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The Latin Influence in Early Jazz


Latin American musical elements are found in early jazz. Louis Maurice Gottschalk was one of the first to use these Latin American rhythms in some of his early compositions that were influenced by his Creole upbringing in New Orleans. We find a tango rhythm in Neil Moret’s Cubanola; in Scott Joplin’s & Louis Chauvin’s Helioprope Bouquet; many of Jelly Roll Morton’s compositions where he uses the rhythm as an ostinato bass pattern; as well as W. C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues. Morton referred to this rhythmic element as the "Spanish Tinge" and claimed that it was essential to jazz.

Louisiana From Havana
New Orleans Blues
Hello Ma Baby
El Paso

Louisiana From Havana - 1899 - T. Fenester

Our first composition is listed as a March and Two-Step and is entitled  "Louisiana From Havana." Many of the early music played for dancing was played with a number of possible dance stylings. The march was used for dancing, and because of its two-beat rhythm it was used for other dances such as the Two-Step with the only difference - a different in tempo. The Two-Step was played at a faster tempo. From the title we are reminded of the close proximity of the city of New Orleans to the Caribbean and the Southern Hemisphere. New Orleans is probably the most foreign of American cities having direct heritage ties to France, Spain and other European countries. Their most direct ties were to France and Spain. New Orleans acquired the Spanish heritage during the time that Spain owned New Orleans - from 1762 to 1800 - 38 years. There was also a strong influence from Africa. Most slaves brought to the New World were routed to countries in south America for orientation before coming to the U. S. The total of slaves that ended up in America was a very small percentage (2 percent). Those brought to the U. S. surely brought with them both African and Latin influences in their music - both cultures stressed rhythm although the Latin musical culture was from Spain and Portugal.

One of the earliest dance band arrangements found with an inference to Latin America is the 1899 song "Louisiana From Havana." It is a march and Two-Step and shows the emergence of ragtime into the march form.

Maurice Tango
Round the Hall
Flor De Brazil
Bohemian Life
Jogo Blues/St. Louis Blues
Rosy Posy
New Orleans Stomp

New Orleans Blues - 1925 - Jelly Roll Morton

This Latin influence is seen in the reminiscences of early jazzmen who mention at least two dozen musicians with Spanish surnames. The great Jelly Roll Morton, a local New Orleans musician of Creole descent (the title Creole, when first used meant a person of Spanish or French genes, the Negro, when of mixed blood was called a Creole of Color). Morton, in a number of his compositions used what he called a "Spanish Tinge" - music with a Spanish flavor. In Morton's composition "New Orleans Blues" we find the Tango rhythm prominent.

Camilla (Chilean Dance) - 1913 - (Cotton Pickers Rag and Cakewalk) - 1899 - Bone

We find the Latin rhythm in numerous popular American sheet music. An interesting example is found in the Creole folk song "Song of Mockery." The song introduces a Habanera rhythm. There is no date for this composition as is the case in most folk songs, but it is assumed that it is around the 18the century. In another Creole song "Croony Melody," we find a Maxixe rhythm. The startling find is that this Habanera rhythm (in double time)is in reality the same rhythm as the Cakewalk rhythm. The cakewalk craze saw its zenith around 1899. The connection of these two very well defined rhythms is still being explored and perhaps we will never find the answer but the connection is too strong to ignore.

Gilbert Chase, in his book: "The Music of Spain," (page 262) states: "The music of Spain choreography is purely a Creole development." We also find a possible European influence that dates from the end of the 15th century with a very strong Creole influence becoming apparent in the 17th century.

The band will play two melodies using the Habanera rhythm and the cakewalk rhythm and add the percussion playing both melodies with both rhythms. The first: "Camilla," the second "Cotton Pickers." It is impossible to tell which is a cakewalk and which is a Latin melody. Now we add the percussion rhythm. First the Cakewalk rhythm (to the Chilean melody), next the Habanera rhythm to the cakewalk. Next we switch rhythms. You cannot tell which is which. Let us play each one in its original form.

Hello My Baby - 1899 - Emerson

While we are talking about this Habenera rhythm (o o o o)   let us play a popular piece of music published in 1899 which uses a similar rhythm. Listen to the well-known chorus of "Hello My Baby" and its use of the Habanera/Cakewalk rhythm.

Caballero (Mexican Quadrille) - 1900

The origin of the Quadrille is French (In French the word Quadrille means 'a small square'). We find this French influence also in Mexico. Mexico's culture was more European with little African influence. The Quadrille was the most popular dance of New Orleans society. With the French influence in Mexico it is not surprising to find this form with a Mexican name in its title.

