What do Louis Armstrong, Bo Diddley, Walt Disney, Lucille Ball, Elvis Presley, Sesame Street, Bill Cosby and Alicia Keyes have in common? They’ve all used Latin American musical elements in their work, thereby playing important roles in the ever-growing dissemination of Afro-Latin elements in U.S. pop culture.
The parallel relationship and syncretization of Jazz and Latin American music provide a rich and fascinating perspective on this Latinization process.
Latin Jazz is at the forefront of an international barrier-breaking process that is a tribute to its powerful spiritual roots. Unfortunately, and largely due to its humble “ethnic origins,” this vital form of expression has been relatively ignored in terms of historical recognition and documentation, despite its surprising role in American pop culture and its obvious recent successes. As with any art form that has been over-commercialized, much Latin Jazz does not reflect or recognize the profound history and relevance of the form.
Of all the diverse forms of Latin American music, Latin Jazz is the most direct and influential link to the music of the United States. Its history runs parallel to that of North American Jazz, having been created in the Caribbean community of which New Orleans (the birthplace of Jazz) is such a vital part, in New York City, the creative music capital of the world, and other American urban centers. The origins of Latin Jazz are largely Cuban, drawing upon African and European roots. Considering New Orleans’ Caribbean roots and the millions of transplanted Afro-Caribbeans in New York, is it far-fetched to consider Jazz itself to be of Caribbean ancestry? Although the music has evolved beyond any boundaries of nationality, color, sex, etc, it is vital to acknowledge and understand the Afro-Latin nature of this form of expression, as it represents the very identity and history of Afro-Latinos.
Contrary to popular belief in the United States, Jazz did not develop solely in this country and Latin Jazz is not a novel recent appendage related to the current popularity of “World Music.” The indisputable truth is that Jazz and Latin American music are branches of the same tree that have borrowed freely from one another since the late 19th century. Today’s interpreters of Latin Jazz are of all ages and colors. We are honored to consider ourselves part of a musical movement that owes its existence to generations of pioneers and innovators who dedicated their lives to the preservation and development of creative forms of cultural expression. We strive to uphold their legacy.
Music is education, honesty, freedom, physical and spiritual release, an extra-sensory form of artistic human expression that speaks to issues of the heart and mind. Music is a gift that deserves the utmost respect from practitioners and listeners alike. From this position of respect, it is not difficult to see how Latin Jazz has withstood the test of time gradually reaching its current state of international growth and acceptance. It is among our tasks to see that appropriate dignity and historical accuracy are attributed to the roots and pioneers of Latin Jazz as we welcome its evolution.
John Santos’ passion for the music and ability to articulate its role historically, make him an effective and in-demand lecturer. He is also adept at conducting seminars, clinics, residencies and hands-on workshops in Afro-Latin and contemporary percussion focusing on polyrhythms from Cuba, Puerto Rico and Brazil, and on the art, technique, demands and disciplines of dozens of percussive instruments.
He has taught thousands of people in the U.S. (since 1973) and in Europe (since 1987), and has informed tens of thousands more through his writing. Mr. Santos has lectured and conducted clinics at Yale University, UCLA, The Berklee School of Music in Boston, Stanford, Duke, University of Michigan, San Francisco State University, Humboldt State University, San Jose State University, Long Beach State University, Cal State Hayward, Santa Clara University, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Julia De Burgos Cultural Center (Bronx, NY) and the Community Music Center of San Francisco. He is currently on the faculty of the College of San Mateo CA (since 2006), Jazz Camp West of Rhythmic Concepts Inc. (since 1986), the Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance program of Humboldt (CA) State University (since 2003), and the Lafayette (CA) Summer Music Program (since 2004). Some popular subjects for his lectures include:
- The Roots of Salsa
- The Anatomy of Latin Jazz
- The Role of the Percussionist
- La Clave Misteriosa
- Salsa for Social Change
- Traditional and Contemporary Afro-Caribbean Music as Identity and Resistance
- The African Presence in Latin American Music
- La Tumbadora: Backbone of Salsa and Latin Jazz
- The Danzon: Cuban Musical Royalty, Jazz Predecessor
- La Rumba No Es como Ayer
Mr. Santos works with audiences and students of all ages and levels. His appearances can be solo or in tandem with other musicians and can include any combination of lecture and demonstration using an amazing arsenal of instruments as well as rare recordings and slides from his legendary collection.