Claiming Space: Musical Exchange between Afro-Caribbean and Jazz Musicians in New York City

Emily Silks

Spring 2022

MA Paper #1


Claiming Space:

Musical Exchange between Afro-Caribbean and Jazz Musicians in New York City

With more than 100 years of records released by musicians from the circum-Caribbean alongside African Americans in New York City, it is clear that there was significant musical collaboration between diverse groups of people from the early twentieth century and onward. The music emanating from East Harlem post World War I inscribed Afro-Caribbean music styles into the urban, cosmopolitan soundscape of New York City. Musicians and bands active in the 1940s, such as Machito and his Afro-Cubans, Arsenio Rodriguez, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillepsie, to name a few, began a conscious movement of blending Latin music elements and jazz elements that continued from that decade onward. From these cross-cultural musical collaborations emerged a distinct musical phenomenon that can neither be reduced to jazz nor to Afro-caribbean styles alone. Rather, the dialogue between these expressive practices broadened each genre, giving way to an outpouring of new urban music that was distinctive in its own right. This music paved the way for the later emergence of salsa in the 1970s.

Such rich musical innovations are a result of both the transnational flow of migrants from the Caribbean and their interurban proximity to African Americans in New York City. As Ben Lapidus reminds us, Panamanians, Cubans, Jews, Puerto Ricans, and Dominican musicians, among others, all contributed to the growing repertoire of music that integrated Afro-Caribbean and African American musical elements (2020, 230). For the scope of this paper, however, I will focus specifically on Puerto Rican and African American musicians in New York City active during the 1950-60s, and, to a lesser extent, Cuban musicians as well. Furthermore, by delving into the gathering places, both formal and informal, where musicians played, practiced, and performed music, I aim to show how claiming space in the neighborhoods of the South Bronx, the Spanish Harlem, and the Upper West Side of Manhattan allowed working class communities of African and African Caribbean descent to develop their collective musicianship and cultivate their emergent musical identities.

In this paper, I will first discuss the history of Puerto Rican and Cuban migration to New York City before delving into the networks of record stores and shops that helped maintain a sense of musical identity and community for Afro-Caribbeans. I will then discuss important venues-Birdland, the Palladium, and the Apollo Theater specifically-in order to show how the proximity of these places afforded the opportunity for musical exposure and collaboration between Latin dance bands and Jazz bands. Lastly, I explore the creative ways in which musicians skillfully blended these two musical idioms through a brief survey of recording and performance collaborations as well as a close analysis of a musical composition by Bud Powell. Dovetailing from important discussions by Ruth Glasser (1995), Marisol Berríos-Miranda (2002, 2004, 2012), Ben Lapidus (2020), and others, I ultimately argue that the emergent bicultural musical fluency, that is, the competency in Afro-Caribbean and Jazz musical styles, of musicians living in New York City in the 1950s and 60s was a result of proximity, in neighborhoods where musicians lived and venues where they worked, and a strong community ethos that valued rich musical proficiency, dexterity, and dedication. 


Puerto Rican and Cuban Migration to New York City

As Ruth Glasser reminds us, thousands of Puerto Rican men joined ranks with African Americans in the 369th Infantry in WWI and seventeen soldiers were recruited specifically by military musical director James Reese Europe to perform in the Hellfighters Band (1995, 55).

During their encounters with U.S. racial ideologies both during and after the war, they experienced discrimination and racial readings that placed them squarely in the Black minoritarian group even when the darkness of peoples’ skin varied (1995, 54). As Marisol Berríos-Miranda notes, Puerto Ricans migrated to New York City as a strategy of survival to flee even worse conditions on the island due to colonial and early corporate control that was devastating their livelihood (2004). During the same time African Americans sought to escape the Jim Crow south by moving to northern urban centers, Puerto Ricans, of all skin colors, sought a better life and working conditions in the urban cities of the U.S. and the 1917 Jones Act opened the door for Puerto Ricans to travel more easily to and from the island.

