Institute for Studies In American Music
Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York

Volume XXXVI


No. 2    Spring 2007

Inside This Issue:

Inside         This Issue


Reprising Gershwin, book review by Ray Allen


Indian Concepts in the Music of John Coltrane by Carl Clements


Leroy Jenkins: Reflections by George Lewis


Max Roach: Bringing the (M)Boom Back by Salim Washington


Women in Electronic Music, CD review by Doug Cohen


Celebrating a Minnesota Legend by Jeffrey Taylor

“We Both Speak African”: Gillespie, Pozo, and the Making of Afro-Cuban Jazz


David F. Garcia



Dizzy Gillespie with conguero Chano Pozo and

tenor saxophonist James Moody, 1948

Photo courtesy of Frank Driggs



The emergence of Afro-Cuban jazz in the United States in the late 1940s was closely interrelated with bebop’s popularization. Musically, bebop represented for many mid-century observers the next stage in jazz’s evolution toward a technical and compositional complexity on par with European art music. Socially, it demonstrated the contribution that African American jazz musicians made in elevating a unique American music to the level of high culture. Many African American jazz musicians contributed to these developments, but none were more important than Charlie Parker and John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. And it was Gillespie, in collaboration with black Cuban musician Luciano “Chano” Pozo, who also played a central role in the development of Afro-Cuban jazz, a seminal moment in the history of the African diaspora.  Pozo, according to Gillespie, articulated this sentiment when he explained that the inability of the two musicians to communicate with each other in their native Spanish and English did not matter because “we both speak African.”1

Scholars of jazz and African American culture and history have rightly characterized bebop and, to a much lesser degree, Afro-Cuban jazz as powerful artistic and social statements that challenged the status quo in American racial politics following World War II.  But they have not looked critically at the tensions and ambivalence that Afro-Cuban music and musicians evoked in many African American bebop musicians when it came to matters of not only musical aesthetics but racial ideology and national identity. Nor have jazz and Latin music scholars in particular studied the reception of Afro-Cuban jazz within the broader contexts of American and European society in which the discourse of racial difference continued to be shaped by the notions of Anglo and European cultural supremacy and African inferiority.

These lacunae in the scholarship on bebop and Afro-Cuban jazz can be addressed by documenting the circumstances surrounding Gillespie and Pozo’s three most important collaborative efforts: “Cubana Be,” “Cubana Bop,” and “Manteca.” The reception of these arrangements as they were performed by Gillespie’s big band in the United States and Paris in 1947 and 1948 reveals the conflicted emotions that Afro-Cuban jazz music provoked among some bebop musicians and their audiences. They also suggest that bebop’s modernist musical ideals and accomplishments afforded Gillespie and other African American bebop musicians the opportunity to utilize and, at times, exploit Afro-Cuban music and musicians for ideological as well as commercial purposes.

As Raúl Fernández has stressed, Gillespie and Pozo’s collaboration “needs to be seen as one large step in the process rather than a totally unexpected breakthrough” in the development of Afro-Cuban jazz.2  Indeed, the intersection of Caribbean and Mexican music and musicians with those of New Orleans has been traced back to jazz’s emergence during the late nineteenth century. It is this long history of artistic exchange among American, Caribbean, and Latin American musicians that Jelly Roll Morton alluded to in identifying the “Latin tinge” in jazz.  Gillespie himself began experimenting with Afro-Cuban elements in his music as early as 1940 when he befriended Cuban trumpeter, saxophonist, and fellow Cab Calloway band member Mario Bauzá, one of the early architects of mambo and Afro-Cuban jazz. Gillespie identified his arrangement of “Pickin’ the Cabbage,” which Calloway’s band recorded in March 1940, as his first to express “a Latin feeling.”3 Gillespie continued to infuse his arrangements with Afro-Cuban elements, most notably in “Night in Tunisia” which he recorded with his own big band in February 1946. 

Gillespie considered his experiments with Afro-Cuban music an integral part of the overall innovations that would significantly shape the musical trajectory of bebop. In fact, the trumpeter stressed that his use of Afro-Cuban music was “instinctive.” As he stated in his autobiography, “I’ve always had that Latin feeling. You’d probably have to put me in psychoanalysis to find out where it came from, but I’ve always felt polyrhythmic from a long way back. Maybe I’m one of those ‘African survivals’ that hung on after slavery among Negroes in South Carolina.”4  By 1947 his work with Afro-Cuban music and bebop came together as a result of his collaborations with composer and arrangers George Russell, Walter Fuller, and most importantly, Chano Pozo.

