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Latin Jazz: A Match Made in Heaven

Updated: May 28, 2020

by guest writer Stanton Kessler

Latin music has always been around us. Every Latin American country has its own special brand to contribute to the world stage, and Americans have been discovering its overwhelming appeal since the early 20th century. By the 1920’s, the music of Cuba had reached the States, so far as to having ferries between the Florida Keys and Havana. In the 40s the general public was introduced to Brasilian music through the movies by way of the songs like “Tico Tico no Fuba,” a Choro, performed by Carmen Miranda. By virtue of mass media such as film, radio, television (i.e. I Love Lucy) and, most recently, the Internet, Latin music has spread into the mainstream like wildfire. It’s simply everywhere. Its presence can be found in jazz, classical and pop music worldwide, especially in America.

Nowhere was the enthusiasm for Latin music greater than in jazz. It was here that it found a new and enduring home. In the 1940s Dizzy Gillespie introduced Afro-Cuban Jazz to a stunned and delighted audience. In the late 50s and early 60s, Brasilian music found its way to the top of the jazz charts via Antônio Carlos Jobim, the godfather of the Bossa Nova. Due to social strife and political conflict many Latin immigrants brought their music with them to North America. There was also a vast exchange of influences and collaborations between the musicians of the U.S. and Latin America, leading to a surge in its popularity and evolution, which continues to this day.

So, what is the attraction? First and foremost, it’s the compelling rhythmic bed. Almost all Latin music is designed to accompany a dance to which it is associated. Anyone who has taken ballroom dancing can attest to this. Secondly, Latin music arrives with haunting melodies and rich harmonies that just resonate with the soul. It’s almost impossible for the body to remain still, to not immediately fall in love with this amazingly rich and sensual music.

It is important to note that all music south of the border is NOT alike. In fact, there are stark differences between the indigenous music of each country. From the Carribean come the Mambo, Bolero, Cha Cha Cha, Merengue, just to name a few. Brasil, being a huge country, offers a distinct genre from each region. Samba is found virtually anywhere, Bossa Nova from the city, Baiao from the inland regions, and Afoxe (Samba Reggae) from the northeast. And we’re just scratching the surface here. From Argentina comes Tango, Mexico has many styles including Cumbia and Tex-Mex, Jamaica gives us Reggae, and so on.

But embracing the music is just the start. With it comes the vibrant culture of each country, it’s food, it’s lifestyle, it’s history. Listen closely and your heart will fill with joy and excitement. Surrender to the lavish tapestry that is Latin music and you will have a truly visceral experience that will change your life forever.

You can catch some fantastic Latin jazz with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra at the Kauffman Center next Saturday, March 7. Featuring tenor saxophonist Adam Larson and yours truly on the trumpet, this concert, entitled Havana to Ipanema, is sure to be one of KCJO’s most exciting, sensual, and memorable concerts ever. Tickets and information at or at 816-994-7222.

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