Playing Latin Jazz based upon Cuban rhythms requires musicians to feel multiple rhythms at the same time. The rhythms always interlock, fitting together in unique ways. Seeing the relationships between the rhythms allows musicians to create freely. A solid understanding of Son Clave and the underlying pulse will make the relationships within the musical structure much more apparent.
1. Feel the Pulse and the Clave Simultaneously
Start pulling together the two most important feels by tapping the pulse with your foot while clapping the clave. You may have the musical abilities to do this already – give it a try and see what happens. Be honest with yourself though – you need to be able to do this for a number of minutes without stopping.
If this is problematic, analyze the relationship between the two rhythms. Clave lines up with the pulse two times, once in each measure. Two clave attacks fall one quarter note before the pulse, and one clave attack lies an eighth note ahead of the pulse. Remember, interlocking rhythms are a puzzle and you must understand how to connect them.
Once you figure out how clave falls against the pulse, separate the measures and practice them individually. Repeat each measure until you can master it independently, then put the two together. Make sure you tap and clap from both clave directions, and that you attempt a variety of tempos.
Both files below play the clave and pulse in Cut Time at 85 bpm. Panning either track to the left will isolate the pulse, while moving the balance to the right will give you only the clave.
2-3 Son Clave & Pulse Play-Along
3-2 Son Clave & Pulse Play-Along
2. Clap Clave With a Latin Jazz Recording
Pick a song listed below and clap clave through the whole song. Start at the beginning and don’t stop clapping until the end of the song. Keep yourself honest – if your clave feels “weird”, you are most likely cruzao. You want the clave to feel natural – stop and try again.
Listen to all the musical elements – texture changes, different solo approaches, and percussion breaks will all “feel” different against the clave. Your clave should tick like a heartbeat through every change. If you loose the clave at some point, stop and listen to that section of the song again. Figure out what was happened musically that made it difficult for you to maintain the clave. Once you work through the trouble spot, go back and try again until you clap smoothly through the whole song!
3. Clap Along With a Latin Jazz Recording That “Flips” The Clave
A phrasing change flips the clave from 2-3 to 3-2 or visa versa. You need to instantly change your thought process. 2-3 clave “feels” different than 3-2 clave, and your inner “clave clock” needs to switch gears immediately. The transition point not only changes the clave direction, but also forces you to play a phrase with an odd number of measures. A lack of preparation will almost always lead to a crossed clave!
Clap clave from the beginning to the end of these tracks. First focus on maintaining a steady clave regardless of the band’s phrasing. Then isolate the 2-3 song sections and then the 3-2 song sections. Then find the exact point where the clave “flips”. Once you have found these key points, clap clave throughout the song and try to “feel” the different directions.
Examples of Songs with Clave Changes:
To The King from the Humberto Ramirez album Portrait of a Stranger
The Last Bullfighter from the Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars album The Last Bullfighter
Nuyorican Son from the Chris Washburne album Paradise in Trouble
Concierto Para Metales from the Irakere album Misa Negra
4. Find a Latin Jazz Recording On Your Own and Analyze The Clave
Find a Latin Jazz album in your collection, pick a song, and analyze the clave. What clave direction does the song take – 2-3 or 3-2? Does the clave “flip” at any point in the song? If so, where and how? Once you’ve discovered the details, clap clave throughout the song.
Pick something that lies firmly in the Afro-Cuban realm. Latin Jazz influenced by other Latin American rhythms – Brazilian or Argentinian for example – all have unique organizational structures. This is an exercise in Cuban rhythms. Also pick some straight-ahead Latin Jazz – maybe some Tito Puente, Poncho Sanchez, or Cal Tjader. More experimental Latin Jazz groups “stretch” the feel and move around the clave in unique ways. This makes for exciting music, but if you don’t have a strong sense of clave, it can be hard to feel.
Once you’ve analyzed a tune, leave a comment and let us know the details. Even better, put us to the test – leave the song, artist, and album name. Then we can figure it out . . . this could be a fun exercise for all of us!