The term Latin jazz includes a great diversity of musicians and styles. The first music known as jazz was actually the product of interactions between African American, Caribbean and Mexican musicians in New Orleans. New York City and Havana, Cuba, have also been important sites for the mixture of jazz with Latin rhythms.
The music of artists like Machito and his Afro-Cubans, who combined the dance rhythms of the rumba, guaracha, son and mambo with big band harmonies in New York in the late 1930s, is exemplary of this new hybrid genre in its early stages. Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie also collaborated with Cuban musicians to create a style called “Cubop” in the 1940s.
In the 1950s San Francisco-based vibraphonist Cal Tjader worked with percussionists Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo to make music that was more centered in Afro-Caribbean forms and rhythms. Around the same time the Brazilian style of bossa nova became popular in the U.S., and during the 1960s and 1970s it was this Brazilian feel that jazz musicians often referred to by the term “Latin.”
However, “Latin jazz” is more strongly associated with Afro-Caribbean music. Compared to other forms of jazz, Latin jazz has stayed closer to its roots in dance and many important figures in Latin jazz, including Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri, have never stopped playing for dancers.
Compared to dance genres like mambo and salsa, Latin jazz generally gives musicians more freedom to explore, improvise and stretch out. This freedom has drawn musicians from many countries and musical backgrounds to latin jazz, adding to its diversity of styles and possibilities.