Cubans similarly began migrating to the United States in the nineteenth century (Abreu, 2015, 50) and much of the impetus for relocation was due to the economic and political burden of the Ten Years War in Cuba and the Spanish-American War in 1895.  By the early 1900s, business prospects for cigar industries in Florida and New York enticed wealthy Cubans to migrate to the U.S. (Abreu, 2015, 58).  While the Depression deflated the cigar business, Cubans have since continued to immigrate to urban centers in the U.S. for better economic opportunities  (Duany, 1999).  As such, in the 1940s and 50s, there was a growing presence of Cubans in New York City. According to Latinx and Caribbean scholar Christina Abreu, class and race dictated in which neighborhood Cubans settled and to what extent musicians and entertainers found success (2015, 60).

Puerto Ricans and Cubans settled initially close to African American communities such as Harlem and the South Bronx. Their hopes for more opportunities were met with bad working conditions, overpriced rent, and isolating language barriers. As a result of these systemic pressures, Puerto Ricans and Cubans were forced to live in the poorest parts of the city on the lower east side of Manhattan, known as the Barrios. Extending Glasser’s discussion of U.S. racial conflations between Caribbeans and African Americans, Ramón Grosfoguel further contends that when Puerto Ricans and Cubans immigrated to the U.S. post WWI, they experienced similar racial readings entangled with African Americans, which considered them as inferior to others in New York City (2001, 106).  As Ramón Rivera-Servera also points out, Afro-Caribbeans in New York City were “almost always framed in ‘blight’ [which] made it difficult for residents to imagine themselves otherwise” (2012, 52). A need for a counter-narrative, then, was essential to surviving white U.S. culture and politics (Berríos-Miranda, 2004).

One of the ways such an alternative urban social identity for Afro-Caribbean migrants emerged was from the transnational movement of Puerto Ricans to and from the island and New York. Daily flights from Santurce to New York City maintained an important route of communication and continuity for Puerto Ricans that further propelled musical dialogue between the two places. El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is a good example of the way musicians from Santurce were “building community across national boundaries” and performing music  for diverse audiences (Berríos-Mirands & Dudley, 2009).  Another way alternative social identities were constructed by Caribbean migrants was through musical innovations occurring within East Harlem and the South Bronx. In her 1982 dissertation My Music is Who I am And What I Do: Latin Popular Music and Identity in New York City, Roberta Singer uses the frame of urbanization to consider how record stores and music shops in these neighborhoods served as a locus for musical and creative intermingling (1982, 23). As I will discuss in the next section, neighborhood hubs where musicians gathered “bridged communities and enabled new collective identities to emerge” (Rivera-Servera, 2012, 24).


Music Shops, Record Stores, and Instrument Makers

One of the ways in which Puerto Ricans and Cubans built community and claimed space with their rich musical culture in New York City was through music shops, Bodegas, and record stores. While there has been a significant scholarly conversation about the venues and clubs important to the latin music scene in New York City, including Singer’s review of historic theaters such as Hunts Point Palace that showcased performances of Puerto Rican jíbaro music (2004) and the Palladium as a centerpiece of mambo scene in the 1940-50s, far less attention has been given to the importance of music stores.

Soon after the Jones Act in 1917, Victoria Hernández and her siblings,  Jesús and Rafael Hernández, a former member of the Hellfighters band from WWI,  migrated from Puerto Rico to El Barrio in New York City. She and her siblings were accomplished musicians and in 1929, Victoria opened a music store on Madison Avenue near 114th street. To supplement the family's income, Victoria taught piano lessons in the back of the store to students like Tito Puente, Joe Loco, and Eddie Palmieri (Martínez & Raeven, 2006, 197). Due to deteriorating living conditions in El Barrio, Victoria sold her store and moved to the Bronx in 1941 to open another store, Casa Hernández. Here, she not only sold records but also musical instruments such as maracas, güiros, claves, and guitars as well as a variety of other wares and clothing. As I will expand upon later, Hernández also had a small studio in the back of the store where musicians composed, rehearsed, and recorded many popular songs–including the composition “Lamento Borincano” by Rafel Hernández, recorded by Maniel “Canario” Jimenez. It is worth pausing here and acknowledging the incredible influence Victoria Hernández had in building a community space that valued Puerto Rican music and culture.