El Paso - 1900 - Anthony

The popular forms in Mexico were at a time influenced and dominated by the Waltz. This can be seen in a published arrangement dating 1900. The Waltz was an influential form in many countries and one of the first 'risqué' dances, where dancing partners actually held each other close. In 1884 the 8th Mexican Regimental Band played at the Cotton Exhibition in New Orleans. One of their most successful and popular tunes was the Waltz 'Over the Waves.' This band was a great influence on early New Orleans jazz musicians and especially the sounds of the woodwind instruments. Prior to this concert most marching bands did not include woodwinds and it brought the woodwinds to the attention of local New Orleans musicians.

Cubanola - 1913 - H. B. Blanke

One jazz historian speculated that "Ragtime bands were the result of New Orleans musicians trying to play Mexican music." Another says that: "Another possible source of ragtime rhythm is dance music of the Caribbean and south America, from pieces variously referred to as danzas, Habanera, and tangos. Moreau Gottschalk uses these rhythms in the mid-nineteenth century. Gottschalk, a New Orleans Creole, traveled between New Orleans and south American countries frequently, dying in Rio de Janeiro in 1869. Ben Harney, the famous ragtime composer remarked: "Ragtime originally takes its initiative step from Spanish music, or rather from Mexico, where it is known under the head and names of Habanera, Danza and Wquidilla. Thus Latin music and ragtime converge and blend, each following a distinct path with essentially separate developments. The title "Cubanola" - a title mention Cuba by name and New Orleans, La. In letters - was first published by H. B. Blanke.

While Black Cuban music was an influence on American popular music, the work is a tango. These early combined styles of Latin and early New Orleans dance styles is further solidified by the use of ragtime (and the military march) form of composition - the form: A,B,A, transition, C, and D.

Maurice Tango - 1912 - Heim

The Tango became popular in the U. S. approx. from 1910 to 1916, reaching its zenith in 1914, declining after the First World War as jazz tunes took over the popular scene. The 'Dance.' During the 19th and early 20th century was probably the most popular form of social activities with frequent occurrences of new dance styles. Many times the dance bands could not keep up with the new style and we find published arrangements that could be used as material that could be played in a number of dance styles. An example of this would be one of the earliest Tango publications - "Tres Moutarde" (Too Much Mustard). Published as a Turkey Trot, the song, when the Tango became the rage, the publisher quickly added to the cover 'or Tango."

The Tango found its way to America from Paris. It was found there as early as 1906 and became popular by the famous dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle in 1913 when they danced it on Broadway. Another dance team in Paris, Maurice and Florence Walton, made it popular.

Mexi-Tango - 1914 - W. Beardsley

The Tango's origin was in the suburbs of Buenos Aires around 1900 evolving from elements of the Habanera and the Milonga. In 1905 we hear the adoption of the musical element of syncopation, a musical element that was paramount in early jazz. Jelly Roll Morton talked of the Tango stating: "New Orleans was inhabited with maybe every race on the face of the globe. And, of course, we had Spanish people, plenty of them - Spanish music was a part of the city's musical heritage and life. The Tango and what was sometimes called the "Mexican Serenade" was a continuing part of the popular music of the day." This close relationship between New Orleans and Mexico can be seen in our next piece the "Mexi-Tango."

Round The Hall - 1913 - Biese

The merging of Latin rhythms and style with early jazz dancing continued to develop. We see this convergence again in a piece entitled "Round The Hall." It is advertised as a "Tango/Two-Step and Turkey Trot," and is called 'a successor to "Too Much Mustard." A composition we previously mentioned. When we examine the drum parts we find three distinct sections: the first is a Tango rhythm, the second in a 'two-beat' rhythm, with the melody sounding Spanish with some trills and turns. The third alternates between two measure of the Two-Beat rhythm and two measures of the Tango rhythm. The Turkey Trot reached its zenith around 1913 and these two dances (Turkey Trot and Tango) competed for the most popular. This piece bring both dance forms together thus becoming popular with dancers of both persuasions. The second half of the second section reminds one of the traditional cakewalk rhythm. All in all, a very interesting and entertaining piece of music.

