Mambo

Mambo music is up tempo and mainly instrumental that has many different distinctions and definitions. It is a big-band dance music genre featuring antiphonal sectional arrangements for contrasting brass instruments. Typical instruments involved in a mambo song are the conga, cajon, bongo, timbales, claves, upright bass, piano, trombones, trumpets, and saxophone.

Mambo has its origins in American big band style of music mashed together with Cuban ideas of the montuno and danzon. The montuno involves a rhythmic backbeat infused with often-improvised solos. These solos became the focus of the mambo, and the most important part of the song. Danzon is widely considered the official style of music in Cuba. The danzon style of music was heavily influenced by the French-Haitian contradance, which was imported to Cuba from Haiti. Originally, danzon orchestras consisted of e typical orchestra instruments. Later, danzon bands were downsized to smaller charangas, that eventually would add congo drums to their ensemble.

In 1938, Orestes Lopez and Cacharo Lopez, considered the “inventors of mambo,” wrote the song Mambo, which was a danzon, but also included rhythms from African folk music. This afro-cubanism mash up would be different from the typical danzon and so, the mambo was born. Mambo included very little vocal sections, if any, but was primarily instrumental dance music.

Mambo found its way to prominence after Perez Prado created a dance for this new genre. In 1943, he introduced his new dance at the La Tropicana night club in Havana, Cuba. After spreading his new genre of mambo to Mexico and New York City it had become a very popular, and by the mid 1950’s it had reached its height in New York City. Mambo was then played at the famous, Palladium Ballroom, where famous mambo dancers of the day such as Augie and Margo Rodriguez and Louie Maquina showcased their dance moves for audiences.

One of the first Mambo artists was Machito, born Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo in Havana, Cuba. His band, the Afro-Cuban Salseros, used a simple rhythmic backbeat with contrasting brass solos to create that “mambo” sound. Musical director and lead trumpeter, Mario Bauza, who was also Machito’s brother-in-law, convinced Machito to hire jazz-oriented musicians. The trumpet section, led by Bauza, would give piercing solos that really gave the mambo music its “oomph” while the mellower saxophone sections would provide a smooth danceable beat.

Another influential mambo artist was Tito Puente, or Ernesto Antonio Puente Jr., was born in Spanish Harlem in New York City. He was considered “El Rey” or transtlated as “The King” of Latin music. Puente was once a part of Machito, and Machito was actually Puente’s musical mentor. By 1950, when Mambo was just about to hit its peak, Puente’s band was considered one of the top-three in New York City. Puente is credited with introducing the timbal and vibraphone to his mambo sound.

Tito Rodriguez, known as “El Inovidable” (The Unforgettable) to his fans, was another big band that played mambo in New York City during the 1950’s. Born in Puerto Rico, his band, The Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, found popularity in local night clubs. His band had very similar sounds to other big mambo artists at the time, like Jose Cuberlo, Tito Puente, and Machito. Considering that Tito Rodriguez played with all of them at some point during his musical career, he included all of their influences in his mambo band. There was also a fierce rivalry between the two “Tito’s” at the time. Tito Rodriguez produced such songs as “Avisale a Mi Contrario Que Aqui Estoy Y” (Tell My Counterpart That I Am Here) and “Que Pena Me Da” (I Pity You). These two songs just show the feelings between Tito Rodriguez and Tito Puente.

Latin Jazz is a primarily instrumental musical piece that combines elements of jazz-oriented solos over an afro-cuban clave, made more for listening to rather than dancing to. Latin Jazz was popularized in the late 1940’s by Dizzy Gillepsie and Stan Kenton. The afro-cuban rhythmic section along with the sharp improvised solos made this genre popular and fun to listen to. Mario Bauza, the musical director for Machito’s Afro-Cuban Saleseros, created the first Latin Jazz composition, “Tanga”, in 1943.

Three years later, Stan Kenton, along with collaborator Pete Rugallo, was the first American Jazz player to play this new style of Latin Jazz. His song, “Machito” included jazz instruments like the saxophone, with the combination of the bongos and maracas, both which gave this new jazz that unique Latin-American flavor. Later, in the same year, Kenton also recorded “The Peanut Vendor” with members of Machito’s band.

Another exponent of this genre was Dizzy Gillpsie. His mastery of the trumpet along with the afro-cuban rhythmic sections gave greater poise to the Latin Jazz movement. Songs that Gillpsie coordinated on include, “Cubano Be, Cubano Bop” and “Afro-Cuban Drums Suite”, in which both songs included the great Cuban congo player, Chano Pozo.

Latin Jazz differed from regular Jazz. Jazz uses a swung rhythm rather than a straight rhythm, which Latin Jazz uses. A swung rhythm is where the first note is played, and the second note is more diminished. When these notes are played in pairs, in creates that swing rhythm found in big bands, where to achieve this swing effect, the first note is played usually twice as long as the first note. A straight rhythm, as used in Latin Jazz, does not do this. This makes Latin Jazz less danceable, but easier to listen to and improvised solos become even more unique. Another component that differed Jazz from Latin Jazz was the difference in percussion instruments. While a typical jazz ensemble would use the standard drum, Latin Jazz incorporated percussion such as the conga and timbale. These percussion instruments would also not take a backseat during improvised solos. Usually, the conga or timbale would take center stage during a solo, or be a prominent part of the solo.

Salsa is, at its roots, Cuban, but it includes influences from Puerto Ricoand other Latino countries. It also includes influences from R&B, pop, jazz, and rock music. Salsa has been called the “essential pulse of Latin music,” and it has also been deemed, “most popular dance music among Puerto Rican and Cuban communities, and in Central and South America.”

The word salsa from Spanish translates to “sauce,” in English. The connotation of the word, however, in the Latin America refers to the “spiciness” of Latin American cuisine. The word salsa, has been described as a word with, “vivid associations but no absolute definitions, a tag that encompasses a rainbow assortment of Latin rhythms and styles, taking on a different hue wherever you stand in the Spanish-speaking world.” The word salsa has come to take a different meaning in New York City. Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants have come to associate the term with “soul” or “swing”. This usage of the word in New York City came to mean the frenzied style of dance that reflects the “spiciness” of the Latin American culture.

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