Latino Studies Latin Jazz
Alex W. Rodriguez, Ilan Stavans
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0020


Sounding itself out in the diverse and resonant spaces between Afro-diasporic musical traditions across the Americas, the emergence of Latin jazz in the 20th century reflects the complex musical interactions between various cultures and traditions on both continents. Latin jazz came to prominence as a musical genre in the 1940s, when Afro-Cuban musicians in Spanish Harlem such as Mario Bauzá and Chano Pozo began to collaborate with African American jazz musicians. In 1947, Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie cowrote the hit “Manteca,” which featured both a rumba-derived melody statement and a jazz-tinged bridge. Although the success of the short-lived Pozo-Gillespie collaboration is central to the music’s influence, it is also one of many examples of interaction and conversation between Latin American musical traditions and North American jazz, a process that has been in effect since the late 19th century and continues today. And although many of these musical conversations have taken place in the United States, they have also touched off related styles and approaches in other parts of the Western Hemisphere throughout the 20th century. The history of inter-American musical exchange between the British and Spanish colonies goes as far back as the colonies themselves, and perhaps the strongest and most persistent resonance has existed between Cuba and the United States, with Afro-Cuban rhythms and American jazz improvisation combining to form the musical core of this tradition. These fusions have flourished in urban settings: New Orleans, Havana, and New York City have been the main hubs of these developments. In these cities, musicians of various ethnicities and personal backgrounds added innovative flair and personal touches to the style. Over time, the term “Latin jazz” has taken on many different meanings and has become associated with similar genres such as salsa, Latin music, rumba, and cha-cha-cha. Furthermore, as jazz spread around the world through international tours and the proliferation of commercial jazz records, Latin American musicians began to localize their own “Latin” takes on the jazz tradition. Although they do not necessarily produce a cohesive tapestry, these numerous threads weave themselves together to imply a diverse yet resilient musical phenomenon, one that is difficult to define but easy to enjoy. For a useful set of theoretical companion resources that are very relevant to this discussion, see the Oxford Bibliographies article “Transculturation and Literature.”

General Overviews

A number of scholars have written monographs and book chapters that sketch out a broad view of Latin jazz and its musicians, mostly from a historical perspective. With the exception of Marshall Stearns’s The Story of Jazz, initially published in 1956, all have been written since the 1990s, after the wave of interest in hybrid and diasporic cultural forms gave rise to a new focus both on urban and Caribbean musical styles. Many focus primarily on New York City, the main urban incubator for Latin jazz for most of its history; others consider the music as a whole or focus on particular ethnic groups within the genre. But whether their approach foregrounds musicians (Fernández 2006, cited under General Overviews: Books), diaspora (Stanyek 2004, cited under General Overviews: Book Chapters), or musical forms (Peñalosa 2009, cited under General Overviews: Books), each provides an important point of view for understanding the genre.

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