When analyzing the origins of the Latin jazz guitar in the 1940s, one must mention, first of all, the early efforts of a couple of influential pioneers --Rio's Annibal "Garoto" Sardinha and Havana's Félix Guerrero.
Beyond Mechanical Adaptations
Back then, Garoto was already adding harmonically advanced chords to choros and sambas, while accompanied by a young protégé named Laurindo Almeida, who would migrate to the U.S. in 1947, where he subsequently joined Stan Kenton's West Coast big band. Almeida's proximity augmented Kenton's interest in the ancestral rhythms of Brazil. Another young guitarist, Luiz Floriano Bonfá, made his professional debut in 1945, and a year later joined the house band of Brazil's Radio Nacional, in which he shared the stage with Garoto, thus assimilating the magical intricacies of modern melodies.
As in Brazil, the influence of North American jazz in Cuba did not merely imply a mechanical adaptation of the so-called "jazzband" format. This orchestral structure served as training ground for a new crop of talented jazz-oriented arrangers, most of whom were disciples of Félix Guerrero, an excellent guitarist endowed with "a tremendous musical knowledge from a technical perspective," according to one of his most prodigious students, Arturo "Chico" O'Farrill.
From Cubibop to Montuno Swing
In 1947, O'Farrill was already writing original charts for guitarist Isidro Pérez's orchestra ("the first band to play jazz charts written and arranged by Cubans," according to the author of Undercurrent Blues) at the prestigious Montmatre nightclub. Unfortunately, most Cubans were not interested in jazz, and said gig folded a year later.
Another phenomenal arranger, the late tresero Andrés Echevarría (better known as Niño Rivera) reacted to New York's Cubop by creating the now-forgotten cubibop style, but such innovative expression would not be able to compete with the increasingly popular mambo, as modified by the end of the decade by a visionary pianist named Dámaso Pérez Prado.
The abovementioned multicultural convergence was simultaneously manifested in the stylistic perspective of Loquibambia (a Havanese combo led by Frank Emilio Flynn), which featured the swinging guitar of José Antonio Méndez. It is not coincidental that the two most prolific filin composers (Méndez and César Portillo de la Luz) happened to be guitarists. In terms of fusing jazz harmonies and popular Latin American songs, Havana's filin predated another guitar-based style closely related to jazz --Rio's bossa nova.
Various Cuban guitarists (Isidro Pérez, Rafael Mola, Manolo Saavedra, Pablo Cano, Carlos Emilio Morales, etc.) were already certified as bona fide jazz instrumentalists by the 1950s, when Niño Rivera managed to successfully inject his pioneering cubibop into the montuno swing of one of the top Cuban jam sessions recorded by Panart in the good old days: The classic LP Cuban Jam Session, Vol.3 gathered some of the most sublime descarguistas of that era (El Negro Vivar, Emilio Peñalver, Richard Egües, Bol Vivar, etc.), collectively propelled by the innovative cuerdas de oro of the author of El jamaiquino.
From Jazz-Baiao To Bossa Nova
As the dean of Brazilian jazz in North America, Almeida's career intersected many bright moments of U.S. history. In 1953, he joined forces with reedman Bud Shank in Hollywood to create the first alleged blend of jazz and Brazilian rhythms ever recorded (at least on this side of the Equator). They chose to call it "jazz-samba," but there...