5 Latin Jazz Bass Players Driving Today’s Scene

by chip on July 30, 2008

Quite a while ago, I wrote a post entitled 5 Latin Jazz Bass Players That You Must Hear!. This article was meant as a quick introduction to some of the bassists that have defined the style since it’s initial development. It’s been a fairly popular post, being read daily by numerous people. I wanted to return to that idea with a look at the bassists that are currently driving the Latin Jazz scene. These are bassist from many sides of Latin Jazz – Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Peruvian, and Argentinean – that are busy creating new Latin Jazz approaches today. I’ve kept the idea of a “quick look” intact; you’ll get some background information and some listening recommendations. Take a look at these incredible musicians and you’ll see that some of the most interesting things happen on the low end of the Latin Jazz world . . .

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Ruben Rodriguez
Ruben Rodriguez was born in New York during the late 60′s, eventually moving to Puerto Rico in 1969. He was influenced by his father, a classical guitar player, and attempted to tackle the trumpet. He returned New York in 1974, and he began bass studies in junior high – first on acoustic bass and then electric. Victor Venegas, a veteran of New York’s Latin scene and regular Mongo Santamaria bassist, became a mentor; he exposed young Rodriguez to professional charts and took him to his gigs. Rodriguez found major inspiration in longtime Tito Puente bassist Bobby Rodriguez; his melodic approach and bebop foundation presented a distinctly different approach than most Latin bassists, and it struck a chord with Rodriguez. This experience paid off, as Rodriguez earned his first major gig in 1979 with Salsa pianist Johnny Colon. His career exploded over the next few years, as he worked with the best Salsa and Latin Jazz musicians, including Willie Colon, Machito, Tito Puente, Dave Valentin, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Hilton Ruiz, Johnny Pacheco, Jose Fajardo, and The Fania All Stars. In addition, he’s stepped outside the Latin music world on several occasions, supporting a diverse range of artists such as Roberta Flack, Grover Washington, Jr., and Ben E. King. Latin Jazz Corner readers voted Rodriguez as 2007′s Latin Jazz Bassist of the Year for his work on Chembo Corniel’s For The Rest of Your Life. 2008 has been a busy year for Rodriguez – you can find him on a number of high profile projects, and undoubtedly, you’ll be hearing him for many years.
Required Listening:
For The Rest of Your Life, Chembo Corniel
Song For Chano, Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra
Why Deny, The Marty Sheller Ensemble
El Mas Alla (Beyond), Steven Kroon

Oscar Staganaro
Oscar Stagnaro was raised in Lima, Peru, and he actively built a music career in the area. His brother Ramon played guitar and encouraged Oscar to join his band on bass. His enthusiasm for the instrument eventually led him to study at Lima’s Conservatory of Music. After he finished his studies at the conservatory, his professional career grew with a busy schedule of live performances and studio work. He moved to the United States in 1979 and networked, jammed, and gigged his way into the top of the East Coast jazz and Latin music scenes. In 1988 he began teaching at Berklee School of Music, a job that allowed him to influence the school into building a large Latin music studies program. He landed a dream Latin Jazz gig in 1991 as Paquito D’Rivera’s bassist, and he has continued working with D’Rivera to the present day. He has become a valued member of any project, contributing to Juan Pablo Torres’s 1995 album Trombone Man, 2002′s Latin Genesis from Dave Liebman, and the 2006 Caribbean Jazz Project release Mosaic. He released an album as a bandleader in 2003 entitled Mariella’s Dream that touched upon several Latin styles, but emphasized Peruvian rhythms. Staganro collaborated with Chuck Sher to produce The Latin Bass Book, and authoritive resource on Latin Bass playing. He followed that book with a release from Berklee Press entitled The Latin Bass Book. In addition, Stagnaro has repeatedly supported young artists with his artistry, appearing on albums such as Layla Angulo’s 2008 album Mientras… and Eleonora’s Como Un Aguila En Lo Alto. Stagnaro remains a role model both as a player and educator that is sending Latin Jazz into the next generation.
Required Listening:
Mariella’s Dream, Oscar Stagnaro
Funk Tango, Paquito D’Rivera Quintet
Big Band Time, Paquito D’Rivera & the WDR Big Band

Edward Perez
Raised in southern Texas, Edward Perez immersed himself in music at a young age, playing both piano and bass. He became a member of the local symphony orchestra at the age of 13 and later studied at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. He performed with the school’s award-winning big band, and received recognition from the NFAA for jazz performance. Despite his focus upon music during his younger years, Perez changed directions in college, studying applied mathematics at Harvard University. At the same time, he performed throughout Boston, taking advantage of the city’s large jazz scene. Perez’s love of Latin music inspired a move to Lima, Peru, where he spent the next two years. His time in Peru was well spent; Perez performed with many top-notch Peruvian musicians and recorded extensively. He worked as an arranger and bassist on Pilar de la Hoz’s Jazz con Sabor Peruano, he formed the Peruvian jazz fusion band Meridiano 75 that performed at the 2004 Lima International Jazz Festival, and he played on the Latin Grammy nominated album Peru Blue from vocalist Pamela. He returned to New York and quickly found extensive sideman work, performing with artists such as Mark Murphy, Miguel Zenon, Seamus Blake, and Lionel Loueke. He also formed an Afro-Peruvian Jazz group, Alcatraz, which brought his experience in Peru full circle with his New York jazz lifestyle. In 2004, Perez emerged as a composer, presenting a wide array of music on his album A Glimpse of Bliss. After years of performing in New York’s lively Latin Jazz scene, Alcatraz recorded their self-titled debut on the Pasache Music imprint in 2007. The next year, Perez returned with his second album as a leader, The Year of Two Summers, which brought together Peruvian styles, straight-ahead jazz, and a variety of other Latin styles. Perez continues to travel and record as a diverse bassist that walks between traditional and Latin jazz worlds with ease.
Required Listening:
A Glimpse of Bliss, Edward Perez
Alcatraz, Alcatraz
The Year of Two Summers, Edward Perez

Pablo Aslan
Bassist Pablo Aslan spent the first eighteen years of his life in Buenos Aires, Argentina, exposed to music through his parent’s record collection. He turned to performance during his high school years, playing the electric bass and jamming with friends. At the age of 16, he began studying acoustic bass while exploring jazz and symphonic music. He moved to the United States two years later, attending University of California at Santa Cruz and immersing himself in the acoustic bass. After four years of intensive music study, Aslan moved to Los Angeles with his sights set both on University of California at Los Angeles’ graduate program and the city’s active music scene. During this time, he became connected with tango, and eventually landed a regular gig at a tango club. Aslan’s interest in tango and jazz eventually led him to New York, where his music career began to explode. He performed with traditional jazz musicians such as saxophonist Joe Lovano and vibraphonist Gary Burton and recorded with Latin musicians such as Julio Iglesias and Shakira. He met bandoneon player Raul Jaurena, and the two musicians collaborated in the creation of two groups, the New York Tango Trio and the New York/Buenos Aires Connection. Argentinean pianist Pablo Ziegler, longtime member of legendary composer Astor Piazzolla’s band, utilized Aslan’s bass skills and thorough knowledge of Nuevo Tango in his Quintet for New Tango. Aslan also applied his compositional skills through his own group entitled Avantango. This ensemble recorded an album in 2004 for the ZOHO label that fused jazz and tango entitled Avantango. The following year, Aslan returned to Buenos Aires, where he engulfed himself in the city’s growing jazz scene. The resultant album, Buenos Aires Tango Standards, brings together several musicians from Argentina’s capital playing tango with a very open, free jazz aesthetic. Aslan continued to compose for a variety of projects, including a 2007 concert, “Todo Tango” by the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra. Aslan remains at the core of the Tango-Jazz movement, bringing a vital and expressive voice to the idiom.
Required Listening:
Avantango, Pablo Aslan
Buenos Aires Tango Standards, Pablo Aslan
Vals de la 81st & Columbus, Adrian Iaies

Nilson Matta
Nilson Matta spent years refining his bass skills in Brazil, culminating with a serious study at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro with classical bassist Sandrino Santoro. His dedication served him well; Matta soon became an in-demand bassist with top Brazilian artists such as João Gilberto, Hermeto Pascoal, João Bosco, Luis Bonfa, and more. His experience raised him into a mentor role, traveling across Brazil, giving clinics and lessons. In 1983 Matta traveled to Japan with singer Lisa Ono, hoping to establish a Brazilian music presence in the country. After two years of successful performance in Japan, Matta moved to New York, where he found extensive work with musicians such as Joe Henderson, Claudio Roditi, Paquito D’Rivera, Oscar Castro Neves, Gato Barbieri, and more. A few years after arriving in New York, Matta formed a quintet with pianist Don Pullen, The African-Brazilian Connection, which recorded several albums, including Kele Mou Bana, Ode to Life and Live…Again. Matta also found success with guitarist Romero Lubambo and Duduka da Fonseca in the form of Trio da Paz. The group has remained on the cutting edge of Brazilian Jazz, recording a number of high quality albums, including Café, Partido Out, Black Orpheus, and Brasil from the Inside. In 2000, Matta recorded his first solo album, Encontros (Meetings), and then proceeded to work with Kenny Barron on Canta Brasil and Yo Yo Ma on Obrigado Brazil over the next few years. Matta recorded a second album in 2006 entitled Walking with My Bass that included a wide range of all-star collaborators moving through Brazilian Jazz settings. Whether alone or in one of his many groups, Matta stands as a major proponent of Brazilian Jazz in today’s music scene.
Required Listening:
Live At JazzBaltica, Trio da Paz & Joe Locke
Walking with My Bass, Nilson Matta
Partido Out, Trio da Paz

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These five bass players give us a good place to start when looking at the instrument in the modern Latin Jazz world, but this list is far from complete. With the rapid growth of Latin Jazz, bass players are showing an increased knowledge of the style and a highly innovative approach to the music. The list can continue though – who are your favorite Latin Jazz bass players? LEAVE A COMMENT and let us know!

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Check Out These Related Posts:
Essential Cachao Recordings, Part 1: Cachao In Cuba
4 Contemporary Cuban Pianists That Moved Latin Jazz Into The 21st Century
2 Legendary Latin Jazz Congueros

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