MUSIC: Jazz, Funk, And Cuban Rhythms

The IU Latin Jazz Ensemble ◆ by Kristen Strandberg

Latin jazz’s fusion of Cuban music with American jazz and funk has captivated audiences for decades with its catchy syncopated rhythms, and prominent brass and percussion sections.  Long known for its outstanding jazz program, the IU Jacobs School of Music has recently broadened its scope to include a Latin jazz ensemble, directed by percussion professor Michael Spiro.  On Monday, April 8, the IU Latin Jazz Ensemble will perform in the Musical Arts Center with internationally acclaimed composer and trombonist, Wayne Wallace.

What began five years ago as a small jazz combo has since grown into a group of twenty to thirty performers featuring Jacobs School of Music students on piano, guitar, drum set, trumpet, saxophone, and trombone, along with Latin American percussion instruments including the conga, timbale, batá drum, bongo, chekeré, guiro, and maraca.

The ensemble specializes in music often described as a blend of Cuban music and American jazz — a genre that emerged in the late 1940s, which, according to the group’s director, Michael Spiro, is “rooted in Cuban rhythms and American harmony.”  The repeated, syncopated Latin dance rhythms worked their way into American jazz in the 1940s and 1950s, as jazz legends such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie worked alongside Latin American performers.  Genres such as the mambo, bolero, and cha cha cha eventually became popular choices for big bands playing in American dance halls.  By the 1960s, Latin Jazz musicians were incorporating elements of African-American popular music, leading to boogaloo and eventually salsa, which combines Cuban music with American rock, R&B, and funk.  While the Latin rhythms and unique timbres of Cuban percussion instruments give the music its distinct Latin flavor, the brass section, along with the piano and guitar, are reminiscent of the funk styles of Earth, Wind & Fire, and James Brown.

San Francisco-based Wayne Wallace continues this tradition of combining Cuban and American musical styles.  Spiro particularly points to Wallace’s bass, horn, and drum set patterns, which are strongly influenced by funk.  Wallace is a five-time Grammy nominee who has performed with a wide variety of well-known musicians including The Count Basie Orchestra, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, and Tito Puente, among dozens of others.  Additionally, Wallace and Spiro have collaborated in many previous performances and recordings, including the CD ¡BIEN BIEN!, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2011.

The IU Latin Jazz Ensemble concert, featuring Wayne Wallace, will take place on Monday, April 8 at 8pm at the Musical Arts Center.  A smaller jazz combo will perform in the lobby beginning at 7:15.  The event is free.

The Ryder, March 2013