As such, this store became an important hub for the emerging Latin Music scene of the early to mid twentieth century. Deeply connected to the community of El Barrio, Casa Hernández served musicians and non-musicians alike. It became an integral part of the neighborhood by providing the familiar sounds of home and thus easing the burden of migration (Glasser, 143). In 1968, Mike Amadeo, a musician and composer himself, bought the store from Hernández and renamed it Casa Amadeo (Martínez & Raeven, 2006, 203). Under his management, the store remained firmly intertwined with musicians and community as a microcosm of the Puerto Rican experience in New York, as described by the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. In an interview conducted by Marisol Berríos-Miranda, Mike said that “everything that every Puerto Rican artist has ever put out, I try to have here. [...] Everything that our musicians, my compañeros, everything that they have done, I’ll try to have in the store” (2018, 73). Indeed, distinguished artists such as Eddie Palmieri and Willie Colón have been known to stop by the store on occasion to catch up with Amadeo and ask for inspiration and advice (Ricciulli, 2020).

 Mike kept Casa Amadeo in business through the 1970s, with the Bronx fires and the near disastrous economic recession in New York City, and now continues to work to keep the store open amid the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the store had to temporarily close for three months, but has since reopened, with Amadeo as the owner and sole employee. A magazine article by Vox Media released in August 2020 reports that the store is staying afloat by the surprising increase in sales for guitars as well as community-based organizations like Banana Kelly ensuring rent remains affordable (Ricciulli, 36).

Another important music store in the Bronx is JCR Percussion, a small workshop near Yankee Stadium, that was established in the late 1960s by native Puerto Rican Calixto, or Cali, Rivera. A master instrument craftsman, Mr. Rivera is known for his cowbells, timbales, congas, and bongos and has built a reputation by word of mouth (Martínez & Reaven, 200). JCR Percussion provided an important service to Latinx musicians in New York City who were in need of quality percussion instruments. Moreover, Rivera, with his easy going and friendly personality, opened his workshop as an informal hangout for musicians in ‘the know.’ According to an interview in a 2006 New York Times article, Rivera said that the City Council voted to authorize construction of a new Yankee Stadium and as a result, rent increased dramatically for JCR Percussion and the surrounding neighborhood (Winter, 14). In 2017, at age 79 years old, Cali Rivera passed away but his instruments live on in the recordings of Tito Puente, Bobby Sanabria, and Eddie Montalvo, among many others.

There were many other neighborhood sites similar to the ones aforementioned in El Barrio and the South Bronx. La Moderna Bakery and Pastry shop in Manhattan sold baked goods and instruments–tumbadoras, bongos, guiros, maracas (Machito procured his iconic squished maracas from here), and claves– since the 1930s (Lapidus, 2020, 55). In the late 1940s, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri’s father also owned a popular Bodega in the Bronx, colloquially known as “The Mambo” Candy Store where records from the Caribbean were constantly playing on the jukebox. Jay Bareck, a Jewish percussion instrument artisan, opened a company called Skin on Skin, where he built congas that were specifically sought out by Giovanni Hidalgo, Ray Barretto, and Mongo Santamaria, among others. Many luthiers also came from Puerto Rico to New York City during this time, like craftsmen Guilín and Gil Díaz, and have similar stories of working in small shops creating one-of-a-kind stringed instruments. The Baby Bass, an iconic instrument in Latin music made famous by Andy Gonzáles and Oscar Pettiford, was also innovated in New York City by Rudy and Ed Doera (ibid, 80).