Flor De Brazil - 1914 - deCastro

While the Tango became popular in the United States during the middle 1900's, the other Latin dances came much later: The Rumba in 1920, the Congo in 1930, and the Brazilian Samba in the 1940's. The Latin influence in the early jazz years came from Mexico, Argentina, and the Caribbean. The Tango also made it to Brazil and we find a Tango "Flor De Brazil" published in 1914. After a varied rhythmic introduction, ending in a vamp-like section in Tango rhythm, we find the first section is in a march-like, two beat that is interrupted by a section in Tango rhythm. The second section is strictly in Tango rhythm. The first section is repeated, followed by an option ending section. I quote from the heading: "The composition is adapted to both the Tango anrgention and Tango One-Step. The first part can be played for either one, but the trio should be selected to meet the requirement of the dance."

Bohemian Life - (Maxixe) - 1914 - Madeiros

The Maxixe is the oldest urban dance of Brazil, its origin is in the late 19th century. One of its interesting elements is the use of syncopation. The major component of the Brazilian Maxixe was the use of the rhythm we recognize as the main rhythm of the cakewalk. It is also written that the Maxixe was a predecessor of the Samba and of the European Polka. We also find the Afro-Cuba influence in the rhythm that was also know as the Habanera and its syncopation of Afro-Brazilian influence.

Jogo Blues/St. Louis Blues - 1913/1914 - W. C. Handy

W. C. handy is one of the best-known composers of popular music in America. Handy published a song entitled "Jogo Blues" (sic: colored blues) in 1923 that met with limited success. A year later, 1914, he came out with "St. Louis Blues" which became one of the most lasting songs of popular music. St. Louis Blues was reissued in 1926 as a dance band arrangement includes the melody of Jogo Blues. In the introduction and middle section we recognize the Tango rhythm. We first play the first part of '"Jogo Blues" and then "St. Louis Blues.

Mexico - 1904 - Cole

One of the influences of early jazz and jazz instrumentation was the military brass band. We find these types of bands were also popular in the early 19th century in South American countries. While the jazz bands evolved from these brass band (and string bands) brass bands flourishing in New Orleans, we also find the evolving of what is called the Choro in Brazil. It is close to the New Orleans development in both instrumentation and employing contrapuntal techniques. We might add that in both musical cultural styles the dominating force is the percussion section. It is the percussion rhythm that determines the musical style. We have heard a cakewalk by changing the rhythms, can be made into a Habanera and vice versa, further prove of the importance of the percussive rhythm.  We can hear this influence of the military band in not only Brazilian military bands but in Mexico and other Latin countries. We next hear a song called simply "Mexico" and is marked 'Marcia' - i.e. to be played in a marching style.

Amorita - 1920 - Zamecnik

The inclusion of Latin styles into American popular music continues and will continue to be a part of popular music in America. As popular music developed in America we hear of certain Latin dances becoming popular in America. As American popular music developed we hear of certain Latin dances becoming popular in the U. S. In the 20's it is the Rumba; in the 30's the Conga; in the 40's the Samba and in the 50's the Mambo; and finally the Bossa Nova in the 60's. In the 20's it was the merging  of the most popular style, the Fox Trot, with Latin elements. One of the best examples to be found is in the song "Amorita", called a "Spanish Fox Trot" song. We find a Spanish flavor to the melody with a Habanera/Cakewalk rhythmic figure is use with a simple harmonic structure in the accompaniment. We might also point out the progress of the use of new tonal colors with the use of the saxophone. The sax was to become the dominant instrument during the jazz era and with the swing bands it numbers 5 (2 altos, 2 tenors and a baritone sax).

Rosy Posy - 1922 - S. Romberg

No less a composer than the famous Sigmund Romberg is influenced by the Latin rhythms. From his musical the "Blusing Bride" of 1922, we find them in the Fox Trot song 'Rosy Posy." After a 4 bar introduction with the last two bars in Habanera rhythm we find the main theme stated that is in alternating two bar phrases of a Fox Trot rhythm and a Tango rhythm. In measure 16 we hear the simultaneous use of both the Fox Trot and the Tango rhythm. This is in 1922, 8 years after the height of the Tango's popularity of 1914.

New Orleans Stomp - 1924 - Louis Armstrong

The influence and converging of Latin rhythms and American jazz continues up to the present date. There are many examples of jazz greats using Latin rhythms. A listing of these would be like a who's who in jazz greats, from Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton, and Charlie Parker, to groups like Weather Report with bassist Jaco Pastorious.

This combination has no better example than the old time Fox Trot "Tea for Two" which no longer can be played in a two-beat rhythm but as the "Tea For Two Cha Cha."

A final chapter in our influence of the two musical styles of Latin music and Jazz we see the influence on Louis Armstrong (who is said to have changed rhythms to Latin in early jazz performances in a piece suing a characteristic Habanera rhythm  in an original composition "New Orleans Stomp."

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