The John Santos Sextet to Release New Album

John Santos
John Santos – Photo by Michael G. Stewart

Built on the Afro-Caribbean past, forged by visionaries such as John Santos and his comrades, and steeled by its rootedness in American life, Latin jazz is a major force shaping contemporary American musical culture. Over decades of performing, arranging, producing, and teaching, Santos has helped make the San Francisco Bay area a Latin jazz stronghold. In Art of the Descarga, The John Santos Sextet and a parade of stellar guests mine the music’s imaginative motherlode, the descarga—the spontaneous, improvisatory interplay that is the beating heart of Latin jam sessions. Orestes Vilató, Jerry González, Orlando “Maraca” Valle, Tito Matos, Juan “Juango” Gutiérrez, and other luminaries join the sextet in this spectacular collision of beauty, design, and time-honored creativity

The John Santos Sextet - Art of the Descarga

Percussionist, educator, and social activist John Santos will release Art of the Descarga, a new album with the John Santos Sextet, on August 7 through Smithsonian Folkways. Santos is an icon of Latin jazz who played a key role in positioning the San Francisco Bay Area as a hub for the genre, and who has performed with Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Max Roach, and Dizzy Gillespie. As a founder of the Machete Ensemble, and as a bandleader, Santos has been one of the most revered percussionists specializing in Afro-Cuban traditions, and has emerged as a leading expert on the history and folklore of those rhythms. Like much of his life’s work, his new album paints a direct through-line from Africa to Cuba, and considers the expansive, multiregional array of jazz that has been woven into the fabric of American music for the past century.

The descarga originated in Cuba as a term for loose jam sessions full of powerful rhythmic interplay and spontaneous group improvisations. On Art of the Descarga, Santos and his group harness the energy and spirit of those sessions for rollicking interpretations of rumbas, bombas, mambos, and other traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms arranged for jazz ensemble. Each piece showcases Santos’ expert command of dizzying syncopation and his skill as an arranger, each instrument adding to the dynamic rhythmic interplay.

As an activist and musician, Santos has studied throughout the Caribbean, and his works reflect the centrality of the islands to the spread of foundational African rhythms throughout the Americas, as well as the destructive elements that fed the music. “This music really belongs to everybody. It’s music! It emanates from the heart of the Americas, which is not Nebraska or Oklahoma: it’s Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean. All of the Americas have a common history that unites us, and it’s a violent history, of colonialism, slavery, and the genocide of indigenous people.”

Santos also sees the connections between the drum, the instrument he’s dedicated his life to playing and educating others about, and current global political situations. “This drum was taken away from Africans and African descendants, but it rose again like a phoenix out of the Americas, and today is again the center of a community—not just an African community or a Cuban community, but an international movement of people of conscience who understand that we have to stop this out-of-control capitalism, where money is more important than human dignity.” At the heart of Art of the Descarga is the universal power of rhythm across cultures, fused into our brains and bones and propelling us forward into the future. In a time fueled by resurgent bigotry, Santos continues to tear down walls with a spiritual philosophy that invites us to sway, dance, sing, and celebrate the beauty of Afro-Caribbean philosophy and culture.

*Source: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Web Editor
Latin Jazz Network is a project dedicated to the advancement of Latin jazz and its creators. Since 2000 LJN has been spreading the word about this wonderful music known under the umbrella term: LATIN JAZZ.

More from author


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related posts


Featured Posts

Omara Portuondo, Multifaceted Gem of Cuban Music

My moon app announces that in 14 hours the Supermoon of May will be here. During a full moon I often get inspired to...

Ray Barretto · Barretto Power

Barretto Power: A Celebratory Reissue on its 50th Anniversary It was 1970 when Fania Records released Barretto Power, one of a series of seminal albums...

El Gran Fellové: Part 3- When my Parents…

When my parents bought their home in 1968, Sunset Beach was just another sleepy little beach town It spanned about one mile in length, sandwiched...

El Gran Fellové: Part 2- Enter Chocolate & Celio González

Early Sunday morning… I awoke to the pleasant surprise of a Google Alert in my email. I clicked to find Variety Magazine had published an...

El Gran Fellové: Part 1- The Beginning

Francisco Fellové Valdés (October 7, 1923 – February 15, 2013), also known as El Gran Fellové (The Great Fellove), was a Cuban songwriter and...

Bobby Paunetto, New York City and The Synthesis of Music

Bobby Paunetto was an unforgettable composer, arranger, musician and recording artist. Latin Jazz Network honors him on the tenth anniversary of his death (8.10.10). His...

Jazz Plaza 2020: Ancient to the Future

Chapter four of our series: 35th Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana In recent months I found myself in profound reflection of the term...

Ray Martinez and the Forgotten Legacy of Jazz

Sometime in the very near future, several of the jazz world's best known writers and musicologists will meet in some obscure conclave to pool...

A Brief History of the Cuban Style Conjunto

1930: The Orquesta Típica is out and the Conjunto is in The year 1930 marked a turning point in the development of popular Cuban music....

Jazz Plaza 2020: Speaking in Tongues

Chapter three of our series: 35th Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana Featured photo: Los Muñequitos de Matanzas at El Tablao in Havana, by Danilo...

Join our mailing list

Participate in contests, giveaways and more