Afro-Latin Jazz to Modern Creative Jazz

Man Holding Clarinet Copy

The term Afro-Latin covers a huge variety of music, resulting from the combination of elements of African styles with the Spanish, Portuguese, and even French cultures transplanted to South and Central America. The blend was achieved earlier and more thoroughly than any such hybrid in North American music before the 1970s – indeed, watered-down South American music was being successfully exported to the USA (and Europe) from the time of the tango in the l910s.

However, there were, of course, hints of African polyrhythms in ragtime and early New Orleans jazz, not to mention occasional borrowings from South American rhythms such as the habanera. So it was only to be expected that, by the 1930s jazzman including Duke Ellington were becoming interested in new Latin imports like the rumba and that bands from those countries who settled in the USA began incorporating jazz-induced improvisation. In this way, the stage was set for the first real collaborations, joining the innovators of bebop such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker with the innovators of the mambo such as Machito.

For a while, progress in this direction was sporadic, but since the early 1960s, with the introduction of the bugalu (and its soft-core contemporary, the bossa nova), there has been a continuous interchange in the USA between jazz and Afro-Latin musicians. As with any fusion, the lowest common denominator often seems to predominate but it’s increasingly the case that the creative performers who have emerged on each side have real knowledge of both fields. What may be even more significant in the long run is that in the last three decades especially in Paris and London, musicians from Africa have been collaborating with players of a jazz/Afro-Latin background, and the latest fusions from various African counties have achieved some success in the USA.

Africa and Latin America are vast areas, and both still distinct regional styles in the way that North America used to before it became so homogenized. Possibilities for interaction are therefore endless and it has even been suggested that Latin jazz will eventually become the mainstream. John Storm Robertís The Latin Tinge gives some idea of the ground covered so far.

Acid Jazz

The phrase acid jazz was the first jazz term to be coined by a disc jockey rather than by a musician. It is much more a marketing phenomenon than a coherent musical style, even more so than tradition and as with traditional. Acid jazz is very much the commercialization of a revival movement. Just like earlier revivals, it was inspired initially by listening to records rather than to live musicians. In this case, the original style is that of the late-1960s and early 1970sí jazz-funk. The sort of music that wasn’t heavy enough to be free jazz or early fusion but was more jazz-oriented than the average soul record.

At the time, this found a ready response among black listeners and a few white aficionados. After the usual twenty-year gap, a new generation of fans succeeded in promoting the music to a much wider crossover audience. Most of the creative musicians who have flirted with the acid-jazz market have found it too restricting and have moved on, exactly as with other revivals. and they have taken some of their listeners with them.

World Fusion Jazz

World fusion refers to a fusion of Third World music or just world music with jazz, specifically: 

  1. Ethnic music that has incorporated jazz improvisations (for example, Latin jazz). Frequently, only the solos are improvised jazz. The accompaniments and compositions are essentially the same as in ethnic music. 
  2. Jazz that has incorporated limited aspects of a particular non-Western music. Examples include performances of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” music on some of the 1970s quartet recordings by Keith Jarrett’s quartet and quintet on Impulse, in which Middle Eastern instruments and harmonic methods are modified and used; and some of Sun Ra’s music from the 1950s into the l990s, in which African rhythms are incorporated; some of Yusef Lateers recordings that feature traditional Islamic instruments and methods. 
  3. New musical styles that result from distinctly original ways of combining jazz improvisation with original ideas and the instruments, harmonies, compositional practices, and rhythms of an existing ethnic tradition. The product is original but its flavor still reflects some aspects of a non-jazz ethnic tradition. Examples include Don Cherry’s bands; some of John McLaughlin’s music from the 1970s and the l990s that drew heavily on the traditions of India; some of Don Ellis’s music of the 1970s that drew upon the music of India and Bulgaria; and work by Andy Narell in the 1990s that melds the music and instruments of Trinidad with jazz improvisations and funk styles.

World fusion jazz did not first occur with modern jazz and its trends are not exclusive to American jazz. For instance, Polynesian music was fusing with Western pop styles at the beginning of the twentieth century, and its feeling attracted some of the earliest jazz musicians. Caribbean dance rhythms have been a significant part of American pop culture throughout the twentieth century, and, since jazz musicians frequently improvised when performing in pop-music contexts, blends have been occurring almost continuously. Django Reinhardt was melding the traditions of Gypsy music with French impressionist concert music and jazz improvisation during the 1930s in France.

Straight Ahead/Neoclassical Jazz

The bop and hard bop styles have become the cornerstones of mainstream jazz, which has two centers of activity, New Orleans and New York. This mainstream can be traced through the activity of player/band leaders like Art Blakey. His playing is rooted in the bop style and his group, the Jazz Messengers, served as a vehicle for launching many jazz players. The self-proclaimed champion of that long list of players now viewed as straight-ahead players. The self-proclaimed champion of that long list of players is Wynton Marsalis who established himself as a premier player and advocate of traditional jazz in the 1980s.

The line of players that follow in his wake have established a style of jazz often referred to as the neoclassical school. The neoclassical label is borrowed from the other art worlds, such as classical music, and represents a looking back to borrow ideas and material from earlier stylistic periods. The neoclassical school of jazz looks back primarily to the Hard Bop era for its expression and to the New Orleans era for its heritage. With the focus on hard bop, that era in jazz emerges as the center of gravity for the jazz tradition. The transition from popular to art music is reinforced in the minds of the world listener. Although the movement is a backward-looking one, its demeanor presents jazz in a new posture stressing its contributions as America’s unique art form.

Modern Creative Jazz

Although partly influenced by the great improvisational masters of the past, modern creative continues to forge ahead by combining older jazz styles such as bop, free, fusion, with newer contemporary musical styles such as pop music, funk, and rock to create a full-body medium with which to present jazz in a new ‘modern’ light. Modern jazz makes great use of ‘new technologies’ in the form of modern electronic instrumentation and recording devices/mediums to bring compositional and improvisational forms to a new level. Modern creative forms tend to be ‘softer’ than earlier bop derivatives while still maintaining an edge through the incorporation of more diverse, often ethnic, rhythmic approaches to the music. Coming into light in the mid ’80s and being of a predominately improvisational nature, modern creative is greatly a product of its environment – society. Though the players each have unique voices, society blends them to reflect its ‘modern’ sound and feel.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *