Black and white photo of a jazz band recording
(from right): Cla Tjader with Vince Guaraldi on piano, Al Mckibbon on bass, Willie Bobo on timbales, and Mongo Santamaria on conga drums at the Hollywood Palladium, late 1950s. Photograph courtesy of Lionel "Chico" Sesma.

May 29, 2002
In the words of New Orleans jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, jazz was born with a "Spanish tinge." A new bilingual traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian,Latin Jazz: La combinación perfecta, will premiere at the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building on Saturday, Oct. 19, and remain on view until Jan. 18, 2003. After it leaves Washington, D.C. Latin Jazz begins a five-year, 12-city tour across the United States and the Caribbean.

Latin Jazz: La combinación perfecta tells the story of the evolution of Latin Jazz in the United States. The exhibition offers a concise and inclusive look at Latin Jazz, its history, major personalities and icons. The exhibition features maps, audio-visual stations, vintage film footage, oral history interviews, documents, photographs, musical scores, programs and album covers. Several instruments (some owned by jazz greats) -- a tres, claves, maracas, congas, bongos, güiros, tamboras, horns, cuatros, timbales, and a five-key flute --will enhance the exhibition's impact on the visitors.

"Listen to it, and you can't help but move to the music. Read about it, and it opens doors to our diverse past. Latin Jazz is American and world music. We're delighted to bring this long overdue exhibition to the public," said Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small.

In the late 19th century, musical traditions from the Caribbean and the United States migrated and mixed, resulting in the emergence of complex new sounds. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, musicians including Mario Bauza, Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo and Machito began to fuse jazz with Afro-Cuban music. The result was what “Latin Jazz” curator Raúl Fernández calls “a hybrid of hybrids.” Percussionists assumed a dramatic new importance, new instruments found their way into the jazz lexicon, and the African heritage of both Caribbean and American music became more pronounced.

In New York, social clubs, concert halls and dance venues brought together American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Caribbean musicians. In other major U.S. cities jazz audiences and musicians also welcomed these new influences. On the West Coast many local musicians, along with East Coast musicians who had migrated west, adopted the new blend of music as their own. In San Francisco, the Beats wove the vocabulary and rhythms of Afro-Cubop into their own work. Meanwhile, the sounds of American jazz spread throughout the . An 18-member advisory committee, led by Fernández, professor of social sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and drawn from the international jazz and Latin music community, has been an important part of the planning process of this project. Members include music scholars and historians, musicians, record executives, producers and radio broadcasters."Latin jazz is one of the most complex and exciting musics of the planet," said Fernández. "It combines Afro-Cuban and Caribbean rhythms with the harmonic approaches and styles of jazz. It's the perfect combination." The exhibition is part of a four-component project, which also features accompanying educational materials, a book published by Chronicle Books, and a CD produced by Smithsonian Folkways containing some of the most essential Latin jazz recordings.

"Latin Jazz: La combinación perfecta" has been organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and America’s Jazz Heritage, a Partnership of the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund and the Smithsonian Institution. Additional support has been provided by BET Jazz. America's Jazz Heritage is a 10‑year initiative to research, preserve, and present the history of jazz through exhibitions, performances, recordings, radio, publications and educational programs at the Smithsonian and across the nation. The program was established in 1992 by a major grant from the Lila Wallace‑Reader’s Digest Fund and culminates with the opening of "Latin Jazz: La combinación perfecta" in October. America’s Jazz Heritage provides pan-institutional support for endeavors focused on jazz through the National Museum of American History, Behring Center, The Smithsonian Associates, SITES, and several other divisions. Each year, SITES shares the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside of Washington, D.C.

One of the Smithsonian's four National Programs, SITES makes available a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown not only in museums but wherever people live, work and play, including libraries, science centers, historical societies, community centers, botanical gardens, schools and shopping malls.

In 2002, SITES celebrates 50 years of connecting Americans to their shared cultural heritage. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at