Informal jam sessions took place in courtyards, rooftops, parks, and street corners and were essential to the maintenance of an urban social identity for many Puerto Rican immigrants. Singer describes how “new migrants from Puerto Rico could walk past stores and hear the sounds of their island streaming from the speakers; musicians gathered at the stores in search of gigs; and record companies looking for new artists and groups to record sought advice from store proprietors” (2004, 196). Indeed, in the early stages of the recording industry, companies such as RCA Victor and Colombia worked hard to promote the phonograph and catalog of ‘foreign language records’ to as many markets as possible, including countries outside the US, like the Puerto Rican transnational community (Glasser, 1998, 133).

In order to capture ethnic markets, large recording companies employed music scouts to locate ‘native talent.’ Often these people would depend on savvy local record store owners, like Victoria Hernández, to gauge the preferences of the community in order to produce records that would sell. “Victor and other companies were dependent on record stores such as Victoria Hernández’s to take the musical pulse of the community” writes Glasser (1995, 148). When word got out about the relationship between large record companies and local record stores, however, “musicians often gathered there and waited to be called upon by record companies needing session players or bandleaders from orchestras and conjuntos needing instrumentalists” (Martínez & Reaven, 198). The musicians the record labels employed were often tasked to play a number of different styles of music beyond the scope of the music from their home country. As such, Puerto Ricans working alongside Cubans as session musicians, prided themselves on their musical versatility learned from participation in informal gatherings and live performances (Glasser 1995, 154).

Such intermingling between the burgeoning music industry and small, close-knit communities around record stores speaks to the fascinating ways in which these companies maintained a dialogue with transnational communities from the Caribbean in New York City. While, at the end of the day, the major record label companies sought to make a profit by producing Spanish-language records, this relationship inadvertently afforded something of value for the community as well. Not only did these records preserve music from Nuyoricans and Cubans working in New York City, it was also a source of income and an important tool musicians used to promote their live performances. Moreover, musicians from the Caribbean also recognized that their music appealed to a large audience and some music store owners began their own independent pressing plants and recording labels.

Victoria Hernández was, yet again, at the forefront of such a business venture, and founded her own record label, Disco Hispano, 1928 and employed her brother Rafael. By using their own understanding of their community’s musical tastes, they produced several records by local groups like Las Estrellas Boricuas and Los Diablos de la Plena (Glasser, 1995, 144). With the prominence of Puerto Rican instruments and references to well known Puerto Rican folk songs, the music produced on labels such as Hispano uniquely showcased deep national pride not always found on records produced by major labels.

Though Hernández’s success with Disco Hispano only lasted a year due to the onset of the Depression, it remains true that the recording production, both on a local and national level, instilled meaningful acknowledgement of the rich music emanating from Puerto Ricans and Cubans. Indeed, as Glasser wrote, “mechanically diffused songs such as “Lamento Borincano” spoke to their existence and validated it in a way no popular art form had ever done before” (1995, 168).


The proximity of Jazz and Afro-Caribbean Bands:

A Survey of Venues

Thus far, I have explored the ways Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians cultivated a rich tapestry of relationships, with the local community and the larger music industry, through shared spaces in music stores and record shops. Casa Amadeo and JCR percussion served the community by providing more than just records or instruments; they created an environment where passionate musicians and listeners gathered to share stories, play music, or even land a recording deal with music scouts from Colombia or RCA Victor.  This was one way in which Puerto Rican and Cuban musicians maintained a sense of cultural identity and claimed physical and sonic space in the U.S. I will now explore how the proximity of venues that showcased Latin dance bands and Jazz bands allowed a confluence of people and styles from which inspirations and collaborations emerged.

