JAZZ: Gary Giddins, W.W. Norton & Company
"Giddins on jazz"


Dexter Gordon's quote, "Jazz is an octopus," seems apt for fusion to 1960. Can you offer some context to the progression from Afro-Cuban jazz, Gillespie's "Manteca," and salsa?

Dizzy Gillespie was one of the people who was most interested in what he called Afro-Cuban rhythms. Because remember the slave trade was even more active south of New Orleans than it was in the continental United States. And whole different ways of playing were developed in Cuba and other places in South America. So Gillespie tried to combine them, and hired a brilliant conga player from Cuba named Chano Pozo. And Pozo had written, had an idea for a piece which would consist of three different rhythms played sequentially and then simultaneously. And Gillespie took that piece; he got very excited about it. And then he wrote a middle section with conventional, relatively conventional jazz bebop harmonies. And he combined them and they called it "Manteca."

And as Dizzy later said, when that record was released, he said it was like the atomic bomb. It really shook up everyone. It was incredibly exciting and it was really a combination of jazz and Cuban music in a way that didn't sound like oil and water. It sounded like they were a perfect match. And after that he did a whole bunch of them. I mean, "Tin Tin Deo," and "Cubano Be," and "Cubano Bop." And it became part of the jazz world, and then you had Cuban composers coming to the United States, writing in that element. Chico O'Farrill, a very important one, said that jazz influenced Cuban music more than Cuban music influenced jazz. That's debatable, but it's interesting coming from a guy like that to talk about how close the connection became.

And in the 1950s Cuban music became so popular that it went into the mainstream without a lot of the jazz content added. As suburban couples started learning how to do the mambo and the cha-cha-cha and bands like Tito Puente and others were playing in Catskills resorts, giving cha-cha lessons, and so it became part of the general mix. By the 1960s, it had developed into a much more street-savvy music, which became known as salsa, which emphasized the jazz and the rhythmic elements. And that, you know, has been a stable part of it. It's still very active today; in all of the jazz polls they always have categories for Latin bands. It's as much a part of the music as swing.