Swing University Roots & Rhythms of Latin Jazz Syllabus

Week 1 – The Roots/Las Raices

At the core of all forms of Latin jazz are the rhythmic and cultural ties it has to Mother Africa. In no other place in Latin America is this more profoundly expressed than in Cuba. We will explore the musics basic rhythmic principal/building block, the clave, and its roots and function in styles that were brought directly from Africa to Cuba – bembé and orisha music (Yoruba/Nigerian tradition), Palo, Yuka, Makuta (Bantú/conga tradition), Abacua (Efik/Calabar tradition) and how they gave rise to popular music forms that were born from the fusion of Spanish and African traditions like the rumba, mambo, son, danzón and more, and its major transformative protagonist – Arsenio Rodriguez. Maestro Sanabria will also demonstrate instruments like the conga, bongó, cencerro, timbales, batá, guiro, shekere, claves and maracas giving historical, cultural context to their evolution as well as how their rhythmic vocabulary was transferred to the drumset.

Week 2  – Precursors to Latin Jazz

Nothing is born in a vacuum. We will explore the early antecedents to the eventual marriage of Latin rhythms and jazz. 19th century New Orleans pianist, composer Louis Morreau Gottschalk would travel to Cuba, Puerto, and Brazil incorporating musical elements from those places in his compositions. In the 1910s the dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle, along with their African American conductor James Reese Europe, promoted ragtime, the Brazilian maxixe, and the Argentinian tango to American audiences. Europe would later lead the legendary U.S. Army 369th Regiment Harlem Hellfigters band which would introduce proto jazz, ragtime to Euro audiences in WW I and had 18 Puerto Ricans in it. Pianist Don Azpiazú and His Havana Casino Orchestra came from Cuba to New York City in 1930 introducing authentic Cuban dance music and its percussion instruments to U.S. audiences. Their recording of El Manicero (The Peanut Vendor) sold over one million copies and began influencing American jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong (who was influenced by Cuban trumpeter Manuel Perez), Henry Red Nichols, Cab Calloway and others. At the same time Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians like Mario Bauzá were migrating en masse to NYC settling in Manhattan’s “El Barrio” community. It would lead to a musical revolution.

Week 3 – The Breakthrough – Mario Bauzá and The Machito Afro-Cubans 

“…you see, this was a new concept in interpreting Cuban music with as much (harmonic) richness as possible. You have to understand how important this was. It made every other band that came after, followers.”  – Chico O’Farrill

Cuban born trumpeter, clarinetist, alto saxophonist, Mario Bauzá had been a child prodigy becoming a member of the Havana Philharmonic as a teenager and a featured clarinetist with pianist Antonio Maria Romeu’s Charanga Orchestra. His arrival to NYC in 1926 at the age of 15 with Romeu changed his life as he was inspired by two things – Harlem, and the Paul Whitman Orchestra performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. His return in 1930 led to him becoming drummer Chick Webb’s lead trumpeter and musical director eventually working with Cab Calloway where he mentored Dizzy Gillespie. Mario’s dream? To form an orchestra that would fuse authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms with the elegance, power, and harmonic sophistication of a jazz big band. In Spanish Harlem in 1939 his dream would be realized when with his brother-in-law, vocalist Frank “Machito” Grillo they would  form the Machito Afro-Cubans. We will explore the incredible musical innovations of this groundbreaking orchestra as well as the many musicians, composers, arrangers that the orchestra gave rise to like Tito Puente and Ray Santos, and those that were influenced by it like Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, and Charlie Parker.

Week 4 – The Good Neighbor Policy – Brazil

By the 1940’s two things would happen that would make Brazilian music part of the musical lexicon of North America. Of Portuguese descent, vocalist, actress Carmen Miranda (February 9, 1909 – August 5, 1955) was already a star in Brazil. By 1940 U.S. audiences saw her starring on Broadway in the show, The Streets Of Paris and in the technicolor movie, Down Argentine Way. The second was the implementation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” toward Latin America to stop the tide of WW II Nazi influence there. Walt Disney Studios was hired to create a cartoon character, “Carioca Joe (José Carioca),” a talking cigar smoking parrot with a Brazilian accent, who traveled throughout Latin America spreading good cheer. These cartoons, with their attention to musical authenticity, exposed mainstream America to Brazilian and other Latino music forms in a big way. From the influence of American big bands, a new form of ballroom samba with a big band sound was taking hold in Brazil. It became known as Gafieira. This laid the groundwork for the next great movement in the Latin jazz continuum, the boss nova. We will explore major artists like Ary Baroso, João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Sergio Mendes, amongst others, and their influence on jazz musicians like Stan Getz, and rock bands like The Doors. We will conclude with modernists who fused Brazilian rhythms with jazz like Edison Machado, Airto, and the enigmatic genius, Hermeto Pascoal, whom Miles Davis called, “The greatest living musician today.”

Week 5 – El Barrio, Da’ Bronx, Puerto Rico

Spanish Harlem located in Manhattan’s East Side stretches from 96th to 125th streets and from Pleasant to 5th Avenues. At one time it had Italians, Jews, Germans, Cubans and of course NYCs transformative community – Puerto Ricans, all striving and thriving. Among them were vocalist Tito Rodriguez, percussionist, composer, arranger, bandleader Tito Puente, and drummer, percussionist Willie Bobo. We will explore the incredible depth, scope, and influence of these native sons of “El Barrio” who would rise to become forces of nature in Afro-Cuban and other forms of Latin jazz as well as the growing cultural identity movement started by a new generation of Puerto Rican musicians who arose in Puerto Rico, El Barrio and Da’ Bronx like Ray Barretto, Jerry Gonzalez, Papo Vazquez, William Cepeda, and others, who are exploring not only Afro-Cuban forms, but native Puerto Rican based forms like the bomba and plena fused with jazz.

Week 6 – The Multiverse – Latin jazz Today, Tomorrow,and Beyond

From its roots in Afro-Cuban based music, today Latin jazz has evolved into a literal Multiverse that can incorporate anything from tango from Argentina, cumbia from Colombia, mapaye from Puerto Rico, wapango from Mexico, funk from the U.S., etc. Artists like Don Ellis, Mongo Santamaria, Charles Mingus, Cal Tjader, John Santos, Flora Purim, Jorge Sylvester, Carlos Santana, Miguel Zenón, Irakere, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Dafnis Prieto, and many others will be explored, as well as the continuing struggle for Latin oriented jazz to gain mainstream acceptance in the jazz world despite its ubiquitous influence on it.