that New Yorkers may have resented the presence of their Latin
American neighbors, one would never have known it from the pop
charts. The "new" Hispanics brought with them musical
styles and sounds that culminated in the biggest dance sensation
of the decade: the mambo craze. The mambo was the most popular
of many Latin dance styles current in the 1950s, some of which
found their way into West Side Story in various guises.
All were descendants of older dances, which, in turn, formed
part of a long tradition of Latin American influence in popular
music. From the early 1920s to the late 1950s, all became more
and more assimilated into mainstream American music.22
Morton goes down in history as one of the first non-Hispanic
musicians to extensively adopt the "Latin tinge,"23
his term for the distinctive and pervasive syncopated rhythm
which he felt was absolutely basic to the essence of jazz. However,
Mortons "tinge" had been around since the earliest
days of jazz, but entered the American popular mainstream in
the 1930s in the form of the rumba. Two musicians were instrumental
in the dissemination of the style: Don Azpiazú and Xavier
Both were among a growing number of dance band leaders regularly
enlisting Latin American talent, especially musicians from Puerto
Rico and Cuba. Juan Tizol, a Puerto Rican trombonist and composer
who exemplified the Latin style in his recordings with Duke
Ellington in the late 1930s (particularly "Caravan"
and "Conga Brava"), was one of the most successful
soloists, combining South American elements with current North
American musical practices. The eventual fusion of big band
instrumentation and arrangement with Cuban percussion and musical
structures became known as Afro-Cuban jazz. Born from "Cubop,"
already a fusion of bop and traditional Cuban elements, the
Afro-Cuban style was exploited most regularly by Dizzy Gillespie,
who established an Afro-Cuban jazz orchestra in 1947.24
Although Cuban percussionists such as Arnando Peraza (who recorded
"Poodle Mambo" with George Shearing on the latters
Latin Escapade album of 1956) were very active during
this period, strictly Cuban styles eventually gave way to more
generically Latin ones by the late 1950s, when Afro-Cuban jazz
was on the decline.25
of Latin American styles into which the movement fell, however,
did not wane for twenty years, and was so commonplace by the
end of the 1950s as to be a standard part of the vernacular
musical landscape. The methods of dissemination were a large
part of the styles success.
Xavier Cugat, although leading the resident band of Manhattans
Waldorf Hotel, gained most of his notoriety through his numerous
appearances on film. Cugat appeared in a large number of B-grade
movies of the 1930s, frequently alongside another icon of Latin
Americanism, Carmen Miranda. (Pictured) Latin and Spanish themes
had long been a feature of both Broadway musicals and film musicals,
ranging from Latin numbers in Rombergs Nina Rosa
(1929) to scenes in such films as Rodgers and Astaires
Flying Down to Rio (1933). But now the Hispanic was growing
from an occasional romantic or humorous character piece within
a primarily "white" context into the subject of full-length
films. Movie makers did not jump on the bandwagon simply because
the music was popular: this post-war boom came when European
film markets were plummeting. Hollywood was looking southward
for new audiences. Many of these films were ostensibly aimed
at Latin Americans themselves, not an unexpected phenomenon
since America was extending its "Friendly Neighbor"
policy southward at this time. Musician and actor Desi Arnaz
was one of a number of entertainers (and the only one who was
actually Latin American) sent on a friendship visit to Mexico
Arnaz, who became one of the Latin stars of mainstream America,
used film, live Broadway performances, and television to build
his career and also a following for Latin American music. The
exposure coming from both east and west coasts ensured that
Hispanic music would reach a wide audience across the continent.
had not changed, though: for the most part, Hispanic culture
and music were still portrayed inauthentically and humorously.
Arnaz had had very little, if any, substantial contact with
Latino musicians once he came to the U.S., and Carmen Miranda
was certainly sending up herself along with South America. At
the same time, more non-Latins were playing Latin American music,
notably Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, and Stan Kenton. Eventually,
white musicians and ensembles began taking over the style, releasing
"cover" versions of these tunes and new compositions
in the same vein. Perhaps Cugats explanation for his own
style best addresses the phenomenon: "Americans know nothing
about Latin music. They neither understand nor feel it. So they
have to be given music more for the eyes than the ears. Eighty
percent visual, the rest aural. To succeed in American I gave
the Americans a Latin music that had nothing authentic about
it. Then I began to change the music and play more legitimately."27
public seemed less concerned than Cugat over the styles
authenticity, judging by the proliferation of publications aimed
at the amateur musician. By the early 1940s, one could find
instructional publications teaching Latin American rhythms to
either white drummers or amateurs. In 1959 the Remick Music
Corporation, in a series called "Music for Everyone"
presented 37 Latin American Favorites, Including Examples
and Explanations of Latin American Rhythms: Bossa Novas, Merengues,
Cha-Cha-Chas, Rumbas, Mambos, Paso Dobles, Sambas. Of those
musicians who provided the Hispanic sound to the general population,
the big band leaders were among the most popular, and they were
behind the largest growth period for Latin Music, the 1940s.
