Happy New Year, folks! I wanted to send out 2021 and usher in 2022 with another music post. And also bump that perennial Christmas schtick off the top, because it always gets moldy about this time.
Thus, we now encounter the musical giants John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie and Luciano Pozo González, better known as Chano Pozo. It’s a legendary meeting of musical minds.
In this fantabulous documentary Latin Music USA we learn how Afro-Cuban rhythms established the heartbeat of Latin music and, transplanted to New York City, became a driving force across multiple musical genres. Here’s a segment:
From the 11 minute mark we meet two guys whose collaborative innovations re-shaped both jazz and Latin music and left an immortal legacy. Dizzy Gillespie, trumpeter, hipster, jokester, composer, arranger and bandleader, was of course a driving force in bebop. But, he was getting sick of the sameness of jazz rhythms.
Because of previous work with Afro-Cuban bands, Dizzy asked a former bandleader for intervention for his upcoming Carnegie Hall concert. Cuban conga players were starting to come to New York City, and Dizzy wanted to add someone to his band who played “those tom toms.” He was then introduced to Chano Pozo, another recent arrival from Cuba.
Chano had already been a legend in Cuba. He had a larger than life reputation as singer, dancer, showman, ladies man, bodyguard, street fighter, percussionist, master of Carnival and composer. He was a folk hero to Havana’s poor and downtrodden because of his accomplishments and irrepressible personality. He had written “La Comparasa de los Dandys” which is still a Carnival standard. Chano was also a ranking devotee of Santería, a mystical syncretistic religion that developed in Cuba.
Chano’s appearance with Dizzy’s band at Carnegie Hall was a mad sensation and Dizzy asked Chano to join the band, somewhat to the dismay of bandmates who were more than a little intimidated by Chano, and not necessarily enthusiastic about the new musical hybrid he brought with him.
Tragically, Chano was shot to death about a year later in a bar, at the age of only 33. The altercation started when he complained about the quality of some dope he’d been sold.
So, the amazing collaboration between Dizzy and Chano ended way too soon, but not before some tremendous work and recording, most notably Chano’s composition “Manteca,” a standard which never dates.
Dizzy never stopped talking about Chano and is said to have called him the greatest drummer he ever knew. “Manteca” lives on as a standard which many Afro-Cuban bands have to try their chops on. Here is a great version by Chicas de la Habana.
Afro-Cuban rhythms continued to intertwine both jazz and Latin music, including the Salsa revolution in New York City in the 1970s. The rhythms also exploded onto the rock and roll scene through Santana‘s famous debut at Woodstock.
Anyways, that’s all I got. Happy New Year to all!