Latin Jazz: Jazz with Flair

Jazz comes in many forms and offshoots. One of these is Latin jazz. But what makes Latin jazz unique? We’ll go into detail about the two major forms of Latin jazz as we talk about what sets them apart from other types of jazz, and we will also recommend some songs to check out that represent each form!

Afro-Cuban Jazz

Afro-Cuban jazz is a famous form of Latin jazz, considered one of the first subsets of the genre. It got its start in New York City. The band Machito and his Afro-Cubans is often credited for founding Afro-Cuban jazz. In the 1940s, Cuban musicians popularized the music of the island. From there, Afro-Cuban jazz began to emerge, combining jazz’s improvisational nature with the instruments and rhythms of Cuban music, which was already heavily influenced by the music of enslaved Africans. 

Instruments like the claves, with their distinctive rhythm of the same name, are quintessential to both Cuban music and Afro-Cuban jazz. Claves are a percussion instrument made of two cylinders of hardwood. The distinctive clave pattern is three beats followed by two, repeated over and over again. It also often employs the “habanera rhythm.” Besides the claves, other instruments often found in Afro-Cuban jazz include the bongos, congas, saxophone, drums, and piano.

Below are some great Afro-Cuban jazz songs to check out (also try looking up “Cubop” or “Cuban bop”):

  • “Mangó Mangüé” by Dizzy Gillespie
  • “Alma De Santiago” by Jane Bunnett
  • “Chucho’s Steps” by Chucho Valdés

Afro-Brazilian Jazz

Also known as bossa nova (which means “new trend” in Portuguese), this music genre got its start in the late 1950s. It’s credited with popularizing Brazilian musical styles in the U.S. Unlike Afro-Cuban jazz, Afro-Brazilian jazz has no set rhythm, but many songs do have one of many characteristic rhythms. For example, many Afro-Brazilian jazz songs take after the Brazilian music genre samba. 

Instruments used in Afro-Brazilian jazz include those typically found in a jazz band: piano, horn instruments like the saxophone and trumpets, and drum sets. In addition, it may feature instruments that are not often found in traditional jazz bands, like guitars, shakers, and hand drums.

Here are some Afro-Brazilian jazz songs you should check out: 

  • “Ela é Carioca” by João Gilberto 
  • “The Girl from Ipanema” by Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim
  • “Corcovado” by Antônio Carlos Jobim 
  • “Summer Samba” by Marcos Valle

Latin jazz gets its popularity from marrying the familiar improvisational aspects of jazz music with the flair and liveliness of various forms of Latin American music. If you give it a listen, you’ll find yourself hooked! It’s music you just can’t help dancing to.

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