Mission Latin Jazz Fest

First Mission Latin Jazz Festival

The Mission of San Francisco is known for its enriched Latin culture, such as their annual Carnivals, numerous famous murals, delicious ethnic dining and of course the vivacious Latin dance. Annual festivals are at the heart and soul of the Mission district. Carnival, which is a street fair that includes delicious food, great music, live performances, several vendors, beautiful floats, dance competition, good company and so much more. Día de Los Muertos is a festival to commemorate loved ones who have passed. Of all the different festivals that happen throughout the year that celebrate what it means to be Latino and the rich culture behind it, we get to continue the San Francisco legacy with a brand new festival; the 1st Mission Latin Jazz Festival.

The 1st Mission Latin Jazz Festival is a festival that is self-explanatory; it is a festival in tribute to Latin Jazz. Acción Latina was the main sponsor and coordinator of the festival, which was held in the city of San Francisco, Mission district, on Saturday, October 13 and Sunday, October 14. Over the period of two days there were different groups hand selected to perform at this festival, many of the groups whom happened to be locals to San Francisco; however, there were other groups who were representing both nationally and internationally. Of the many artists who displayed their music, Acción Latina selected an all-star band of Mission district musicians from the 1970s and is paired with the Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble and the next generation of SF Latin Jazz musicians, just to name a few. This festival was definitely a huge platform for musicians and bands with exceptional gifts from the Mission district, the Bay Area, California, the US, Latin America, and beyond.

Acción Latina is an organization they started in 1970, which started off as a bilingual tabloid that voiced and reflected the concerns of the Latin community. Since 1970 they have come a long way and their main purpose “is to strengthen Latino communities by promoting and preserving cultural traditions and by encouraging meaningful civic engagement that builds and sustains healthy, informed communities. Our work includes producing a free, bilingual, biweekly newspaper, providing community-based journalism training, and producing a rich mix of cultural events that reflect the diversity of Latino communities.

Although the title of the festival may be self-explanatory as it is a festival on Latin Jazz, many of you may still be baffled on what Latin Jazz actually is. This festival was not only put together to entertain the audience with great rhythm moving music, but also answering the questions of so many who are unfamiliar with the genre of Latin Jazz.

The genre of Latin Jazz is definitely a style of music that has been overlooked in certain aspects due to the widespread of music that is displayed in the melting pot of San Francisco and across the United States. It is now time that the genre of Latin Jazz is brought to the forefront of the music world and Acción Latina is starting here in the city of San Francisco. What Acción Latina has done rather well is making this Mission Jazz Festival a learning experience. Not only will the perspective audience be listening to great musicians perform, but they will be defining what Latin Jazz is, how it originated and issues around the genre of Latin Jazz. I was lucky enough to land interviews with two very influential people who also had a huge part in putting the 1st Mission Latin Jazz Festival together, Professor Greg Landau and Professor Jose Cuellar. With the two perspectives of these educators I hope to mold a more vivid picture of what Latin Jazz is and how it originated.

What is Latin Jazz?

Latin Jazz is a concept that consists of borrowed elements from all of Latin America and the United States as well. The musicality of Latin jazz is considered to be a blending of Jazz from the United States during the 1900’s and the Afro-centric styles, beats and last but not least the incorporation of the Latin tinge, which many may call el “Sabor Latino.” Many think that el Sabor Latino consists of only Caribbean influences, but that is not true as each country has their own interpretation of Latin Jazz and their influences to the genre overall. No doubt about it that the Caribbean definitely has a strong influence over the genre, but it is not the only genre as will be explained below. The root of Jazz and many genres of music for that matter have a very prominent influence of the African Diaspora. Playing Latin Jazz is definitely not considered to be traditional, but rather unconventional and unstructured. The over arching theme of Latin Jazz is to introduce new elements whether being through instruments, unstructured music, expanding harmonies all into modern music.

What does it mean?

