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Latin dance music constitutes one of the most dynamic and sophisticated urban popular music traditions in the Americas. Improvisation plays an important role in this set of genres, and its styles are sufficiently distinctive, complex, and internally significant as to merit book-length treatment along the lines of Paul Berliner's volume Thinking in Jazz (1994). To date, however, the subject of Latin improvisation has received only marginal and cursory analytical treatment, primarily in recent pedagogical guidebooks and videos. While a single chapter such as this can hardly do justice to the subject, an attempt will be made here to sketch some aspects of the historical development of Latin improvisational styles, to outline the sorts of improvisation occurring in mainstream contemporary Latin music, and to take a more focused look at improvisational styles of one representative instrument, the piano. An ultimate and only partially realized goal in this study is to hypothesize a unified, coherent aesthetic of Latin improvisation in general.


This work was originally published in "In the Course of Performance: Studies in the World of Musical Improvisation," edited by Bruno Nettl and Melinda Russell.



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