When Afro-Cuban musician Mario Bauzá introduced Dizzy Gillespie to Havana-born percussionist Chano Pozo in 1947, it paved the way for the emergence of Latin Jazz. Gillespie didn't know what a conga drum was called, but the trumpeter sure knew he liked its sounds. The BeBop jazz legend invited Pozo to join his band. That moment broke down barriers between Latino and swing-era bands, a shift in the soundscape that will be celebrated this weekend at Long Beach's Museum of Latin America Art.
"At that time, the jazz public was unaware of music from the Caribbean," says musical director Paul De Castro. "This is the first time the American jazz public started listening to authentic Cuban percussion."
The mixture was masterful producing classics like "Manteca," "A Night in Tunisia," and others. "Manteca was primarily written by Chano Pozo and then Dizzy Gillespie added one section to the song to make it more appealing for the jazz public," De Castro says. "It's still played today by almost every Latin Jazz group."
As musical director for the evening, De Castro will be leading the Cal State University Los Angeles Afro Latin Ensemble in playing "Manteca" and other tunes of the era. It's the second consecutive year the museum is hosting a summer concert series highlighting Afro-Cuban music. Saturday's event will have some star power behind it with the acclaimed Cuban percussionist Calixto Oviedo and two-time Grammy Award winning percussionist Joey De Leon among the invited musical guests.
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The "Cubana-Be/Cubana-Bop" sounds playing into the night's sky from Molaa's sculpture garden pay homage to a meeting of the musical minds that changed the course of Afro-Cuban music and jazz. Gillespie and Pozo inspired a slew of musicians to follow in their sonic footsteps and widened the audience for their contemporaries like Machito and the Afro-Cubans.
"We all the know the story of Tito Puente," De Castro says of the late Latin Jazz legend. "There's a whole new generation that came up after that with musicians like Poncho Sanchez. Latin Jazz is played all over the world!"
Cubana Be, Cubana Bop, The Return of Bebop: The Music of Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), 628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, Sat., 6:30 p.m. $30-50. All ages.