Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Clave Rhythm Is Key In Latin jazz

Playing Claves
By Freddythehat at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Playing Claves

This week on Saturday Jazz Caliente, we'll hear a performance from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Cuba.  It's called "2/3's Adventure," and the title is a reference to a configuration of the clave rhythm.  Let's learn more about clave:

Clave (KLAH-vay) is the basic defining rhythm of Afro-Cuban Jazz and other types of African, South American and even Australian Aboriginal music.  The claves are the wooden sticks used to produce the rhythm.

"Clave" (as well as "llave") means "key" in Spanish.  It's the heartbeat of the music and dances of the world.

The clave rhythm can sometimes be tricky to identify in a piece of music. It has two main configurations, the "3-2" beat and the "2-3" beat, and it can change those configurations in the middle of a song. It can move from the claves to other percussion instruments like the congas or cowbell at any given point in a composition.

Of course, this is just a way to explain the rhythm to those not born to it. In fact, most Cuban musicians don't distinguish between the 3-2 and the 2-3 configuration. To them, clave is clave, however it happens and however it best serves the music. For them, being "en clave" is a way of living.

According to Mongo Santamaria, "In Cuba, we just play.  We feel it, we don't talk about such things.  In Cuba, we don't think about it.  We know that we're en clave.  Because we know that we have to be en clave to be a musician." 

Watch the master, Mongo Santamaria, and find the clave rhythm:

Listen for the clave on Saturday Jazz Caliente this week!

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.  The show 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.
Related Content