The term Latin jazz was coined during the 1950s by the American media, but it’s always been an overly simplistic description of a complex musical melting pot. In truth, that pot has always been a cultural cauldron, and Latin-jazz bandleaders-of both big and small groups-carry on the tradition today by adding ingredients from numerous ancestral countries, as well as drawing influences from the Internet and the growing Latino population in the United States. Both veteran performers and younger musicians from Cuba and Brazil still define the directions Latin jazz takes, along with popular artists from Panama (pianist Danilo Perez), the Dominican Republic (pianist Michel Camilo), Puerto Rico (saxophonist Miguel Zenón), Mexico (drummer Antonio Sanchez), Spain (guitarist Paco de Lucía), Argentina (saxophonist Gato Barbieri), Uruguay (violinist Federico Britos), Venezuela (pianist Edward Simon), Peru (drummer/percussionist Alex Acuña) and beyond.
“Latin refers to Latin America, which includes 22 countries,” says Bobby Sanabria, an animated, intense Bronx-based bandleader, composer, drummer/percussionist and musical educator. “Each of these places has an extraordinary amount of rhythms, styles and genres that represent their cultures.” He cites examples such as Cuban mambo, Dominican merengue, Brazilian choro, Venezuelan joropo and Puerto Rican bomba. Sanabria is a native New Yorker of Puerto Rican heritage, or “Nuyorican.”