Gillespie commissioned Russell to complete a piece the former had sketched and titled “Cubana Be.” Russell later wrote a follow-up to “Cubana Be” which he titled “Cubana Bop.”5 On September 29, 1947 the Gillespie big band premiered the two-movement piece collectively titled Afro-Cuban Drum Suite at Carnegie Hall on a program that jazz promoter Leonard Feather titled “The New Jazz.” Writing for Down Beat,  Michael Levin reported that Gillespie’s audience at Carnegie Hall “unquestionably liked the . . . number . . . illustrating a point the Beat has often made: that there is much jazz can pick up on from the South American and Afro-Cuban rhythm styles.”6  Not all reviewers, however, were impressed with this or the other pieces on the program. One critic writing for the New York Herald Tribune took exception to the program’s title “The New Jazz” and, in particular, Feather’s description of Gillespie’s music as “modern American music” because he felt the music “[leaned] heavily on the early Stravinsky of [The Rite of Spring] and . . . on the impressionism of Delius and Debussy.”7 Other commentators, such as professor of history Lawrence Dunbar Reddick who reviewed the band’s performance in Atlanta in November 1949, made the same observation, describing the overall sound of the Afro-Cuban Drum Suite as “Stravinsky-like.”8

Soon after this performance Russell suggested to Gillespie that Pozo be given more time at the opening of “Cubana Bop” to sing chants and play rhythms from the sacred and secret Abakuá society of Cuba. Pozo’s chants and accompanying conga playing were added in time for the studio recorded version made with RCA Victor on December 22, 1947. Pozo’s chanting and playing in live performances and on the studio recording did not go unnoticed by critics, some of whom described the musician and his drumming using tropes from evolutionist discourse such as “weird,” “primitive,” and “tribal.”9  Perhaps the best example of such language is found in French composer and jazz historian André Hodeir’s review of the Gillespie big band’s performance in Paris on February 28, 1948. He commented on Pozo’s featured solo in “Cubana Bop”:

This is Pozo Gonzales, a beautiful specimen of a native of the coast of West Africa. ‘A true cannibal,’ said a brave lady next to me with a small shiver of fear at the idea that she might have encountered him at a corner of the jungle. ... Nevertheless, the man [Pozo] takes’ his audience. One has to see him, rolling his disturbing eyes while he repeats [the word] Simbad’ [sic], followed by silence; so the entire hall is silent, even those who mocked him just an instant ago, and it is a truly oppressive moment. Finally, he shouts once more, Simbad!,’ very loudly, and it is general release, applause, laughter, euphoria.10

While his performances of “Cubana Bop” evoked images of the exotic African savage for some American and French commentators, Pozo’s extensive knowledge of African-derived Cuban folkloric and religious music resonated deeply with Gillespie’s racial identity as well as with his musical convictions. As Gillespie recounted, “When Chano [joined the band], he really opened things up. . . . Chano wasn’t a writer, but stone African. He knew rhythm—rhythm from Africa.”11  George Russell’s interpretation of Pozo’s impact, however, stressed his own interests in non-Western religions and universality: “We were striving for exactly that kind of world grasp, a kind of universality. There were all kinds of influences in that piece, but chief was the melding of the Afro-Cuban and . . . jazz.”12 In other instances Pozo’s contributions collided with both the aesthetic underpinnings of bebop music, as upheld by Gillespie himself, and the racial and ideological convictions of some of the musicians in the Gillespie band.

Gillespie’s big band recorded “Manteca” for RCA Victor on December 30, 1947. Co-written by Gillespie and Pozo, the tune quickly became a critical as well as commercial success, popular among bebop musicians and jazz audiences in general. Musically, “Manteca” marked a crystallization of the Afro-Cuban jazz style. In September 1948 Down Beat gave the record its highest “Tops” rating, saying that “the combination of [the Afro-Cuban rhythmic] beat and bop figures and orchestration is dynamite.”13  Whereas he drew from Afro-Cuban folkloric sources for “Cubana Bop,” Pozo borrowed melodic and rhythmic materials from contemporary Cuban popular dance music to compose the signature opening section of “Manteca.”

