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Latin Jazz-La Combinacion Perfecta

Donald Vega, Dr. Raul Fernandez-Curator,and Charma Donald Vega, Dr. Raul Fernandez-Curator,and Charma Ricky Richardson

Jazz Sizzles in New Exhibition At CAAM

Photo and Text by Ricky Richardson

Los Angeles-In the words of New Orleans jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, jazz was born with a "Spanish tinge." A bilingual traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian, Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta," opened at the California African American Museum on July 16, 2005 and will remain on view until October 8, 2005.

Important industry personalities-an interesting mixture of musicians, producers, writers, artists, DJ’s and I were in attendance for a private opening reception on July 15. Entertainment was provided by Donald Vega Quartet, who is an exceptional pianist who delivered a high-energy set of Afro-Cuban Latin Jazz to the delight of the audience.

July 16-The public opening of the exhibition kicked off with a talk by Dr. Raul Fernandez, exhibition curator and professor of social studies at the University of California, Irvine. He explored the origins of Latin Jazz-a musical journey from Africa to the Caribbean to the Americas and back again. Mr. Fernandez led the crowd on a guided tour of the exhibition.

"Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta" tells the story of the evolution of Latin jazz in the United States. The exhibition offers a concise look at Latin jazz, its history, major personalities, and icons. The exhibition features maps, audio-visual stations, vintage film footage, oral history interviews, documents, photographs, musical scores, programs and album covers. Several instruments (some owned by jazz greats)- tres, claves, maracas, congas, bongos, guiros, tamboras, panderetas, horns, timbales, and a five-key flute- will enhance the exhibition’s impact on visitors.

In the late 19th century, musical traditions from the Caribbean and the United States migrated and mixed, resulting in the emergence of complex new sounds. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, musicians including Mario Bauza, Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo and Machito began to fuse jazz with Afro-Cuban music. The result was what "Latin Jazz" curator Raul Fernandez calls "a hybrid of hybrids." Percussionists assumed a dramatic new importance, new instruments found their way into the jazz lexicon, and the African heritage of both Caribbean and American music became more pronounced.

In New York, social clubs, concert halls and dance venues brought together American, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Caribbean musicians. In other major U.S. cities jazz audiences and musicians also welcomed these new influences. On the West Coast many local musicians, along with East Coast musicians who migrated west, adopted the new blend of music as their own. In San Francisco, the Beats wove the vocabulary and rhythms of Afro-Cubop into their own work. Meanwhile, the sounds of American jazz spread throughout the Caribbean.

An 18-member advisory committee, led by Fernandez, professor of social sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and drawn from the international jazz and Latin music community, has been an important part of the planning process of this project. Members include music scholars and historians, musicians, record executives, producers and radio broadcasters.

"Latin jazz is one of the most complex and exciting music of the planet," said Fernandez. "It combines Afro-Cuban and Caribbean rhythms with the harmonic approaches and styles of jazz. It’s the perfect combination."

The exhibition is part of a four-component project, which also features accompanying educational materials, a book published by Chronicle Books, and a CD produced by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings containing some of the most essential Latin jazz recordings. Visit http://www.smithsonianjazz.org/latinjazz/latinjazz_start.asp for more information.

There are several events held in conjunction with the exhibition.

August 13-Live Performance/El Ritmo Latino-The Latin Beat

September 3-Film Screening/Machito: A Latin Jazz Legacy

September 10-Art Workshop/Looks Like Jazz to Me

September 24-Demonstration-workshop/Voice of the Conga

"Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta" was organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and America’s Jazz Heritage, a Partnership of the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund and the Smithsonian Institution. Additional support has been provided by BET Jazz.

The mission of the California African American Museum is to research, collect, preserve and interpret for public enrichment, the history, art, and culture of African Americans with emphasis on California and the western United States. The museum is located at 600 State Drive in Exposition Park. Admission is free. Parking is $6. For more information, please call (213)744-7432. The California African American Museum is a State of California Museum, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor.

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Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Donald Vega, Dr. Raul Fernandez-Curator,and Charma
  • Event Date: July 15-October 8,2005
  • Subtitle: New Exhibit At California African American Museum
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