish, Latin Jazz is a spectacular and fitting tribute to this exciting musical fusion.


One response

18 05 2013

Thanks so much for this. I’m a blogger out of Dabton, Great Britain and what I just read here on could not be said much better. Reading through this post reminds me of my college roommate, Nichol. He incessantly kept preaching about this. I most certainly will send these ideas to him. I’m certain he will have a very good read.
I appreciate you for sharing this.

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