by Laura Fernandez


It has been almost 10 years since I caught the love bug and began my affair with Latin Jazz. It all started when I took over the mantle of producer and host of Café Latino on Canada’s (and the world’s) premier 24 hour jazz station –Jazz FM 91—and it has been an unbelievable and life changing journey. I was blessed with the opportunity and I have taken it truly to heart—or should I say, it took over my heart!

For those unfamiliar with the genre, Latin Jazz is generally described as a blend of American jazz with Latin American rhythms, although that is a broad definition which is continuously expanding and evolving. The two main categories are Afro- Cuban and Afro-Brazilian Jazz. Both styles have African rhythms in common: the Afro Cuban style bases its rhythm on a rhythmic pattern known as the clave; Brazilian music includes samba and bossa nova as well as many other popular permutations.

Imagine yourself in the 19th century where ships are sailing, commerce is booming and the collaboration and interaction of Cuban, African and American musicians–especially through ports such as New Orleans–had great influence on the city’s jazz style. Musicians love to jam and exchange musical ideas! As musicians travelled from port to port they shared their knowledge. The habanera or Cuban contradanza took its foothold in the Caribbean and the neighbouring ports and started gaining worldwide popularity.


…the clave became the craze and ‘Tanga’, written in 1943, is considered to be the first true Latin Jazz piece…


It became the first written music based on a syncopated 4 beat African rhythm. The famous composer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton named this Latin influence “The Spanish tinge” and insisted that without it, the music would never have “the right seasoning.” As this style of music spread, motifs such as the tresillo became very popular and were easily adapted to European rhythmic forms. Many 1930’s tunes adopted this Afro Cuban influence. Jelly Roll wrote “New Orleans Blues” and “The Crave”, and Juan Tizol wrote “Caravan“—some very early examples of Latin Jazz.

Along came Mario Bauza and Machito with their orchestras in the early 1940’s. These were the first composers to use clave. The clave became the craze and “Tanga,” written in 1943, is considered to be the first true Latin Jazz piece. Mario Bauza was the one who developed the 3-2, 2-3 beat concepts known as the clave. The rhythm was then, as it is today, both contagious and addictive.

The innovative bebop trumpeter and composer Dizzie Gillespie, was introduced to Chano Pozo, one of the best-known and most sought-after Cuban drummers, and composed “Manteca,” which was the first Jazz standard to be based on the clave.  Something to note: in contrast to American jazz, Latin Jazz uses straight rhythms rather than swung, and is often recognized by its use of percussion instruments such as congas, bongos, timbales, guiro and claves.

Brazilian jazz is largely influenced by Bossa Nova, which originated in the late 50’s and early 60’s with artists such as Joao Gilberto and composers such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Egberto Gismonti, Hermeto Pascoal, and their collaborations with American artists such as Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. Jazz artists such as Sinatra popularized Brazilian music in America and internationally, and the world fell in love.

Today, Latin Jazz continues to blend and evolve into many styles, reflecting the diversity of Latin and world cultures. Fusions of Latin Jazz with Peruvian, Chilean, and Argentinian music are just a few of these intriguing and rich mixes. Traditions such as Tango and combinations with Arabic and Jewish (Klezmer), Spanish, Portuguese as well as Indian cultures, can be found everywhere.

On a personal level, when I began to really immerse myself in this music there was no going back: I was seduced by the adventure of its discovery.  Boleros, Tangos, Salsa, Sambas, Rumbas, Cumbias, Fados, Flamenco and Flamenco Jazz…too many styles to name and too many to limit so I share what I discover with my listening audience. It has definitely influenced my own compositions and my life is richer for it.

In our own city, the music scene is rich and vibrant with culture. Latin-, Brazilian- and World-Jazz are heard in venues such as the Lula Lounge as well as many restaurants, clubs and festivals throughout our city. There is a sense of community and collaboration and it is something I would love for you all to be a part of. We are ever so fortunate to live in a country that embraces the collaboration of cultures through music.

Through my program Café Latino, I share all of this music with you, the listener, every Saturday 4-6 pm on Jazz FM 91. You can also hear it weekdays,

sprinkled like an exotic spice throughout the station’s programming.

I hope you all tune in and expand your musical horizons, appreciate the beautiful music scene we are so lucky to have, and support our wonderful venues and local artists, as well as those that breeze into town displaying exotic wares from their caravans for all of us to enjoy.

Have a little taste and fall in love like I did!