At Broadway and 53rd Street in midtown Manhattan, the Palladium Ballroom was a locus for Latin dance music and an important venue where people of all colors, nationalities, and classes were welcome (Singer & Martinez, 2004). In the 50s, the Palladium was nationally recognized as “the home of the mambo,” which was a musical genre characterized by fiery, uptempo tunes that combined big band brass arrangements, including all the trappings of riffs and vamps, solo sections, and shout choruses, with Afro-Caribbean rhythms and percussion. Some of the most first iconic bands that performed at the Palladium was Machito y sus Afro-Cubans. Indeed, such a fusion may have arguably been influenced by how close these musicians were geographically to Jazz musicians.  Just down the street, on the same block as the Palladium, Birdland hosted performances by the most swinging jazz bands in New York City - including the legendary Duke Ellington and his Orchestra as well as the Count Basie Orchestra.  Musicians from either venue would run to catch other contemporaries playing in the same block during their breaks. As Chick Corea recalls, when he arrived in New York in 1960, “I used to jump out of my gig at Birdland and go stand in front of the bandstand at the Palladium. So the jazz scene that I came up in was very much a part of what I call my Spanish Heart” (Lapidus, 2020, 41).

Musicologist René López, in an interview with Berríos-Miranda, describes the vitality of their performances saying that, “It was like a school, when he [Machito] played, everyone tuned in.” Celebrities and musicians alike would come and observe bands like Machito’s as well as the famous rivalry between Tito Puente’s band and Tito Rodriguez’s band. And while all these aforementioned ensembles developed new sounds and musical trends inspired by the music emanating from the jazz swing bands just down the street, they importantly maintained a rhythm and groove that served the dancers. For example, Tito Puente is known to be one of the first arrangers to incorporate big band drumming technique of setting up ensemble figures through the use of timbales, bass drum, and cymbal (Lapidus, 2020, 212). He was also the first to bring the timbales and other percussion to the front of the band. Tito Rodriguez, on the other hand, incorporated the polished sounds akin to Count Basie’s orchestra through rich string and horn arrangements, suave dance moves, and “a silky enticing voice that enamored many” (M. Barrísol-Miranda, personal correspondence, May 28th, 2022).

In 1951, Tito Puente performed at Birdland and said that during that time “we were trying to keep up with the times but bring some of the originality of Afro Cuban music and put some modern chord changed into them … and try to swing as much as we can” (Lapidus, 2020, 227). In this way, Tito Puente extended his musical arrangements to incorporate jazz harmony while always cultivating latin rhythms like mambo, chacha, guajira, and son montuno. “The jazz cats had always been checking Tito out because of the one time in Birdland,” Jerry Gonzáles said in an interview with Ben Lapidus, “it used to be Art Blakey, Tito Puente, and John Coltrane all night long. Alternating sets. It used to be like Miles Davis, then Machito with Dextor Gordon, or Art Blakey. That kind of latin and jazz combination was happening at Birdland” (2020, 2013). Carmen Void, an African American who frequented the Palladium to dance, also spoke to this point in an interview with Berríos-Miranda, noting that, “I had gotten so fused to what I was listening to upstairs at the Palladium and what I was listening to at Birdland. And what I discovered was that Machito was a combination of both.”

The Apollo Theater, located blocks away from the Spanish Harlem, was also a significant stage for Latin American, Caribbean, and Jazz musicians alike and was a “nexus for intercultural exchange between African American and Latin musics, two lineages that have been inextricably linked for many years” (Washburne, 2015). Dizzie Gillepsie, for example, performed at the Apollo theater numerous times during the 1950s and showcased the sounds of his “Cubop” ensemble, featuring compositions by Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, including the famous tune “Manteca.” In 1954, the Apollo organized a show advertised as the “Afro-Jazz Revue” with performances by Machito, Hazel Scott, Herbie Mann, Baba Olantunji, and Philly Joe Jones’ sextet including Cuban percussionist Carlos “Patato'' Valdez (ibid, 237).

The venues aforementioned are only a few examples of the places in which Caribbean and African American musicians worked and listened to each other. From these encounters, many musicians further engaged in recording sessions together, cultivating a modern, urbanized sound that connected Afro-Caribbean rhythms to the jazz vocabulary and likewise, addied jazz harmony to afro-caribbean repertoire. In the following section, I will survey the creative ways specific artists blended these two musical idioms.


