Issue Date: September 8, 2008
City: Washington, DC
During the late 1800s, musical styles from the Caribbean and the United States were joined together. Latin jazz blended the improvisation of American jazz with the intense drums of Latin American and African dance rhythms.
By the 1930s, Latin jazz was popular in nightclubs across America. People could not seem to get enough of the infectious beats and swinging melodies. Audiences could not help but dance to the improvised energetic performances of European string and brass instruments and piano infused with African and native drums.
There are two categories of Latin jazz: Brazilian Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban Latin jazz. The former category includes bossa nova, while the latter includes salsa, merengue, songo, son, mambo, timba, bolero, charanga, and cha cha. Latin jazz is often performed by small groups with percussive instruments including the conga, timbale, güiro, and claves. Much of the music is improvised, guaranteeing audiences will never hear the same performance twice.
Latin jazz has enjoyed immense popularity in the United States for its energetic dance rhythms and audience participation. As Latin jazz pioneer Tito Puente said, “If there is no dance, there is not music.”
In 2008, the U.S. Postal Service commemorated the infectious energy of Latin Jazz on a 42¢ stamp.