The Conga and Bongo Drum in Jazz
by Trevor Salloum and Bobby Sanabria
While being interviewed after he was rediscovered by Andy Garcia, the bassist Cachao let it slip that even the great Dizzy Gillespie didn’t always have his rhythmic chops right when he first stirred Afro-Cuban music into the grand design of bebop. He implied, then, that in the innocence of clave lurked a devilishly difficult-to-master pulse. One must presume that once schooled in its secrets by Chano Pozo and other rhythm devils that Dizzy came to master this idiom and craft – with Pozo, of course – the iconic piece, “Manteca”, which the trumpeter said he wrote as Chano Pozo was singing the drum melody to him. The story is far quaint but from apocryphal, and even if Dizzy might have flashed his enigmatic smile when queried about it himself, it is very plausible.
Clave is deceptively simple. But like the keystone which holds an arch in place, the clave pattern holds the rhythm together in Afro-Cuban music. Two main clave patterns are used in Afro-Cuban music known in North America as son clave and the rumba clave. Both are used as bell patterns across much of Africa. Son and rumba clave can be played in either a triple-pulse (12/8 or 6/8) or duple-pulse (4/4, 2/4 or 2/2) structure. The contemporary Cuban practice is to write the duple-pulse clave in the single measure of 4/4. It is also written in a single measure in ethnomusicological writings about African music, but that’s another story. Confused? No worries; so probably was Dizzy Gillespie and so also are a host of other musicians from bebop to hip hop.
Trevor Salloum and Bobby Sanabria have a natural affinity for clave. Like all rhythm-colourists their artistry was born with them. Both drummers and percussionists have another gift. They are very good educators as well. But unlike many craftsmen and women like them, whose talents are often mutually exclusive, they excel in both performance and pedagogy. And now they have brought this together in The Conga and Bongo Drum in Jazz, a wonderfully lucid, entertaining and highly educative book that attempts to pass on their collective knowledge and experience to those attempting to unravel mysteries of Afro-Cuban drumming as well as those who are just plain fascinated by the clave idiom and how it comes to inform the rhythmic poetry of both Afro-Cuban music as well as the unique poetry of Afro-American Jazz.
To be exact, Trevor Salloum wrote the book and Bobby Sanabria was its North Star; the guiding light who provided wise counsel and editorial expertise in word and deed. Sanabria also produced a series of videos that, unfortunately, does not accompany the book. A video link is provided on page 5 to a YouTube channel that hosts the video. It’s not the best way to cross-market both book and video and the fact that the disc is not a physical part of the book makes for a further disincentive to watching it. But perhaps that has to do with readers like me being completely seduced by the visual power of the word. Nevertheless the book is masterfully written and produced. And don’t be fooled by the fact that it is just ninety-two pages long; considerably less in than many books on drumming published recently both those by those of an earlier or even a later generation.
As the title The Conga and Bongo Drum in Jazz suggests, both the conga and the bongo are treated like the singular instruments they really are. And while both instruments may have exactly the number of sections dedicated to them, more than due diligence is given not only to their similarities but – more importantly – their differences. Salloum’s writing is informed by his knowledge of and skill at both drums. But unlike many writers his writing is as vivid and virtuosic as his performances. Naturally the lucid instructions will endear themselves to students (and even readers who peruse this book without the benefit of the instruments in question). The historical introduction to the instruments helps in no small manner; its anecdotes uncover themselves like gleaming gems. Clearly Trevor Salloum has a talent for the narrative as well. To the extent that a well-written book is only as good as as how well-researched it is Trevor Salloum’s book has an impressive bibliography as well as a fairly comprehensive discography.
It’s hard to see where Bobby Sanabria’s advice and counsel adds colour to an already broad palette employed by Trevor Salloum. But his presence is certainly sensed in the chapters on hand and finger strokes, in the various notations and in the glossary of terms. Bobby Sanabria also introduces a series of videos that are provided in pithy segments and are illustrated with performances by Sanabria and Salloum with the legendary Candido playing on congas and bongos. The channel also has bongo videos illustrated with performances by Trevor Salloum himself but it is not clear if these were meant to be a part of The Conga and Bongo Drum in Jazz. Suffice it to say that upon having a closer look at them it becomes eminently clear that thanks to exacting close-up photography a student will certainly gain enormously from watching the hand movements of Candido and Salloum and for this fact alone they are as invaluable as this essential book for anyone excited by conga and the bongo drum patterns in music.
Published by – Mel-Bay Publications Inc.
Price – US$19.99
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