Halloween Fun: Five Scary Moments In Latin Jazz

by chip on October 28, 2010

Halloween is a really fun time of year on so many different levels. It’s an opportunity to change your identity, experience a different perspective, and get lots of tasty candy – a combination that can’t be beat. More than any of these things though, Halloween offers a time where we can safely dig into scary scenarios and push our adrenaline levels to the sky. There’s something invigorating about getting a good scare, and every year, we enthusiastically come back to this experience. What really draws us in during Halloween though is the fact that we can get this high with the full knowledge that the scary won’t effect our larger lives.

Halloween or not, things are a little different when life gets truly scary though. These are the moments that send chills down our spines and find permanent places in the deep recesses of our minds. The Latin Jazz world has experienced these types of scares throughout the years, so in the spirit of Halloween, I’ve gathered five of these blood curdling moments. Although these moments still give me shivers, I’m getting past my fear to have a little Halloween fun. Check them out and if you’re so inspired, share some of your own scary Latin Jazz moments below. Enjoy the season – boo!

The Grammys Pay Tribute To Tito Puente With A Performance From . . . Ricky Martin?!?
When the King of Latin Music passed on, it seemed only fitting that a high profile event like the Latin Grammy Awards should pay tribute to him – a grand idea gone horribly wrong. They put together a fantastic band that included Sheila E on timbales, Dave Valentin on flute, Arturo Sandoval on trumpet, and a number of top Miami professionals – so far so good. Then they created an arrangement that included several top Puente hits including “Oye Come Va,” “Para Los Rumberos,” and “Quimbara” . . . not a true reflection of the scale of Puente’s work, but an acceptable way to celebrate the master among a general audience. With all the right pieces, the band hit the stage at the award show and slammed into a strong version of “Oye Como Va.” Then things got truly scary.

Who struts onto stage at this point? Ricky Martin. Wait a minute, is that right? The Grammy Awards have the opportunity to pay their respects to one of the twentieth century’s most important artists in Latin music and they choose one of the most shallow image-based vocalists as their representative? Who decided this and what did they know of Puente’s work? We’ll probably never understand the answers to these questions, but we do know that while El Rey was turning in his grave, Ricky Martin was livin’ la vida loca on stage to the tune of “Oye Como Va.” As this section of the medley came to a close, Martin introduced Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan. Despite a shocking head of blue hair, Celia raised the bar a bit with her classic voice. Unfortunately, things just spun downward as Estefan cut off Celia’s pregones . . . that’s right, Gloria Estefan cut off one of the best soneras in the history of the music. There’s something that’s just inherently wrong about that. The whole performance was simply a disturbing nightmare.

I try to convince myself that this just didn’t happen, and every once in a while, I start to believe it. Unfortunately, the truth is out there, as you can see below.

Cuban Horror Movie Gold From Vampires In Havana
Cuban filmmaker Juan Padrón developed an unusual spin upon the vampire legacy with the 1985 animated film Vampires in Havana. The movie centers around Pepito, a Cuban trumpet player whose real name is Joseph Emmanuel von Dracula. Despite his particularly telling last name, Pepito plays a mean trumpet and protests the Cuban government without the knowledge that he is a vampire. It seems that his uncle created a formula to help vampires avoid the negative effects of sunlight, which he has been regularly feeding to Pepito. American gangsters and European entrepreneurs learn about the magic formula which they both decide to obtain at any cost. With the Americans and Europeans on his tail, Pepito learns about his heritage and leads the foreigners on a wild chase through Havana. I won’t give away the details, but suffice to say that Pepito’s journey turns into a wild and campy ride that makes for a fun movie.

Vampires in Havana is a must-see movie this time of year (You can pull it right into your Netflix Instant Stream Queue today!), and Latin Jazz fans will quickly be drawn to the soundtrack. It seems that a certain trumpet player was leading a fiery cutting edge jazz group in the mid-eighties that bounced between fierce bebop, Afro-Cuban rhythms, funky grooves and more – maybe you’ve heard of him, his name is Arturo Sandoval? Padrón called upon Sandoval to create the soundtrack and this was a good move on every account. The trumpet player was at the height of his creative powers at the time, and the music on Vampires in Havana really captures this magic. There’s some beautiful music that supports the movie and then there’s some simply scary good playing from Sandoval. It’s a great example of Sandoval’s strong personality at this time.

Latin Jazz In All The Wrong Places
We’ve talked a lot about reaching a younger audience with Latin Jazz over the past few years, with a variety of solutions being thrown into the suggestion box. One of the main points that I’ve made in this area is that we need to put Latin Jazz in places where young people hear music. A natural connection here would be video games – there’s a lot of gaming time among the younger crowd and music plays a major part in this experience. The songs that fit into the soundtrack of a popular game get burnt into the consciousness of every gamer through endless repetition. This might not be the venue for acceptance of higher level artistry in Latin Jazz, but it’s exposure for a generation that might never encounter the music. With this in mind, I’ve repeatedly made the point that Latin Jazz needs to be placed in video games to reach a younger generation. In an ironic turn of events worthy of The Twilight Zone, I’ve learned to be careful what you ask for, you might get it.

The 2002 video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City made extensive use of Latin Jazz in a way that didn’t quite align with my earlier hopes. The game features several radio stations that the player hears while committing various crimes throughout the city. Radio Espantoso primarily features Latin Jazz, which in some sort of politically incorrect way makes it a favorite of Cuban gangsters and taxi cab drivers. Things get worse once you realize that Espantoso roughly translates to “horrible,” making the station name “horrible radio.” Despite this degrading place in the world of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the station’s voice, DJ Pepe, plays some great tracks, including Cachao’s “A Gozar Con Mi Combo,” Irakere’s “Anunga Nunga,” Tito Puente’s “Mambo Gozón,” Machito’s “Mambo Mucho Mambo,” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Mama Papa Tu.” There’s some amazing music there, but unfortunately it’s placed inside a game which promotes over the top violence, flippant drug use, and prostitution. I’ve been properly scared by the damage that this can create for the perception of Latin Jazz; maybe video game placement isn’t such a great idea.

Not sure about this? Check out a sample of the game and music below:

A Frightening Trip Into Smooth Territory
I’m a big proponent of stretching Latin Jazz and exploring all the new possibilities for musical evolution; at the same time, I’m fiercely protective of the music’s roots and lineage. When artists try something new, I like to see the foundation of their experimentation lead back to the music’s origins. This doesn’t mean that I expect modern artists to sound like Machito or Puente, this would be an unnecessary rehash of the past. I simply like to hear young artists respect the work of their elders and acknowledge the things that they’ve learned. Their own artistic personalities should find a place in the overall tradition, not the other way around. So when I hear about an established musician toying with Latin Jazz, I’m hoping that they take the time to understand what their taking on.

Soprano saxophonist Kenny G trampled upon the traditional jazz world in the eighties with his soft bluesy approach to commercially viable funk jams, and he stood poised to move into the Latin Jazz world in 2008. Before this time, Latin Jazz remained fairly unaffected by the whole smooth jazz movement, with traditional jazz taking the brunt of the attack. The emergence of Rhythm & Romance struck terror into our hearts, opening the possibility of a move for Latin Jazz towards Kenny G’s smooth blasé approach to music. The saxophonist wisely hired a top-notch rhythm section for the album, including percussionists Alex Acuña and Paulinho Da Costa, bassist Nathan East, and many more. This lent the album a touch of authenticity, but the connection to Latin Jazz tradition ended there. All of the arrangements carefully restrained from hitting any type of emotional peak, and Kenny G’s presence on the album simply restated his tired licks. The smooth jazz super star had lost some of his appeal at this point though, and Rhythm & Romance didn’t become a major hit. After a frightening period of waiting, it appeared that Latin Jazz had dodged the smooth jazz bullet.

A Musician’s Trip Into The Unknown
For nine years, the X-Files kept us thinking “I Want To Believe” when it came to aliens, supernatural creatures, and unexplained phenomenon. There wasn’t a bit of Latin Jazz in all nine years of the show, but it certainly held my attention at every turn. The super sleuth team of Mulder and Scully always made it seem possible that the government could be hiding aliens without ever showing us the proof. After a while, we didn’t really need proof anymore, we simply needed to be led into new adventures. This cleverly written show turned science fiction on its ears and paved the way for a new generation of television programs. This may seem like a slightly off topic aside, and you’re probably asking, “What does this have to do with Latin Jazz?”

During season 4 of The X-Files, Mulder and Scully investigated a case involving illegal immigrants from Mexico that had encountered a brutal disease in Los Angeles. Being out their comfort zone and certainly out of their cultural circle, the agents called upon the local INS representative to help them translate and connect with the affected parties. This INS agent, Conrad Lozano, played a major part in the episode, and he was played by legendary vocalist Ruben Blades. The episode takes neurotic spins into the Chupacabra, immigration law, and Mexican culture (kind of), making it a bit hard to follow, but entertaining none the less. Blades puts his acting chops on full display here, holding his own alongside David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Unfortunately, Blades’ character meets an unfortunate ending, but at least we get a peek into a collision between Latin Jazz and the supernatural.

Check Out These Related Posts:
Latin Jazz Conversation Starters: 10 Fun Facts About Tito Puente
Digging Deeper Into Artwork: 7 Classic Latin Jazz Album Covers
Overlooked Treasures: Four Latin Jazz Albums That You’ve Got To Discover
Bring On The Boogaloo: Three Funky Latin Jazz Classics From The Sixties

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