What Is Latin Jazz?

Written by on October 15, 2015

Bobby Sanabria
(Percussionist Bobby Sanabria, Photo Courtesy of the Artist)

The legendary Jelly Roll Morton was noted for saying that Jazz had to contain “The Spanish Tinge,” indicated that Afro-Latin elements have been in Jazz from the music’s inception.

As the century progressed, however, we started to see a more overt fusion of Jazz with Afro-Cuban musical traditions, especially with BeBop innovators like Dizzy Gillespie. By today, we have a distinct style of music, called Latin Jazz, that we consider a crucial and influential vein in this musical tradition.

But what is it? To start, we look to trombonist Chris Washburne, who gives us the history and underlying rhythmic pulse of the music:

Given the history, let’s take a deeper look at one of the fundamental instruments of the music – the congas. They’re a diverse set of drums with extraordinarily rich histories and performance traditions. To help us come to a deeper understanding of them, master percussionist Bobby Sanabria guides us through congas and the tumbao:

Be sure to watch the full series of Bobby’s videos, and once you’re comfortable with the basic patterns, check out Annette A. Aguilar‘s lessons on Intermediate Tumbao, incorporating the patterns more fully into a rhythm section over multiple drums: