Jazz has been said to be the musical language that expreses the fundamental rhythms of human life. It is the first indigenous genre of music in the United States to affect music throughout the rest of the world. Jazz has many roots including the tribal drums so familiar to Afro-Americans, gospel, ragtime and blues, but clearly developed into a unique genre typified by spontaneous melodic phrasing.
Many hold that jazz was born in New Orleans in the 1890's and subsequently travelled up the Mississippi River to Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago. As a southern port city, New Orleans was exposed city to the sounds of the Caribbean and Mexico and had a large, well-established black population. All the elements were present for the development of new music at the turn of the 20th century.
While it was not on the natural river route north of New Orleans, New York City also contributed to the development of jazz. The city was also the center of the music publishing business and was the laboratory where other influences found their way into jazz. There, the incorporation of the piano into jazz due to the influence of ragtime music. James Reese Europe experimented with a style of jazz using large orchestras. In the 1920's, New York City was home to pioneering orchestras that would greatly affect jazz history. One was Fletcher Henderson's band, including Louis Armstrong, that first appeared at the Cotton Club in 1923, which would help usher in the swing era. Another was Duke Ellington's orchestra. By the late 1920's the capitol of jazz had clearly shifted from Chicago to the Big Apple.
During the next two decades there were many groups known as Territory Bands playing throughout they United States in cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and Oklahoma City, birthplace of what evolved to be the Count Basie Orchestra.
With such diverse roots and equally diverse expressions of the genre, it is very difficult to say precisely just what is jazz music and what sets it apart from other genres. Until the 1930's, the term "jazz" was used rather indiscriminately as, for instance referring to George Gershwin as a jazz composer. Similarly, the "King of Jazz", Paul Whiteman, played what we might call today jazz-influenced dance music.
Today, the dialogue over what is jazz often plays out in the dichotomy between traditional and modern jazz. They are usually differentiated certain attributes: traditional jazz is "alive", emotive and sensuous where modern jazz is more abstract and "cool". Traditional jazz is meant for dancing with a tonal scheme that can be easily recognized, while the modern version is intended for listening and characterized by dissonance or a tonal scheme that can be barely recognized by the average listener.
The ability to play the blues has always been the mark of all jazz musicians, who then use the blues framework in their music, despite the fact that the blues has a history independent from jazz. A number of the early jazz performers relied on the blues for the driving force behind their musical emotions.
As jazz evolved, dance music became the norm. Noted white artists like Benny Goodman added dance arrangements to their scores that would appeal to Afro-Americans, and thus jazz began to move into the Swing or Big Band period. Vocalists such Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Fats Waller also emerged during this time.
The term Afro-Latin encompasses a wide variety of music that emerges from the synthesis of African styles with the Spanish, Portuguese, and even French cultures that were transplanted to South and Central America. The blend was achieved earlier and more thoroughly than any such hybrid in North American music, despite the fact that music from South American was being successfully exported to Europe and the United States from the time of the tango in the first decade of the 20th century.
However, there were hints of African polyrhythms in ragtime and early New Orleans jazz, and even occasional use of Afro-Cuban rhythms such as the habanera.
By the 1930's jazz artists in the United States such as Duke Ellington, were becoming interested in new Latin music imports like the rumba and began incorporating jazz-induced improvisation.
It could be said that Afro-Latin jazz really emerged during the 1940's in the ballrooms of New York City. It was led primarily by Cuban bandleader and saxophonist Mario Bauza. As director of Machito and his Afro-Cubans, Bauza grafted jazz melodies, harmonies and improvisation onto Afro-Cuban rhythms. Thus, the stage was set for the first real collaborations; a joining of the innovators of jazz and bebop such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker with the innovators of the mambo such as Machito. Latin musicians including Alberto Socarras, Nicholas Rodriguez and Juan Tizol joined with swing bands, introducing a 'latin flavor' to jazz. For example, Juan Tizol composed several Latin-influenced works such as "Caravan" for renowned musician Duke Ellington. The period facilitated collaborations between Dizzy Gillespie and latino musicians, creating a fusion known as "Cubop", as featured by Machito's Afro Cubans.
Since then a new generation of Latin musicians have pioneered new branches of the fusion of jazz and Latin music. Innovative artists such as Puerto Rican saxophonist David Sanchez, Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon, and Puerto Rican trombonist William Cepeda, are mixing the music styles and rhythms of their native countries into the mix and turning Latin jazz into a truly pan-American sound. The work of these artists suggests an organic blend that reflects their bilingual and bicultural experience, and fully integrates the diverse music styles.
Since the early 1960's, with the introduction of the bugalu, and its softer contemporary, the bossa nova, there has been a continuous interchange in the United States between jazz and Afro-Latin musicians. Creative artists have emerged on each side with a real knowledge of both fields. Similarly, over the last three decades, musicians from Africa have been collaborating with those with a jazz/Afro-Latin background, and the latest fusions have achieved some success in the United States.
In the 1970's, other Latin artists emerged. Argentine saxophonist Leandro "Gato" Barbieri, who became a pop star with his sultry soundtrack of Last Tango in Paris, explored Argentine folk rhythms and tango in several brilliant albums. The late Argentine pianist Jorge Dalto, who backed guitarist George Benson, among others, also blended jazz and Argentine music into his work.
Curiously, it was the late Dizzy Gillespie, who most consistently embraced a Pan-American approach to Latin jazz. His last great big band, aptly called the United Nation Orchestra, featured William Cepeda and Cuban saxophonist and bandleader Paquito D'Rivera. William Cepeda, a member of the royal family in Puerto Rican traditional music, insists that the development of Latin jazz had lost energy. "They realize there is too much Cuban music on the street and they need to do something different," Cepeda has said. "It's hard to innovate in Cuban music, and people are now realizing they might have something of their own.'
The salsa explosion of the 1970's propelled the careers of various tres and cuatro players, although it appears that the New York-based monopolies headed by Jerry Massucci and his successors consistently ignored the phenomenal jazz-oriented abilities of Edgardo Miranda, a native of Mayagúez, Puerto Rico equally fluent in the Spanish guitar and the Puerto Rican cuatro.
Puerto Rican cuatro master Yomo Toro gained the most recognition during the New York salsa explosion, performing with the bulk of the bands of that era. In Puerto Rico, the guitar excelled primarily in the typical Latin trio format and in the folkloric arena of jíbaro music. On the Latin jazz side, only about a handful of guitarists chose to embrace the genre, with only a few of them receiving international recognition. Some of these are Jorge Laboy who is perhaps Puerto Rico's most accomplished true guitarist, Pedro Guzmán and Edwin Colón Zayas.
What is clear in the evolution of jazz is that it influenced other music genres all around the world, Latin genres not excepted. While the effect on Latin jazz is obvious, salsa and other Latin genres were affected too. By the same token, the various Latin genres have had an impact on the development of jazz. Exactly how and when these influences and fusions developed may be argued but all these genres are the richer for it and music lovers have benefited.