Gillespie and arranger Walter Fuller, however, baulked at allowing Pozo’s musical ideas to constitute the entirety or even a majority of the arrangement. Indeed, some of Gillespie’s musicians were ambivalent about Pozo’s musical ideas as well as the addition of a conga player  to begin with. Bassist Al McKibbon, for example, was initially disturbed by Pozo’s non-Western drumming technique, commenting “here is this guy beating this god damn drum with his hands . . . And Dizzy could see him in the band, [but] I couldn’t.”14  Despite integrating Pozo and the conga drum into the big band format, Gillespie ultimately felt that “Chano wasn’t too hip about American music. If I’d let [“Manteca”] go like he wanted it, it would’ve been strictly Afro-Cuban, all the way. There wouldn’t have been a bridge.”15  Fuller suggested that listening to Pozo’s other Afro-Cuban-inspired compositions will “drive you nuts because . . . it just keeps going and repeats itself ad infinitum.”16 Clearly, Gillespie and Fuller’s musical intervention in Pozo’s conception of “Manteca” signals their concerns over what they perceived as a harmonically static and structurally incomplete musical composition; that is, something that was simply too Afro-Cuban.  Fuller remembers assuring Gillespie that he would “fix it,” referring to Pozo’s musical ideas.17  In fact, Fuller altered many of Pozo’s ideas to better conform to conventional jazz structures.

Following the December 1947 recording sessions that produced “Cubana Be,” “Cubana Bop,” and “Manteca,” the Gillespie big band set sail for Europe, kicking off a three-month tour that ended in the U.S. The featured Afro-Cuban jazz numbers for this tour were “Cubana Be” and “Cubana Bop.” After taking much of March and April of 1948 off, the band went out on the road again touring the Midwest and California. By September Gillespie was enjoying mass popularity as The New Yorker Magazine and Life featured the so-called “cult leader” of bebop in its pages. Also, the band had substituted “Cubana Be” and “Cubana Bop” with “Manteca” as the featured Afro-Cuban jazz number. Gillespie even added Pozo’s Abakuá chants and drumming to “Manteca’s” arrangement.  Pozo’s popularity led Life magazine to include two photos of the Cuban in its spread on Gillespie and his band. The captions for the photos read: “Frenzied drummer . . . whips beboppers into fever with Congo beat” and “Shouting incoherently, drummer goes into a bop transport.”18 Down Beat published a review of the band’s September 1948 performance in Milwaukee in which the reviewer stated “‘Manteca’... was done almost as a tribal rite, becoming downright primitive.”19 This and Hodeir’s use of primitivist language suggests that for many in the United States and Europe Pozo and his drumming and chanting evoked racial stereotypes of the African savage, images that had also framed the reception of early jazz in the 1910s and 1920s.

One might presume that such stereotypes contradicted Gillespie’s purpose in featuring Pozo in these Afro-Cuban jazz numbers. In fact, Gillespie’s behavior on stage during performances of “Manteca,” dating from the fall of 1948, suggests that the bandleader might have exploited his audience’s fascination with exoticism. In the recording of the band’s October 9, 1948 performance of “Manteca” at New York’s Royal Roost, Gillespie is heard mimicking the band’s vocal response to Pozo’s chants in Abakuá to the amusement of the audience who react with laughter. While Gillespie was known to clown on stage, this particular recording suggests he realized his audience was interpreting Pozo’s featured solos as nothing more than exotic spectacles. It is ironic, nevertheless, to listen to Gillespie satirize Pozo’s Abakuá chants given his otherwise genuine convictions in fusing Afro-Cuban music with jazz as an expression of his identification with African diasporic music and culture.

Most jazz historians have marginalized the history of Afro-Cuban jazz despite the fact that many Afro-Cuban jazz pieces such as “Manteca” are recognized and continue to be performed as jazz standards. Why? The answers to this question may be traced to the aesthetic and ideational ambivalences that Afro-Cuban music and culture evoked among African American jazz musicians and critics in general in the late 1940s.

     As the collaborative efforts of Gillespie, Pozo, Russell, and Fuller show, Afro-Cuban music, with its two- and four-bar cyclical structures and paucity of harmonic development, seemingly collided with jazz’s dominant twelve-bar blues and thirty-two-bar song forms and its increasingly sophisticated harmonic palette. Nevertheless, Gillespie in particular helped negotiate these musical impasses in order to realize his artistic goal of fusing Afro-Cuban music and jazz. Such perceived musical collisions and impasses should be attributed not only to what Afro-Cuban music actually posed structurally but also to what it signified within primitivist and evolutionary ideological frameworks. Many bebop musicians and jazz critics in the United States and Paris considered Afro-Cuban music and instruments (particularly the conga drum) symbolic vestiges of jazz’s African origins and, thus, antithetical to jazz’s more highly evolved state.