Recording Collaborations and Innovations:

A survey of recordings and personnel

Apart from the more widely recognized collaborations between artists like Dizzie Gillepsie with Chano Pozo’s composition of “Tin Tin Deo'' and “Manteca” as well as Juan Tizol’s composition “Caravan”, there are many other records produced by jazz musicians in the early 1950s that blend Afro-Caribbean musical elements into their repertoire. Two notable examples include pianist Bud Powell’s 1951 album The Amazing Bud Powell features a tune called “Un Poco Loco”. And while the personnel does not include musicians from the Caribbean, the song clearly has sonic references to Afro-Cuban musical elements - specifically clave based rhythmic locking between the drummer, Max Roach, the bass player Tommy Potter, and Bud Powell himself on piano. Max Roach plays a riff based on the mambo bell patterns including two patterns of five and one pattern of six (see figure 1). In the B section of the tune, Roach cleverly switches to the tumbao pattern but instead of playing the figure on the kick drum he plays them as double stops on the toms. Interestingly, “Un Poco Loco” strongly resembles many musical elements from Pozo’s “Manteca.” Both melodies are derived from the diminished mode, the chord voicings employ altered 5ths, and both tunes start with a vamp based on a melodic riff. Furthermore, it is clear that rhythmically Max Roach and Pozo are playing similar Afro-Cuban grooves.


Figure 1.1 - Analysis of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”


Figure 1.2 - Analysis of Bud Powell’s “Un Poco Loco”


Max Roach himself is another important jazz musician that, inspired by Machito’s percussionist (namely Fanky Colón, Jase Madera, Johnny “El Dandy” Rodriguez), spearheaded the inclusion of Afro-Caribbean rhythms specifically to his drum vocabulary and technique behind the kit. “By mimicking the interlocking parts of the conga drums, timbales, and bongo drums” writes Washburne, “he gained the independence of all four limbs, creating a technique that revolutionized jazz drum set playing” (1997). While there are numerous examples from his discography, an exemplary representation of Roach’s superb blending of styles can be heard on his 1961 album Percussion Bitter Sweet featuring Cuban conga player Carlos “Patato” Valdes.

Hilton Ruiz, a Nuyorican pianist and child prodigy, is yet another musician that merged the Afro-caribbean and jazz musical worlds. Inspired by the sounds of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, he began his piano study at a young age and took lessons for many years from the well-respected composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams (Lapidus, 2020, 217). Very much steeped in jazz traditions, Ruiz first found work in Tito Puente’s orchestra. Indeed, his talent as a jazz idiom was one of the reasons why Puente picked him in the first place. “I was pure jazz,” Ruiz said, “and that’s what Tito wanted. I was a jazz pianist who also played Latin” (ibid, 219). He later recorded with notable jazz musicians such as Rahsaan Rolan Kirk and Lee Morgan.

With regard to jazz melody harmony, Eddie Palmieri is arguably one of the most influential Puerto Rican musicians to creatively incorporate this particular stylistic element into Afro-caribbean repertoire. As a kid, Palmieri took piano lessons from Victoria Hernández and Maria Lecompte, among others, and built a strong technique and fundamental understanding of music ranging from classical piano, jazz, and Afro-caribbean genres. He credits guitarist Bob Bianco for introducing him to the music of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, and others (Lapidus, 2020, 210). In his own compositions and improvisations, he is known for quoting musical ideas from such bebop players. For example in the tune “Descarga Palmieri” from his 1964 album Lo Que Traigo es Sabroso, he quotes Sonny Stitt’s (a jazz alto saxophone player) compositions “Eternal Triangle.” Palmieri also used harmonies that move beyond traditional latin music repertoire, incorporating dissonant upper extensions, as heard in “Cuídate Compay” in his 1964 album Azúcar pa’ Ti.

