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Afro-Cuban Jazz (I): Background and Introduction to Latin Jazz Theory

Jazz originated in New Orleans/Chicago, America in beginning of 20th century. Since then jazz, accepted by many authorities, is mentioned as an American music. With its culture, key elements and inspirations early times of jazz was quite so belonged to American music culture. However, jazz evolved with time, new genres, new instrumental techniques, different approaches from the finest jazz artists from US made the jazz eligible to flower itself to the whole world.

One of the early influences of jazz, in a different country than the US, happened to occur in 1950s -not very far away-, in Latin America. A new approach to the folk Afro-Cuban was first considered back in the late 19th century. Resembling how jazz born in the US, Afro-Cuban (or Latin jazz) was essentially based on an African approach to the current folk music. Many popular folk songs was arranged, with the efforts to blend in the polyrhythm and the exoticness in the African music.

First examples of this was the habanera rhythm, later developed and became tresillo-habanera or "the Spanish tinge". The idea developed with the rhythmic pattern, the clave. Clave originated in sub-Saharan African music traditions and basically is a five-stroke rhythmic pattern that the timeline is guided by. Tresillo, mentioned in tresillo-habanera, means the first three strokes of a clave. We will not get into much detail in clave theory and any other theory-wise analysis in this post, but it's important know from the beginning of 20th century, after "the Spanish tinge" started to be used widely, Afro-Cuban music placed clave in the heart of their music.

The usage of "the Spanish tinge" is evident in many early jazz tunes. Furthermore, Buddy Bolden, one of the first known jazz musicians ever, created the "big four" -the first syncopation bass drum pattern ever- using the Spanish tinge, the tresillo-habanera.

One of the first proto-latin jazz is released in the end of 1930s by Juan Tizol, only tresillo based, not full claves. Latin jazz music will have to wait some time to embark their journey, with using full in-clave tunes.

In our next volume of our Afro-Cuban Jazz series, we will discuss why was in-clave tunes were so important for latin jazz music and how it influenced the journey of early latin jazz. Stay tuned until then!

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