André Hodeir, for instance, viewed Afro-Cuban music as violating the progress he perceived jazz to have attained. The French critic was the first to propose a periodization of jazz history wherein he pushed jazz’s origins “back on the evolutionary chain” by weighing its debt to African incantation and drumming.20 Hodeir’s characterization of Pozo’s drumming and Abakuá chanting suggests he saw the Cuban musician as the literal embodiment of jazz’s African roots and distant past. Harlem Renaissance intellectuals Maud Cuney-Hare and Alain Locke, who helped crystallize what Guthrie Ramsey calls the “rhetoric of the New Negro,” had downplayed the African origins of African American folk spirituals, blues, and  jazz under similar ideological concerns, namely, to promote the “elevation” of black music and culture by assimilating it to Eurocentric musical and cultural norms.21  More importantly, Al McKibbon’s annoyance and Walter Fuller’s ambivalence toward Pozo’s musical ideas and use of the conga drum might be attributed to the legacy of the “rhetoric of the New Negro” to the extent to which Pozo and Afro-Cuban music represented for them a bygone and best forgotten past. Only Gillespie seemed to recognize the significance of that lost past, and voiced a commitment to its recovery.

     Because notions of musical progress and racial elevation framed the thinking of so many jazz writers, musicians, and intellectuals, Gillespie’s embracing of Afro-Cuban music signifies a significant ideological and cultural shift in the United States at mid-century. Yet it was the cultural and ideological capital he had accrued among these same constituencies in defining and popularizing bebop that in the end put him in a privileged position to integrate Pozo and Afro-Cuban music into his band and compositions. Moreover, although Gillespie felt the synthesis of bebop and Afro-Cuban music defined the future of jazz, he delegated very clear roles to American and Cuban musicians in the achievement of this synthesis: bebop, Gillespie claimed, “will be an amalgamation of two styles, so blended you won’t be able to call it bop or Afro-Cuban. ... It will be Americans playing the bop and Cubans the rhythms which will make it truly a music of the Americas.”22 Ethnic and national particularity ultimately trumped what the phrase “we both speak African” might otherwise suggest as having been a truly ecumenical and egalitarian collaboration between two black musicians of the Americas.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


1 Dizzy Gillespie with Al Fraser, To Be, or not ... to Bop (New York: Da Capo Press, 1985), 318.  The line “we both speak African” is a modification of Gillespie's original approximation of Pozo's accent that reads: “Deehee no peek pani, me no peek Angli, bo peek African.”

2 Raúl Fernández, From Afro-Cuban Rhythms to Latin Jazz (Berkeley: University of California Press and Chicago: Center for Black Music Research, 2006), 62.

3 Gillespie with Fraser, 171.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., 324.

6 Michael Levin, “Despite Bad Acoustics, Gillespie Concert Offers Some Excellent Music,” Down Beat 14/22 (October 22, 1947): 1. 

7 “Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra Heard at Carnegie Hall,” New York Herald Tribune (September 30, 1947): 20.

8 L. D. Reddick, “Dizzy Gillespie in Atlanta,” Phylon 10/1 (1949): 48. Reddick was professor of history at the University of Atlanta at the time he attended and reviewed this concert.

9 For a review of the studio version of “Cubana Be” and “Cubana Bop” see “Diggin’ the Discs with Tom,” Down Beat (January 14, 1949): 18.

10 André Hodeir, “Dizzy Gillespie à Paris,” Jazz Hot 21 (March 1948): 7. Author’s translation.

11 Gillespie with Fraser, 320.

12 Ibid., 324.

13 “Diggin’ the Discs with Tom,” Down Beat (September 22, 1948): 13.

14 Gillespie with Fraser, 320.

15 Ibid., 321.

16 Ibid., 322.

17 Ibid.

18 “Bebop: New Jazz School is Led by Trumpeter Who is Hot, Cool and Gone,” Life (October 11, 1948): 140-141.

19 John Osmundsen, “Diz Presents Milwaukee a ‘Clean’ Band,” Down Beat (October 20, 1948): 11.

20 John Gennari, “Jazz Criticism: Its Developments and Ideologies,” Black American Literature Forum 25/3 (Fall 1991): 457, 481-482.

21 Guthrie Ramsey, “Cosmopolitan or Provincial? Ideology in Early Black Music Historiography, 1867-1940,” Black Music Research Journal 16/1 (Spring 1996):  23-28, 36.

22 “Diz to Put Bop Touch to More Standard Tunes,” Down Beat (March 11, 1949): 3.





ISAM home   Who we are      Contact us       ISAM Conferences and Lectures
Monographs   ISAM Web Documents     Newsletters    Links

Copyright © 2005 Institute for Studies in American Music, Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College. All Rights Reserved.
Site designed by J. Graeme Fullerton & maintained by Carl Clements, Managing Editor