Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Everything Evanston: Behind the boba in downtown Evanston

Southern sensations

Maracas. Bongos. Claves, conga drums and the mambo. The salsa, the samba, and the tango. As recognizable as these instruments and exotic dance forms may appear, there is nothing like learning about their art and experiencing their rhythms and beats touch a deeper part of you.

The Green-Field Gallery at the Chicago Historical Society, Clark Street at North Avenue, in downtown Chicago is currently showcasing an exhibit called “Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta” through March 13. This exhibit — better yet, this experience — traces Latin jazz’s roots and routes through the Spanish-speaking Caribbean to America’s jazz heritage to its ever-astounding popularity today. It focuses on this development by using documentary-style films, photographs, instruments, informational history and hands-on interactive activities that help facilitate a better understanding of Latin jazz and its impact on the world.

“It has the power to heal you and change people’s lives,” says a voice from the documentary playing on a large screen at the center of the room.

With lime green, blue and orange room dividers displaying the music’s historical timeline and presence throughout the world, it seems understandable why this exhibit had visitors’ faces full of wonder.

“I know a little bit about Latin jazz, but I’m learning a lot about where it came from and how Latin and jazz music fuses together,” says Chicago native Luis Cortes, a first-time visitor to the exhibit.

“It’s cool because it’s the kind of music I listen to,” he says.

On one side of the room, Tito Puente’s original timbales attract a small crowd of museum-goers. On the other end, small children are playing with a 1980s-style boombox that projects everything from Cubop (Cuban Bebop) to mambo to santo rhumba music. There’s even a hands-on play area, where visitors young and old can pick up instruments like maracas and cymbals and crank out their own Latin tunes. A 16-minute instructional video shows museum-goers how to play bongo drums and emulate Latin jazz-style drum beats.

“The school kids like it because they can play the instruments,” says Tamara Biggs, the director of exhibitions for the Chicago Historical Society.

With a vintage radio across the room playing Latin jazz from around the globe, the exhibit is equipped with sound, bright colors, instruments and tons of life.

Vanessa Shaw, a self-proclaimed Latin art lover, brought her children to the exhibit after seeing it once before.

“It’s so different,” says Shaw as her 6-year-old son plays the bongos. “It’s great to be able to see how this music has come to be. It’s vibrant, and this exhibit is a good portrayal of that.”

Other prized artifacts grace the exhibit halls, such as Latin jazz influence Rolando Lozano’s flute and Humberto Cane’s guitar. Even jazz prodigy Dizzie Gillespie’s trumpet holds a special place in the spacious room.

The exhibit showcases information about how Latin jazz became big in different regions of the United States and highlights some of the major participants in the Latin jazz movement.

There’s even an artistic adaptation of Chano Pozo’s popular 1946 Latin jazz hit “Blen Blen Blen.” This adaptation is simply an orange-colored banner with the word “blen” written numerous times in a row. The repetition of the word is actually symbolic of the clave drum beat used in the song: It seems so simple, yet it speaks volumes.

“For me personally, I was really happy to hold an exhibit on Latin jazz music,” Biggs says. “It really appeals to the masses in Chicago.”

Biggs says she hopes to hold more exhibits in the future that reach to a minority culture with a large representation in the Chicago area, such as Latinos and Hispanics. She also wants to do more with music-related exhibits, and she hopes exhibits like this will make an impact.

“It serves our audience here in Chicago, and we really wanted to appeal to all music lovers,” she says. “I think we did that.”

It’s hard to believe that anyone and everyone can understand the passion of Latin jazz music by simply walking through a museum exhibit. Yet the museum-goers at “Latin Jazz: La Combinacion Perfecta” have experienced this passion first-hand.

Whether a museum buff, a Latin jazz freak or simply open to understanding more about music that has swept nations for decades, this exhibit is definitely worthy of your time and energy. Don’t let the passion get away before you have the chance to experience it — you may never be the same.

The Chicago Historical Society is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Suggested admission for students is $3. For more information call (312) 642-4600.

Medill freshman Alexis Jeffries is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Southern sensations