Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, the KNKX and Jazz24 music teams illustrate the different styles that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to present, journey with us from Dixieland to modern jazz styles, big-band to hip-hop.

Infusing African rhythms by way of Cuba, Afro-Cuban jazz flourished in the US

Tito Puente plays the timbales on stage with his orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Mike Albans
Percussionist and bandleader Tito Puente plays the timbales as he leads his Orchestra at a JVC Jazz Festival performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 23, 1991.

With origins in Africa, Cuban rhythms mixed with American jazz in the 1940s, and opened the door for fusions with pop, rock and soul in the 1960s. Robin Lloyd tells the story of Afro-Cuban jazz, part of KNKX and Jazz24's A History of Jazz project.

Listen to the story above or read the script below:

That’s Machito and his Afro-Cubans. The piece is called "Tanga," composed in 1943 by trumpeter and arranger Mario Bauzá. The song title was supposedly derived from an African word for marijuana.

Cuban-born Bauzá was in Cab Calloway's orchestra in New York when he decided to put together his own sophisticated big band, and play original jazz arrangements over Afro-Cuban rhythms. Bauzá had his brother-in-law Francisco Grillo, also known as "Machito," front the band.

"Tanga” became the band's theme song. It was the first original American jazz piece written "en clave;" that is, in a specifically Afro-Cuban rhythm.

The band's name, the Afro-Cubans, was the first acknowledgement that the so-called "Latin" rhythms that were making their way into American music actually originated in Africa.

A side-note: trumpeter Arturo Sandoval objects to the term “Latin jazz.” He said in a PBS interview several years ago: “ ’Latin’ jazz? What is Latin, it’s a language you only hear in church. Our music is Afro-Cuban music.”

Point taken, Arturo.

In 1947, Cuban conga drummer and composer Chano Pozo joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band onstage at Carnegie Hall.

The song “Manteca,” composed by Gillespie and Pozo together, was the next step toward a new form of Afro-Cuban jazz.

By the 1960s, politics prevented most Cuban musicians from coming into the United States.

But with the influx of Puerto Ricans settling in New York, and the Black community’s growing interest in their African roots, Afro-Latin music started blending with pop, rock and roll, soul and jazz.

Hit records of 1963 included Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va”, saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ Caribbean-flavored “St. Thomas,” and Cuban percussion master Mongo Santamaria’s cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

Dizzy Gillespie once told me that out of all the music of this hemisphere that has come into jazz, Cuban music has had the biggest impact.

Works for me!

KNKX Celebrates Jazz Appreciation Month

Throughout the month of April, we will be illustrating different styles of jazz through time that make up jazz history through storytelling and music. From the early 1900’s to 2022, we will journey from Dixieland to Modern Jazz styles, Big Band to Hip Hop.

Listen to installments weekdays at 9am and 7pm on 88.5 FM and See all stories from the KNKX History of Jazz project.

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.