The following article first appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of HOP Live, the Hopkins Center Membership Newsletter.
Jazz is a musical genre with many styles: New Orleans, swing, bop, modal, avant-garde, etc. Latin music is an equally diverse musical genre. When these two genres came together, their child was unique: Afro-Cuban or Latin jazz. Why Afro-Cuban? Because the foundational rhythms of Latin jazz come from Cuba, and Cuba is where the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble is headed this month!
Thanks to the Hopkins Center and Dartmouth College, the students in the Barbary Coast will travel to Havana and Santiago de Cuba during Spring Break. It’s an extraordinary privilege for our students to go to Cuba. For jazz musicians of all ages, going to Cuba is a musical pilgrimage, a rare opportunity to hear some of the best musicians in the world and perform for and with them. By its very nature, the universal language of music leads to cultural exchanges of the highest order. This will be an incredible journey for the students in the Barbary Coast, and they will never forget it.
The Barbary Coast has a strong connection to Latin jazz. Since the mid-‘80s, students in the Coast have performed Latin jazz with such distinguished guest artists as Jimmy Bosch, Andy and Jerry Gonzalez, Carlos Henriquez, Conrad Herwig, Giovanni Hildago, José Madera, Arturo O’Farrill, Manny Oquendo, Eddie Palmieri, William Rodriguez, Ray Santos, Omar Sosa, Gregorio Uribe and Ray Vega.
A Latin Jazz Primer
The great jazz musician, Jelly Roll Morton, told folklorist Alan Lomax in 1938, “Without the Spanish tinge, you will never be able to get the right seasoning for jazz.” When Lomax asked Morton to demonstrate on piano, Jelly Roll played a composition featuring the habanera, an Afro-Cuban rhythm.
Syncopation and improvisation are the heart of jazz. When the off-beat syncopated rhythm patterns of jazz are combined with the Afro-Cuban rhythmic patterns such as clavé, the result is Afro-Cuban, or Latin, jazz. This synthesis began in the 1920s, fueled by Prohibition in the United States and free-flowing clubs, casinos and hotels in Havana, filled with talented bands of Cuban musicians throughout the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.
The 1940s—the height of jazz’s popularity—witnessed the explosion of Afro-Cuban jazz in New York. In The Latin Tinge (London: Oxford University Press, 1979), John Storm Roberts writes, “The 1940s were a crucial decade for Latin music in the Unites States…Both a truly American-Latin idiom, the mambo, and a true hybrid, Latin jazz, began to develop.” According to Roberts, the birth of the band, Machito and His Afro-Cubans, in New York, led by Cuban-born Frank “Machito” Grillo, was the “single most important event of the decade” in the development of Latin music.
In 1947, Dizzy Gillespie met the brilliant Cuban congero/composer Chano Pozo, and the history of Latin jazz was changed forever, most notably by their beautiful composition, Manteca. Manteca was the perfect union of Afro-Cuban rhythms and the New York rhythms of bebop, and “Cubop” was perfect description of the music. Chano Pozo didn’t speak English, Dizzy Gillespie didn’t speak Spanish, but, as Pozo noted, “We both speak African.”
By Don Glasgo
Don Glasgo has been director of Dartmouth’s Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble Director for 40 years. In addition, he has taught courses in jazz, jazz and literature, American music and world music at the colleges of Dartmouth, Hamilton and Lyndon State, and in the graduate program of Vermont College; has written more than 100 jazz compositions and arrangements, many of them premiered by the Barbary Coast; is currently writing professional arrangements for Joe Bowie’s Defunkt Big Band; and, as a valve trombonist, leads the bands Sol Food and Sol Food Unplugged and has performed with the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir, Dartmouth Idol, Oliver Lake Big Band, Joe Bowie’s Defunkt Big Band, Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe, and The Sun Ra Arkestra.