In order for music to be considered Latin Jazz they have to have a few different elements. These elements are improvisation, poly-rhythm and collective participation; however, the elements are ever changing, but these are the main elements that you will see throughout Latin Jazz. It is constantly evolving, what one piece of music may sound like one night, may be completely different if played and the next night and the element of improvisation allows for the performance of a song to change. In African-based music you have a fluid dialogue between musicians, which is known as a call and response. This call and response usually involves percussion type instruments or the musicians and the dancers. This type of call and response can also be found in Latin Jazz. Latin Jazz can be interpreted one of two ways either as jazz mixed into Latin song or as Latin song mixed into jazz, either way you have an incorporation of the two.

When did Latin Jazz Originate?

As mentioned earlier, there are many aspects of Latin Jazz and it is considered to be a collaboration of different genres of music. So in order to figure out the origins of Latin Jazz you must first understand the origins of the different parts of Latin Jazz. We can first start with Jazz, which originated in the south of United States. New Orleans is the birth roots of jazz that developed in late 1800’s within the bars in the slum streets of the very vibrant city. The Latin’s who were in the south at the time of the Jazz movement embraced the new style of music and took elements of what they heard and saw and incorporated it into the their style of music. With that being said the actual incorporation of both Jazz and the Latin tinge happened at the turn of the 20th century. The Latin’s who were present during this era also had an influence on the Jazz musicians, where many of them too incorporated the Cuban music elements into jazz, which can date back to around the 1920’s and 1930’s. Another Latin based country that had an influential part in creating Latin Jazz in the beginning is Brazil. Many of the African Diaspora that lived through Cuban and Brazilian music transmitted itself into Southern Jazz. Later this movement started to make its way to other parts of South America such as Mexico with the incorporation of Jalisco.

In the late 1930’s Latin Jazz began to branch out within the United States, New Orleans was no longer the only city that embraced this new sensation of Latin Jazz, but cities such as New York City, Miami, and San Francisco were very quick to follow suit. In New York City artists such as Tito Puente were discovered as he involved himself in Jazz bands. Each city in which you were able to find Latin Jazz incorporated their own flavor into the music that they played based on the Latin population that was influenced. For instance in Miami there was a large Cuban based population; therefore, having a very Cuban based style of Latin Jazz. When Latin Jazz hit San Francisco a completely different type of twist was infused into Jazz, which had an “acid style of Latin Jazz,” as exclaimed by Professor Cuellar. San Francisco is the birthplace of the music of Carlos Santana. Latin Jazz takes on several different faces within the United States and it all depends on the location in which you are situated.

Does Latin Jazz only include Cuban and Puerto Rican mixtures of Jazz, Caribbean Jazz, or can Latin Jazz include influences from all over Latin America?

Without a doubt there has been a very disproportionate amount of certain cultures influences within Latin Jazz over others; however, many countries have made their own mark on it as well. There is a great deal of Caribbean influence within Latin Jazz and this may be due to the large base of African Diaspora aspect that the countries bring to the table. The countries within the Caribbean have a very heavy based African core with the inclusion of instruments such as the drum that emulates through music and created a great tool for call and response. There are many great musicians that come out of these Caribbean countries needless to say that there are many great musicians that come out of Latin American as a whole but the Caribbean music influence has had a great impact on Latin Jazz. As mentioned earlier in the article Latin Jazz is ever evolving and other Latin American countries have definitely begun to add their own twist.

How has Latin Jazz evolved since it started and how do you see it evolving today?

As time has passed Latin Jazz has continued to grow, has continued to evolve and has continued to gain different influences for Latin American countries. Latin Jazz is a very liberal form of music, having this greater sense of freedom, allowing artist to build to their music pieces as the go, the absence of a formal music structure when performing as oppose to the musicians having to stick to the music notes given to them.

In conclusion attending the 1st Mission Latin Jazz Festival was definitely a great experience. I had no idea what I would be walking into or what to expect from a two-day festival. Prior to attending this festival I was unaware of what Latin Jazz was or how to classify it. Now that I have been formally introduced to Latin Jazz, I am able to distinguish it from other Latin rhythms. Latin Jazz has had a huge impact in my life without even being aware of it because some of the music that I listen to is considered Latin Jazz. To finally have a concrete understanding of what Latin Jazz is and how to distinguish it will benefit me, as Latin music will always be apart of my life. Moving forward, I believe that Latin Jazz will continue to expand and grow into different parts of Latin America and right here in San Francisco.