It was also the era of the Mambo Kings: first Azpiazu, then
artists such as Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, and Perez Prado
gained in popularity during the late 40s and 50s. They also
popularized what would become the three hottest dance styles
of the time: the mambo, the merengue, and the cha cha cha. Prado
is often credited with starting the mambo craze with his composition,
#5," but, ironically, he was not part of the New York
scene in which the mambo reached its zenith of popularity. Instead,
he made his mark from touring with his orchestra and from recordings
made for RCA. Although some claim that Prado "invented"
the mambo, it was in factlike most other dance styles
of the timea permutation on what had come before, a kind
of "melting pot" in which American dance tastes were
combined with Latin styles.28
Prado himself was something of a musical hybrid: although his
first success was within the Hispanic community, his tours and
subsequent notoriety with white Americans led him into an ethnically
suspect crossover realm which ultimately earned him the respect
of neither group once the currency of the dance craze waned.29
Until it did, though, Prado and bands like his sold sexy Latin
rhythms to an insatiable dance audience. Recordings of the mid
1950s such as Tito Puentes Mambo on Broadway (Puente
or Xavier Cugats Mambo at the Waldorf, presented
entire albums of strictly Latin American dances. Prado himself
published some of his favorites arranged for solo piano.30
But the most lucrative field by far for Latin music was in the
dance halls, many of which offered instruction. Former bandleader
Federico Pagani started "Latin nights" at the Alma
Dance Studios on 53rd and Broadway in the early 40s,
a time when Latin dance bands were drawing crowds of 5,000.31
Instructional dance records for home study abounded. The Arthur
Murray dance empire offered an all-mambo record with cuts "personally
recommended for dancing by Arthur Murray." The Fred Astaire
Dance Studio Orchestra released a 1959 album of Merengues
and Mambos, which included "Dance instruction booklet
and one studio dance lesson"; one of Tito Rodriguezs
recordings bore the imposing title Mambo Styles Strictly
for Dancing. Certainly, Latin dances were not new. But the
1950s provided the broadest consumer market yet for pleasure
dancing and its attendant romance.
the mambo itself was not an overtly lascivious dance, its association
with the sensual lent it much of its glamor.32
Esy Moraless Latin American Rhythms was pressed
on red vinyl to further its exotic appeal. And, as an endless
number of mambo compositions sprang up, they tended to focus
on the alluring feminine: "Marilyn Monroe Mambo" and
"Mambo Bardot" (the second from the soundtrack to
And God Created Woman) venerated two stars who epitomized
female voluptuousness in the 1950s. Hopeful males could find
the appropriate date music on an album entitled She Adores
the Latin Type, part of a series put out by Decca called
Music for the Girl Friend. "Hot in Haiti" and
"Penthouse Mambo" number amongst its cuts.
To be sure,
the mambo was not an intellectual genre. Titles such as "Ya
ya ya cha cha cha" and "Merengue a la mode" reveal
their inspiration in the frivolous. The style was everywhere
and combined with seemingly everything. Perhaps the most stunning
example was a collection released by Freddie Sateriales
Big Band in 1956, entitled Broadway Latin American Party.
This album consisted exclusively of Broadway show tunes adapted
to cha chas, merengues and mambos. Selections included "Old
Man River Cha Cha Cha", "On the Street Where You Live
Cha Cha Cha," and "Theres Nothing Like a Dame
Cha Cha Cha."33
The vogue of the Latin American even crossed religious and ethnic
boundaries, with a bossa nova rendition of "Hava nagilah"
appearing on a Columbia recording of 1962. All in all, unlikely
candidates for Bernsteins great tragic opera.
4 5 Next
The early stages of this development are chronicled in Ruth Glassers
My Music Is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York
Communities, 1917-1940 (Berkeley: University of California
23. Sometimes referred to as the "Spanish" tinge, this
style appears in Mortons works from the 1920s on.
24. Machito established the "Afro-Cubans" in the early
1940s in New York City, the first big band of this kind, but the
style was associated with Gillespie throughout his career.
25. Gunther Schuller, "Afro-Cuban Jazz", New Grove
Dictionary of Jazz, Vol. I (London: Macmillan, 1988), 7.
26. John Storm Roberts, The Latin Tinge (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1979), 108.
27. Roberts, Tinge. 87.
28. The mambo was a variation on the rumba, and the cha cha cha
was a further development of the mambo. The merengue was actually
a dance hailing from Venezuela, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic
but was influenced by Afro-Cuban dance styles.
29. Prados release of Rockambo in 1961 probably signaled
the demise of the genre, along with its success in fusing with
newer pop music styles.
30. Perez Prado, Mambos for Piano (New York: Southern Music
Publishing Company, 1955).
31. Roberts, Tinge, 113.
32. The mambo is a couples dance in which the partners either
stand completely apart or in an embrace with space between their
bodies. It is characterized by forward and backward steps and
a dance step which begins, rather unusually, on the fourth beat
of a 4/4 measure. Contrast this with the style of and furor over
the later lambada.
33. Freddie Sateriales Big Band, Broadway Latin American
Party: Cha chas, Merengues and Mambos (Newark: Pirouette Records,
1956). Other titles from this album include "Smoke Gets In
Your Eyes Cha Cha Cha" and "I Love Paris Cha Cha Cha."
4 5 Next