Let’s see if this sounds familiar: We’re at the turn of the last century, and an irrepressible new music has coalesced in a teeming port city. Its sound is ebullient, even impertinent, but also rich and refined: an unlikely brew of flavors extracted from Europe, from Africa (via the Caribbean), and, of course, from an already creolized local culture. For a while this engaging hybrid is largely consigned to the milieu of brothels. But with the help of some charismatic mavericks it evolves into popular music, and then concert music. More than a hundred years after its inception, it endures as an adaptable language, as a symbol of national identity, and as a living if occasionally embattled tradition.
I’m describing tango, though the premise works just as well for jazz. The two genres emerged out of similar circumstances, despite the fact that New Orleans and Buenos Aires are thousands of miles apart. And the connection between them feels especially relevant now, given a proliferation of jazz-meets-tango projects in both hemispheres.