Poncho Sánchez and his band

Poncho Sánchez and his band

Jazz is the name of a form of music that arose in the black communities in the southern United States during the early 20th century and which was conceived from the beginning as a mixture of musical influences from various countries and cultures. But its deepest historical roots date to the music of daily life on the plantations, and more directly to the blues and ragtime genres.

The multicultural environment of the southern United States during the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly Louisiana, provided the setting for the development of this music that could be considered part of the musical complex of the plantation: a large population of black slaves that worked on the plantations with their important African musical traditions; the influences of European cultural heritage, particularly French and Spanish; and the nearby presence of Spanish-speaking countries with their own musical traditions (Mexico and the Caribbean, especially Cuba). It is also important to remember that New Orleans, in Louisiana, was a French colony from 1718 to 1803 (the year it was sold to the United States) and was also controlled by Spain for 38 years, from 1762 to 1800. Also, many of the African slaves who had come to the southern United States had come through the Caribbean, which was the port of entry for the slave ships coming from Africa.

For all of these reasons, there were musical traditions in New Orleans and the southern United States that were associated with plantation life, and many of the songs and dances that were part of the daily life of the African slaves, including songs they sung while working, songs sung at funerals, songs that were part of religious worship, and others that were part of playful activities. These slaves were also strongly influenced by the European music and dances of the era (the French quadrille, the waltz, etc.) and Latino music in general from Cuba and Mexico. Forms such as the habanera, calinda, contredanse and fandango were common parts of the music of New Orleans in that era. It could be said that, in cultural terms, the southern United States was an extension of the Caribbean, or at least that the musical forms associated with plantation life in the Caribbean, which had strong African influences, were also found on the plantations in the southern United States.

In the second half of the 18th century, blues and ragtime arose in this cultural setting. Ragtime roots include Mexican music, as well as Latino traditions, the danza and the habanera. Jelly Roll Morton (one of the first ragtime musicians of the late 18th century) referred to jazz’s Latino elements as the “Spanish tinge” and considered it an essential part of jazz. Elements of Caribbean and Latin American music can be found in many early ragtime pieces, such as those by Louis Maurice Gottschalk, Neil Moret, Scott Joplin, Louis Chauvin, W. C. Handy and Sigmund Romberg.

Jazz emerged in the 1920s and was derived from ragtime and the blues. But at the same time, Latino music was at its peak of popularity in U.S. cities. Latino-Caribbean music was very popular in the United States during the early 20th century, including the rumba, conga, samba, mambo, the chachachá, the tango and the bossa nova. As a result, the influence these traditions had on jazz was fundamental from the beginning and Latino dance music rhythms were combined with jazz melodies. At an instrumental level, the core of the jazz band was accompanied by percussion instruments from Latino music, such as the conga, kettle and bongo drums.

It can be argued that jazz and the Caribbean are inextricably connected in a double sense: not only because Latino-Caribbean music had an “essential” influence on jazz from its very origins, but also in the sense that many elements of the music of Caribbean plantations were present on the plantations of the southern United States and these traditions were later seen in ragtime and the blues, and later yet in jazz.
Autor: Luis Galanes
Published: May 31, 2012.

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