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This was a hard find this CD which traveled from Switzerland and took a whole month for me to obtain. The name of this 1957 recording is “Cu-Bop” and features Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers along with Sabu and a Bongo. This album was an individual goal for me because of my Cuban heritage and intimate love of Cuban music that per-dates the 70’s. I’m even more interested when American Jazz musicians work together with Afro-Cuban musicians from the late 40’s to mid 60’s. The result of these two exquisite musical art forms working in conjunction, always renders a masterpiece!. The main reason why is because of the superior level of musicianship that both American Jazz and Afro-Cuban Music have in common, both the Afro-Cuban musicians and Jazz musicians studied/learned classical music beforehand and where they mastered their instruments. The Afro-American Jazz musicians mastered the Blues but were interested in the heavy African beat that Afro-Cuban music offered, so they managed to put it all together and worked hand in hand, feeding from each other. Dizzy Gillespie was the pioneer and the main communicator/connection between Jazz and Afro-Cuban musicians. It was Dizzy in the late 40’s along with Machito, Chico O’Farrill and Mario Bauza that brought it all together. Then came all the other Jazz greats following and taking place in special historical collaborations. You have Charlie Parker, Flip Phillips, Kenny Dorham, Cannonball Adderley, Cal Tjader, just to name a few. Here you have Art Blakey and another all star group of messengers, including Bill Hardman (Trumpet), Johnny Griffin (Tenor Sax), Sam Dockery (Piano), Spanky DeBreast (Bass) and of course, Sabu Martinez (Congas, Bongos). This album is basically all Jazz/Blues based  and Mambo absent but still with the strong African rhythm that Blakey added with Sabu Martinez. This was Blakey’s goal and Sabu gets him there. They compliment each other to the maximum and make it very educationally entertaining, enjoy!

About the album:

Art Blakey’s bristling Jazz Messengers consists of Johnny Griffin, tenor; Bill Hardman, trumpet; Sam Dockery, piano; “Spanky” DeBrest, bass. The addition, conga drummer “Sabu” Martinez, like Blakey, has the molten soul of a dedicated percussionist. Like Blakey, he is wholly intense; and when he begins to play, he projects a fire that at times threatens to consume his instrument and himself.

Like Blakey, Sabu too is a jazz drummer.

He is very insistent on this point. “You can’t play Latin conga to jazz,” he declares. “At least, you shouldn’t. I play the conga drum as a jazz instrument, not as a Latin addition. Using the conga drum this way is still relatively new, and very few conga drummers can express themselves as jazz musicians yet.”

Sabu was asked the primary differences between the way he plays jazz conga drum and the way he might play Latin conga drum. “I often leave more spaces in jazz, and I put more pressure on two and four. Actually, I feel jazz in two while in Latin music I have to feel the beat on all four beats pretty evenly. Another thing I do in jazz conga is to stretch my notes. I can deepen and stretch the beat by placing my hand heavier on the skin.”

Sabu is proud of a recent Art Blakey award of merit and valor. “Art said that I’m the only conga drummer who doesn’t interfere with his drumming and who doesn’t get in the way of the musicians when they’re taking solos.”

This fervent conga drummer emphasizes another important aspect of his philosophy of jazz conga blowing. “You can express yourself on the conga drum in jazz as you would on a horn. I feel it as part of the group, like any other instrument, not as just a time-keeper.”

Howard McGhee, the renowned trumpet player who was listening to this conversation, included his view: ‘”The conga drum can be like any other instrument, like another saxophone or trumpet. It adds more color, in a way, than another horn, so that it not only boosts the rhythm but colors the whole band.”

Sabu is capable of becoming Toynbeeish about his beloved conga drum. “The conga drum,” he assures those who will listen “is perhaps the first instrument in the world. Before the conga drum was a drum, it was a log, and logs were used to send messages.” The subject has many ramifications through the eons, and we shall pursue it for the moment no farther.

Sabu does not read music. “I feel the beat. I have been in jazz since 1947 and consider myself a jazz musician so I have no problem in feeling the rhythm and knowing what to do to express what I feel and to blend with the group.”

The first major influence on Sabu was the inflammatory Chano Pozo, the Cuban bongo and conga drummer who toured with the Dizzy Gillespie big band in 1948 and electrified musicians and audiences until he was cut down by a bullet that same year in a night club brawl. “Chano, whom I knew very well,” Sabu remembers, “was happy he was part of jazz and happy that he was the one to introduce into jazz the real jazz possibilities of his instruments.”

Three days after Chano died, Sabu took his place with Dizzy. He has also worked with Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams, Blakey, Lionel Hampton, J. J. Johnson, Buddy De Franco, Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, and other jazzmen. He would like to make his future in jazz, and has a quintet of trumpet, piano, bass, drums and conga drum. “I want to let people see and hear more of the conga drum as a jazz instrument.”….Read More

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About Louis “Sabu” Martinez:

Louis “Sabu” Martinez was one of the most prolific conga players in the history of Afro-Cuban music. In addition to his own albums, Martinez recorded with such influential jazz musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Horace Silver, Buddy DeFranco, J.J. Johnson, Louis Bellson, Art Farmer, and Art Blakey, and jazz vocalists including Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis, Jr. Emigrating to Sweden in 1967, he continued to apply his highly melodic rhythms to a lengthy list of recordings by top-notch Swedish performers.

A native of New York’s Spanish Harlem, Martinez spent his childhood beating rhythms on tin cans on 111th Street. By the age of 11, he was performing every third night on 125th Street for 25 cents a night. He was still in his early teens when he began playing with Latin bands including those led by Marcelino Guerra and Catalino Rolón. In 1944, he spent an extended period living in Puerto Rico.

After serving a year in the military, at the age of 17, Martinez resumed his musical career as a member of mambo originator Joe Loco’s trio. Within a few months, his playing attracted the attention of jazz musicians. In 1946, he began a long association with drummer Art Blakey. Martinez and Blakey continued to periodically work together until 1959. In addition to leading the rhythm section on Blakey’s groundbreaking album Orgy in Rhythm in 1954, he was featured on the Jazz Messengers albums Cu-Bop and Messages in 1957.

Martinez continued to be a much-in-demand session player. In addition to playing traditional Latin music with the Lecuono Cuban Boys, he collaborated with Charlie Parker and Max Roach during a 13-week stint at the New York club the Three Deuces. In April, 1949, he performed with swing clarinetist Benny Goodman.

The high point of Martinez’s career came in 1948 when he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band, following the murder of influential conga player Chano Pozo. During the nine months that he performed with the group, he played on five albums: Dizzy, Dizzier and Dizzier, 16 Rare Performances, When Be-Bop Met the Big Band, and Diz. In return, Gillespie nicknamed Martinez “Sabu” when he noticed a resemblance to popular Indian actor Sabu, the “Elephant Boy.”…..Read More

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