Bobby Sanabria's Clave Chronicles

More Thoughts About JazzTimes And Latin Jazz Coverage From Bobby Sanabria
Chip Boaz - (

The recent LJC post An Open Letter To JazzTimes Regarding Latin Jazz inspired a wealth of response from Latin Jazz artists and fans alike. Numerous members of the Latin Jazz community have felt the same way about the lack of Latin Jazz coverage for a long time. In many cases, their rankled feelings about magazine’s aversion to Latin Jazz led them to disregard it and question its relevance. In an interesting addition, many LJC readers felt that this issue wasn’t simply isolated to JazzTimes - they also saw the same problems in Downbeat and Jazziz. It seems that many people think the traditional media overlooks Latin Jazz, turning their attention towards safer artists with wider appeal. This sentiment ran throughout a number of comments and e-mails that I received; yet many people didn’t consider this a problem. With the rise of jazz websites, blogs, and online artist websites, countless people are finding the jazz information and recommendations that they need on the internet. For a good number of people, the print media ran its course a while ago, and they don’t have a problem replacing it with other sources. Most of all, readers felt pride advocating for Latin Jazz in this context, which, in every regard, was a very inspiring outcome. Overall, the feedback and exchange with readers has been a great result of this post and it’s been an incredible learning experience for me.

I sent out a message to the Latin Jazz Yahoo e-group about my post on JazzTimes, and I received quite an avid response from Latin Jazz musicians that harbor many of the same feelings that I expressed in the letter. Many musicians agreed that JazzTimes largely ignores Latin Jazz and focus their major publicity around a small circle of musicians. I received a thought provoking response from drummer, bandleader, and educator Bobby Sanabria, who went into details about the issues and shared his personal experience around the major topics. With Sanabria’s permission, I’ve included his response into today’s post - I generally don’t like to copy and paste from other sources, but he states the facts so intelligently and articulately, I knew that LJC readers would find it interesting. This was posted as a piece of an overall thread, so it stands as part of a greater conversation. You’ll be able to follow it smoothly, but you should be aware that the italicized text quotes from other group members. Sanabria’s comments really take the discussion to another level, so check it out!

For more thoughts like this, LJC readers really should check out the Yahoo Latin Jazz e-group; it’s amazing resource that connects with some of the major figures in the field. Sign up HERE and then jump into the conversation - I’m sure that you’ll find it interesting. For now, here’s Sanabria’s thoughts on JazzTimes, Latin Jazz Coverage, and more:

Chip’s letter is awesome in that it’s well thought out and focuses on key issues with hard facts. I must also say that the fact that it is written from a person who is not Hispanic gives it added emphasis because we need advocates from outside of our cultural community to champion the cause of the music, just as Dizzy did in the 40’s when out of all the major innovators in be-bop he was the sole advocate championing the cause for this style.

I totally agree with you. I have been saying this since the 1980’s.

You are not alone. I’ve been saying it since the 70’s when I was a student at the Berklee College of Music as has John Santos and many other voices from the musical community.

The mainstream jazz world and media are not paying attention to the fact that the category “Latin Jazz” is more inclusive (than Afro-Cuban and Brazilian). They have not for example, looked into artists experimenting with combinations of traditional South American music.

They have been, but in very minimal terms. In fact their coverage of artists from the Brazilian side of things has been historically more emphasized due to the fact that artists who made a major impact in the jazz world like Airto Moreira and Milton Nascimento were embraced by the mainstream jazz community in the 70’s fusion era. Just look at the back issues of Downbeat and JazzTimes to find proof.

I just did an interview with Aaron Cohen at Downbeat in regards to the upcoming Latin Music U.S.A. documentary and we spoke about these issues. Downbeat, going back to the early days of the magazine (now celebrating its 75th anniversary) would sporadically write about Latin oriented music, e.g. Cugat, Puente, Machito, etc. But I say again, sporadically, in fact, minimally. It wasn’t until the review by, I believe, Larry Blumenthal in Downbeat of Grupo Folklorico y Experimantal’s first recording, that a full review of a Latin oriented disc appear in the magazine. That was way back in the late 1970’s. The magazine is aware of that and according to editor in chief Jason Koranzky, who just left the magazine to pursue a law career, and Aaron who is head of the education department, the magazine will be featuring more emphasis on Latino oriented jazz and related topics in the future because as they say, “It’s about time”.

I am sorry to say that both musicians and listeners (aficionados) have not helped with this.

I strongly disagree. John and myself have been advocating for the cause for years by directly addressing the issue when asked about it or bringing it up ourselves to the powers that be and in our educational presentations. There have been many letters to this effect to both JazzTimes and Downbeat from fans regarding this issue as well. I know of a member of this forum who personally has written to these magazines. In particular, regarding the fact that in last year’s top 100 CD’s of 2008, absolutely no Latin jazz discs appeared in the listing.

Musicians because in interviews they do not have the “guts” to affirm that what they do is “Latin Jazz” for fear that they will be saddled into the narrow-traditional understanding of the term.

If you’re talking about mainstream jazz musicians dabbling, YES. But it has more to do with their LACK OF acknowledgement of the Latin influence that jazz has always had since its birth. Ignorance and elitism are the main culprits here, which I’m sad to say also leads to musical racism. We are invisible to the mainstream in jazz in much the same way Latinos are invisible to mainstream America–most topics (in society and in jazz) are only discussed in terms of Black and White, without the added nuances of Latinos and others.

I’ve also read numerous interviews in Downbeat and Jazz Times with well known musicians who never mention the fact they paid their dues in the orchestras of Machito, Puente and Tito Rodriguez, or other Latin oriented groups. If they do, they trivialize the time they spent there referring to these bands as just “playing Latin gigs” that helped them “pay the rent,” not acknowledging that besides helping them to pay the rent they were gaining valuable knowledge, experience, and the privilege to pay with these great artists. There is also a younger generation of mainstream non-Latino musicians who incorporate devices directly and indirectly in their own music that were students of mine at both the New School and Manhattan School of Music that during interviews never address this element in their own recordings–and many of them are gaining renown. Do they ever talk in their interviews about how important this element is to their own compositions or playing?

As far as the younger generation of Latinos who play jazz? I would have to agree with you. They seem, in their bravura to be accepted as legitimate jazz musicians, to want to deny that they are of the musical heritage that represents their cultural roots and has been a legitimate part of jazz since its birth. I can only attribute this to ignorance coupled with elitism. Does a young Latino who is a jazz pianist know who Peruchin, Lili Martinez, Charlie Palmieri, or Sonny Bravo is? Do they know stylistically what the inherent characteristic of these players are and their contributions to the continuum? Let’s be honest, absolutely not. They actually look down at playing a salsa gig as something beneath them.

But they ARE fervently studying Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Herbie Hancock, can play you excerpts of their solos, as well as show you transcriptions they’ve either done themselves or are studying. Are they studying Eddie Palmieri’s solo on Azucar Pa’ Ti? I can only think of two persons, Yeissonn Villamar, who was former student of Sonny Bravo’s at the Boy’s & Girl’s Harbor while in high school before he became a student of mine at the New School. Yeissonn, along with Christian Sylvester Sands, who is currently a piano student at the Manhattan School of Music, are the rare exceptions who have devoted equal time to REALLY learning both traditions and knowing the history, players, and tradition.

The standard operative is that many of these young players can play tunes like Countdown, Giant Steps, etc. in all the keys, but ask them to play for you Bilongo, Son De la Loma, Mas Que Nada, etc. Let’s just say, it’s of no interest to them. Unless that is, they want to do a gig with one of my groups. Then all of a sudden they want to learn those tunes quickly.

There is also a very interesting thing happening right now in jazz. The younger players of today are technically brilliant, but they are not performing alongside older players in order to be mentored, gain experience, and learn. The best groups have always a combination of youth and experience. That’s not happening now. You can only go so far in the classroom and I can only hire so many players in my own big band that don’t have but need the experience. They in a sense are in a vacuous state of playing with players of their own generation who have no experience other than the college level training they have.

