What Does “Latin Groove” Mean To You?

Is it Latin or is it Swing?

January 10, 2019

I can recall when I was just beginning to learn how to play jazz bass. I’d get together with some guys to jam and somebody would call a tune. Wanting to be sure we played the style correctly and authentically, we would ask, “Is it Latin or is it Swing?” Looking back, it sounds pretty ridiculous to think of all jazz as being either “A” or “B,” but we’ve all gotta start somewhere.

This week, we published a very uplifting and inspiring interview with Oscar Stagnaro, longtime bass faculty member at Berklee College of Music. A common thread I’ve noticed among the Berklee bass faculty is how they all embrace the give-and-take, the special relationships they develop with their students, as both sides continuously expose each other to new styles of music. For Oscar, multi Grammy Award-winning bassist and educator, this exchange is particularly evident when it comes to Latin music in general, and Latin bass in particular.

With the history of Latin music dating back many years, most people are familiar with the more popular forms of the genre, like salsa, mambo, cha-cha, tango, merengue, etc. Like many musical styles, there’s much diversity within the Latin genre, with new forms forever evolving. Over the decades, more sub-genres have emerged, including everything from bossa nova and samba, to Afro-Cuban, songo, timba, and countless others, including various forms of Latin pop.

As is the case with many styles of music, Latin music is often most easily identified by the bass line. History has provided us with some truly great Latino bass players, most notably Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Andy González, Sal Cuevas and many others. In looking over the interviews we’ve published on FBPO, many more names come to mind, not only of players known for playing Latin music, but also Latino players who brought their varied influences to countless forms of other musical styles. The list includes Abraham Laboriel, Carlitos Del Puerto, Lincoln Goines, Rudy Sarzo, Marco Mendoza, Oskar Cartaya, Pancho Tomaselli, Nicky Orta, Bunny Brunel, and many others.

Regardless of how familiar you are with Latin music, I encourage you to expand your listening – and playing – palette by exposing yourself to some of these styles. Naturally, you’ll also want to check out some of the great bass players who’ve mastered the art of Latino music so well. It’s bound to broaden your horizons and make you a more seasoned player in just about any style, including both kinds of jazz: Latin and swing!

Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, check out our interview with Oscar here.

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