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The Gig: Two Ways to Tango

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.

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Originally Published
Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is the director of editorial content for WBGO and a longtime contributor to JazzTimes, which published 125 installments of his column “The Gig” between 2004 and 2017. For 12 years, he was a critic for The New York Times; prior to that, he wrote about jazz for the Village Voice, the Philadelphia City Paper, and several other publications. He is the author of Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century (2018) and the co-author of George Wein’s autobiography Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (2003).