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Jazz Caliente: The Violin in Afro-Cuban Music

CC0 public domain
violin, up close and personal

This week on Jazz Caliente, we'll hear the sweet sounds of violins.  The violin came to Latin jazz through a style of music called "charanga," as did the flute.  And just like the flute, the violin's history in Cuba has deep roots.

The predecessor of the violin, the Italian viol, was in use in Cuba in the 16th century. French natives and French Creoles who escaped the slave revolt in Haiti (1791-1804) settled in Cuba and brought their modern violins with them.  The ever-innovative Cubans quickly adopted the sweet strings for dance orchestras.

Contemporary Cuban violinists to listen for include Jose "Chombo" Silva, who became best known as a saxophonist (He was called the "Latin Lester Young"), but he excelled on violin as well.  He played both sax and violin with Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria.  

Alfredo de la Fé started performing professionally on violin when he was 12 years old.  He tells the story that his first instrument was a broken, discarded thing, but he loved it.  The Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, gave him his first set of violin strings so that he could actually play it.  

Listen for Alfredo de la Fé with Tito Puente's Latin Ensemble to start this Saturday's Jazz Caliente.  In the meantime, he's in the video below with Orquesta Aragon.  The "dueling violins" segment with Alfredo and Dagoberto Gonzales starts at about four minutes in.  Don't miss it!

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.