As far as the older generation of players? I would totally disagree with you. Their voices were never heard. Did Downbeat or Jazz Times ever do an interview with say a person like Mario Rivera who had a fascinating background? I myself got interviewed in Downbeat last year on serendipity. Jason Koransky was attending the NAMM show and he saw me at the Vic Firth booth signing autographs and struck up a conversation with me. He asked me, “When was the last time the magazine did a story on you? Never”, was my reply. Jason was clearly embarrassed and said, “Well, we have to rectify the situation”. The very topic at hand was what we discussed and he promised me that the magazine was indeed behind the times in its coverage of Latin oriented jazz. But the best scenario would be that the Latin side of jazz would just be completely mainstreamed into being an integral part of all jazz publications and not be ghetto-sized into a separate section. We’re a long, long way off from that happening. As someone from ‘Nawlin’s asked me while I was just recently there, “Hey Bobby, when is it just ever going to be just all jazz and not these separate categories”? “It’s gonna’ take some time. Mainstream America has to first acknowledge that we even exist”, was my reply.

Listeners (aficionados) continue to be very conservative in their interest and taste for Latin jazz. How many even in this eGroup give a “s..t” about what is not in clave? How many post are there about experiments with “Latin” rhythms beyond the usual ones?????

It’s all due to the exposure or lack there of to the said styles. I just returned from ‘Nawlin’s and the jazz radio there was stylistically extremely varied. It represents the Crescent City’s ethos. It’s a direct reflection of the city’s multi-cultural history. But the rest of America is not like New Orleans. Jazz radio has only begun to open itself up to Latin oriented jazz. And that’s because jazz radio ALWAYS was conservative. Heightened even more so in direct reflection of the 8 years we just had of conservatism in this country. But how ironic! Now that Latin oriented jazz is finally becoming part of mainstream jazz radio, we’re at a point in time where there is hardly any jazz radio to begin with!

NYC, where Afro-Cuban/Latin jazz and be-bop was born, does not even have a have a 24 hour jazz station. We listen to WBGO which broadcasts from Newark, N.J. To its credit the station has integrated Latin jazz into its regular programming. But that was after a long fought public battle that started after the station canceled its Latin jazz specialty show. Because of the public outcry, that show was re-instated and Latin jazz is now also a part of every DJ’s hourly play list.

Just to show you the absurdity of the world we live in, particularly the jazz world, the NEA was commissioned to do a study on the state of the jazz audience today. They spent how many thousands of dollars on this study? What did it conclude? That the jazz audience is dying or practically dead in younger people and that those who are fans are adults who eventually will die off. If nothing is done, in about 10 years there will be no jazz audience left.

What a supreme waste of money to confirm something that is so freakin’ obvious. The NEA didn’t need to waste money on commissioning a study to do this. All they had to do was talk to the program directors and musicians to learn the same thing. All they had to do was go to a jazz club or festival in the U.S. All they had to do was stand in front of the NEA offices and ask every kid that walked by if they knew what jazz was. I told the powers that be at the last IAJE convention that they needed to start to develop a new audience of jazz fans or eventually there would not be an audience for the genre. I haven’t been alone in this. Dr. Billy Taylor has been screaming about it for years. Now we don’t even have an IAJE to complain to.

Sanabria always has something meaningful to say, in words and music. You read his words above, make sure that you check out some of his music too. You’ll be glad that you did:

Kenya Revisited, Live!!!

Big Band Urban Folktales

Check Out These Related Posts:
An Open Letter To JazzTimes Regarding Latin Jazz
Latin Jazz Photo Album: Chembo Corniel & Grupo Chaworo, Part 1
Latin Jazz Photo Album: Bobby Sanabria & The Manhattan School Of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra
Setting The Record Straight: George Russell, Cubano Be, Cubano Bop, and the Origin of Latin Jazz


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