With regard to his opinions about Afro-Caribbean musical elements, Palmieri describes in an interview with Juan Flores that he is “reverent towards the structures of Afro-Cuban music, the basic principles that nourish the musical execution and product no matter the composition involved” (ibid, 231). Indeed, in another interview with Marisol Berríos-Miranda concerning the important musical elements of salsa, Palmieri says that Afro-cuban music has “the most complicated rhythmic patterns in the whole world. For thousands and thousands of years that come from Africa, arrive in Cuba, and in Cuba they make a variation, and from there come all these patterns that can never be equaled or extended” (2002). It is evident that these statements are also legible in his recorded music, where he, time and time again, retains connection Cuban rhythms and the afincao of Puerto Rican locking while incorporating sonic elements from the urban sounds of New York City jazz.


Transmission, Proficiency, and Dedication

In an interview conducted by Roberta Singer in her dissertation published in 1982, bassist Andy Gonzáles stated that “there’s listening and then there’s listening. You enjoy it in the first way but you learn in the second way. Most people know how to listen to enjoy, but they need to be taught how to learn through listening” (xxi). Ben Lapidus also speaks to the discipline in the New York City music scene, noting that education is an important part of a musician's development (2021, 60).  René Lopez, an avid and well-known record collector in New York City during the 1960-70s, had an informal but rigorous listening salon where musicians often gathered to talk about music and share stories about recording sessions and engage in critical listening (Lapidus, 2020, 27). In thinking about music as more than just an aesthetic practice, these listening parties and the conversations therein provided details critical to the creative process.

Roberta Singer further analyzes how musicians and music collectors in New York City were in dialogue with each other as they built an urban music scene from which the genre of Latin Jazz emerged. “It is in their role as music collectors” Singer writes, “that one finds the foundation for the link between the performers' perceptions of themselves and the musical styles they value and play. Through sharing with performers their records and tape collections and their knowledge of the history of Latin music and jazz, the collectors offer performers otherwise unavailable access to [historical] knowledge” (1982, 140). She goes on to note how collectors owned rare 78 rpm records not generally available to the public. These gatherings were significant, specifically for Caribbean transnational musicians, because the stories and historical context around recordings made by Cubans or Puerto Ricans were not generally included in the liner notes, but only passed down through oral transmission. In this way, “studying historical recordings and understanding the development of the music in relation to its larger content,“ writes Singer, “facilitated both a construction and a musical interpretation of an ideology that stresses reassessment of cultural and historical continuity” (151). It is important to acknowledge that while recordings did indeed provide new opportunities for learning about music and culture, it does not replace the learning and creative processes that happened on the bandstand or on the street corners. Active listening and transcribing is an important part of cultivating musicianship but it can not stand in for rich musical experiences of live performances of Jazz and Latin dance music occurring in places like the Palladium and Birdland.

New York City, and perhaps cosmopolitan cities at large, are a montage of complex and fragmented layering of cultures. U.S. policies like the 1917 Jones Act and the opportunity for career success in urban cities opened communication and transnational flows between Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the U.S. The urban music phenomena that combined Afro-caribbean and Jazz styles grew out of transnational communities in the South Bronx and East Harlem in the 1950s and 60s. The music of Tito Puente, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Eddie Palmieri came about through a prism of overlapping cultures–from informal music hubs such as Casa Amadeo and JCR Percussion to formal performances at places like Birdland, the Palladium, and the Apollo theater and subsequent recording sessions by these musicians. Furthermore, the dedication with which the musicians discussed in this paper pursued and cultivated their musical craft and expression was itself an integral part to the outpouring of recordings and performances in the 1950s and 60s. The musical collaborations between African American and Caribbean musicians served as a vehicle for liberation (Berríos-Miranda, 2004) and self-determination in the face of historical segregation and racism these communities experienced in New York City and the U.S. writ large.






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