Skip PBS Navigation
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

You are viewing the non-Flash Latin Music USA website. For a richer experience, make sure that you have version or higher of the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the Flash plug-in for free here.

Watch the Show


Chapter 1: Looking Back: Carlos Santana & Mario Bauza

In the United States, this is Latin Music.
And this is Latin Music.

This is Latin Music....
And this is Latin Music.

Its roots are sometimes obvious ...
And sometimes not.

It has accordions...
And it doesn't.

It's in Spanish...
Except when it's not.

It's a fusion with Jazz...
Or Reggae. hybrids with Country...
Or Rock.

It's as diverse as the Latino experience...
as American as it gets...

Latin Music, USA.



CARLOS SANTANA: (VO) All the freeways were blocked like a science fiction movie. ...People just abandoned their cars on the freeway. Five hundred and fifty thousand, half a million or more strong. (OC) all I could see was an ocean of flesh and hair and teeth. [Santana Band starts to play] (VO) The biggest door, I ever walked through...

On August 16th, 1969 a little known band from San Francisco — Santana — performed at Woodstock. It became one of the most successful international debuts in popular music history.

SANTANA: (VO) And when I saw the movie, I remembered that I was under the influence of LSD. (OC) You know, and I, then it all came back to me, like, "Damn! Why did I take LSD?

Santana's music was a fusion of Rock, Blues and Afro-Cuban percussion, a fresh hybrid, but far from the first.

In fact, the story of how Santana's sound came to be stretches back decades, to before these musicians and their audience were born.

["Rhapsody in Blue" on clarinet: NEW YORK CITY BACKDROP]

In 1930, a nineteen year-old Cuban named Mario Bauzá arrived in New York. A classically trained clarinetist he had visited the city four years earlier... and fallen in love with jazz.

Now he was back, intent on making it in the burgeoning Big Band scene.

In Cuba, prejudice against his dark skin had held him back.

New York had race barriers as well. But in Havana, there was no Harlem.

[MUSIC: Unless you know rhythm, unless you like music, unless you keep dancing, you can't live in Harlem...]


MARIO BAUZA: All the big clubs with all those terrific shows was in Harlem then. Right at three o'clock in the morning it was like twelve o'clock in the day in Times Square.


CHRIS WASHBURNE: (OC) In his own words, well, he found that it was a place that he could walk down the street and not experience the same kind of racism that he was experiencing in Havana at the time; (VO) that he could feel free as a black man walking down the street and not feel that oppression in the same way.

ARTURO SANDOVAL: "Stompin' at the Savoy"...

[SANDOVAL: Starts to play]

Just a few years later, after a switch to trumpet, Bauzá was playing at the Savoy Ballroom for Harlem's "King of Swing," Chick Webb. Bauzá became the orchestra's musical director and lead trumpet player.

[SANDOVAL music break]

Taken with Bauzá's musicianship, Webb had personally rehearsed him in what he called the "vocabulary of Jazz," helping him adapt to the feel of swing.

RAY SANTOS: (VO) getting more of da, ba-do, ba-da, ba-do, ba-da, ba-do, (OC) ba-do, ba-da. Whereas, Latin is it tends to be strictly bac-um, bac-um, bac-um, bac-um, bac-um, bac-um...

Even as Bauzá made inroads into American Jazz, Cuban music was entering the American mainstream. In 1931, an orchestra from Havana released "El Manisero — The Peanut Vendor." It became a surprise smash hit.

Verse of "El Manisero"]

The million-seller launched the Rumba dance craze of the 30's... and so-called "Latin" bands became a standard ballroom attraction. The stage was set for a musical revolution, led by... Mario Bauzá. It started with an insult.

Explore Further: