The expression "Latin jazz" is commonly used today by musicians and the audience to refer to a type of music which, based on the American jazz and on some elements of Latin music - especially Cuban - has become a musical manifestation by itself. But neither the insertion of Cuban rhythms or musical instruments nor the performance of Cuban rhythms using harmonic elements or the American phrasing have nothing to do with it. The Afro-Cuban jazz -as it was initially called--, emerged from a brief process in comparison with the emergence of Cuban music as a result of mixing European and African music. In the case of Latin jazz, an exchange between jazz and Cuban rhythms and sounds took place. A true fusion. In Cuba, since the first decades of the 20th century, some instrumentalists and composers got in touch with jazz. Allegedly, some Cuban musicians lived in New Orleans when jazz was emerging there and that some Afro-American musicians -soldiers of the US occupation army--, brought their experiences and knowledge about the blues and the jazz to Cuba since 1898.
The 20´s were decisive in Cuban music development, a time when the son reached its boom and other musical genres like the danzón also prevailed. It was also a very important decade for the development of American jazz. At that time, several American orchestras visited Cuba, and the contacts among Cuban and American musicians intensified. The "jazz band" orchestral format was introduced in Cuba and the first orchestras of this kind performed at night places, hotels, etc. These groupings were not jazz performers, but many of their musicians were interested in this musical manifestation and started acquiring some records and scores in the USA or through third persons.
The most outstanding Cuban jazzband director, and pioneer among jazz players, was Master Armando Romeu. For many years, he conducted, among others, the renowned "Bellamar" orchestra and the "Tropicana" orchestra for more than two decades. Armando Romeu has also been a teacher of some generations of Cuban musicians and a name always present in the promotion of jazz in Cuba.
Since the 30´s Cuban jazz bands mushroomed, such as the "Hermanos Castro", "Casino de la Playa", "Riverside", "Siboney", "Orquesta de Don Aspiazu" and the "Lecuona Cuban Boys". And though these orchestras were not exclusively jazz players, they introduced new American rhythms and sonorities in the performance of Cuban music. However, in the orchestra founded by Armando Romeu in 1936, included some Cuban musicians qualified as first category jazz performers, and in the Mitsuko cabaret -- where the band performed-- many "jam sessions" emerged with the participation of musicians from other groups.
While the jazz disseminated in Cuba, in New York, Cuban music performed by Cuban artists living or visiting that city succeeded.
The "Machito and His Afrocubans" orchestra, a band conducted by singer Frank Grillo (Machito) where the timba player Tito Puente played, was created in New York in 1940. This group had a great impact on the formation of Latin jazz, mainly for the role played by Mario Bauzá, its musical director, and composer, saxophonist and trumpet player.
Mario Bauzá was the top musician in the creation of the so-called Afro-American-Cuban Jazz ; then called Cubop and currently known as Latin jazz at international level. We can say that Tanga , piece composed by Bauzá and recorded in 1943, was a pioneer in this new genre that constituted a real revolution in the jazz ambience of the time.
Great jazz players like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, creators of the bop, admired and were interested in Cuban music. Gillespie even made informal performances in some of Machitos´s band presentations. The meeting of the great percussionist and composer Chano Pozo with Dizzy Gillespie was made possible by Mario Bauzá, in what can be considered a historical encounter. In this regard, in 1947 both musicians performed together the African-American-Cuban Drum Suite at the great Carnegie Hall, thus creating the Cubob style and an entire new era for jazz world.
At the same time, new musicians and jazz groups emerged in Cuba, like the "Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna" in the 50´s and later on "Los Amigos" group, joined by pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, the tumbador player Tata Güines and baterist Barreto. Together with other orchestra conductors, composers and musical arrangers, Chico O'Farrill and Felipe Dulzaides were very important in the promotion of jazz in Cuba and, in the case of Chico, for his contributions to the consolidation of the Afro-American-Cuban jazz in New York.
Worthwhile mentioning among the great jazz pianists of all times is the Cuban Chucho Valdés who, since the 70´s, with his Irakere band, has been supporting Latin jazz in Cuba and has contributed to train excellent instrumental performers.
A new generation of Cuban musicians is still developing this musical genre; such as the outstanding pianists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Ernán López-Nussa, the percussionist Angá, the flutist Maraca, the ever young Bobby Carcassés and many others who continue the magnificent legacy started in Havana by Armando Romeu and in New York by Mario Bauzá.