FRIEND WEEK! Termagant Tuesday: “Manteca,” Dizzy Gillespie. Submitted by Kendra.


Original 1947 recording:

Fun 1970 live performance with the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band in Denmark:

Yankette’s Reaction:

Oh now this is a sassy little number.  It makes me wish for swingable hips, tossable hair, and a rooftop (or even a fire escape).  God bless my wonderful K-Smash for picking this tune.  It sounds kind of lounge-y but it doesn’t have the sleaze of 1950s or 1960s era lounge music, though it’s decidedly raunchy (those horns…dang).  Thank the good Whomever for American culture that created this kind of music.

Shameless friend promotion!  K-Smash, aka Kendra, is an absolutely phenomenal photographer.  Should you ever need an A.P.P., give her a ring.

Kendra’s Justification:
Tasked by our beloved Yankette with spreading the good word about a favorite jazz tune, I knew immediately I wanted to share my love of Afro-Cuban jazz. (We’re dipping a bit into tomorrow’s Worldly genre, but I’m calling the shots today, and I say it’s ok.)

“Manteca” – literally “lard” in Spanish, but used as slang for marijuana in Cuba – is one of the earliest tunes to weave Afro-Cuban influences into American jazz. (See, we didn’t dive head-long into the “Worldly” realm; we’re keeping at least one foot on American soil.) This tune, co-written by Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller, is among the most famous of Gillespie’s recordings.  Gillespie, who was introduced to Afro-Cuban music by trumpeter/composer Mario Bauza, added Cuban conguero Chano Pozo to his big band in September of 1947. Until Pozo’s untimely demise just over a year later, he made a lasting mark on both the jazz and Latin American music worlds; this tune was part of that legacy.

Though Gillespie made a concerted effort to mesh percussion-driven, rhythmically complex Afro-Cuban themes with passages more akin to the melodic and harmonic conventions of American jazz, early performances of “Manteca” revealed that despite their enthusiasm for collaborating, Gillespie and Pozo were quite unaccustomed to one other’s music. Gillespie’s band, for example, was unfamiliar with guajeos – syncopated phrasing common in Cuban music – and they overdid the swinging with atypical accentuation. As it turns out, complete assimilation of Afro-Cuban rhythms and American jazz improvisations was still a few years away for the beboppers in 1947.

Personally, this early stab at combining Cuban and American musical vibes takes me back to the Fall of 2005 when I – a young American girl with absolutely no dance skills – spent an evening dancing on a rooftop in Havana with a ridiculously attractive Afro-Cuban man. My hips, much like Gillespie’s band, were unfamiliar with the rhythms and moves which came so naturally to my newly-made Cuban friends. Nevertheless, I improvised, and we danced the night away. I hope this tune makes you want to get up and move, even if you’re not on a Havana rooftop sipping a mojito.


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