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"Music of the World"
Music of the World
Quentina Green
Music of the WorldSocarras started by playing the Cotton Club and in black revues, recording the first flute solos jazz with Clarence Williams, Sidney Bechet's and Louis Armstrong's producer. Once he had built up a reputation, he founded a big band that mixed classical music, Cuban rhythms and jazz. His music was a total novelty at the time, and one contemporary American critic wrote of the savage intensity" of the band's rhythm section. Although Socarras was black, he overcame racial barriers in many clubs that had previously been closed to coloured bands, taking his tropical drums as far afield as Illinois and Nebraska.

The Puerto Rican trombonist Juan Tizol also embarked on an American jazz career, joining the Duke Ellington orchestra in the late 1920s. For Ellington he composed the first Latin jazz numbers, Caravan and Perdido. He also introduced his boss to the structure of Cuban music which, unlike jazz which allows its soloists complete freedom of invention, is based on a very precise superposition of rhythms, each of which has its own particular part to play in an acoustic tapestry that is constantly changing. The conga follows one predetermined line, the bongo another. Bass and plano both also make their own contribution to the polyphonic rhythms. Whatever notes they may be playing, Cuban musicians must respect a particular style of phrasing that neophytes (and even experienced jazzmen) often find hard to pick up.

Other American bandleaders, among them Chick Webb and Cab Calloway, fell for the charms of the bolero, guaracha and rumba-all three of them Cuban imports. In turn, jazz made its first tentative incursions into Cuba. Duke Ellington went to Havana in 1933, and American-style big bands began to be formed there. But New York in the early 1940s was the real home of the fusion of jazz...

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"Music of the World." Aug 18, 2018
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