John Santos Finds His Groove
AAJ: I was about to ask you about the Internet, since you have a well-maintained Web site; and there's so much talk in the industry about piracy and file sharing. Do see the Internet as mostly positive?
JS: I do, but I'm saying that as a person who is not really computer savvy. I've had a Web site for several years now, and from my perspective it's positive because it's been a great promotional tool. It's been the main source of bringing people to an awareness of who we are, and it gives them access to buy our CDs from anywhere in the world.
Since we don't deal in real commercial pop music, that whole question of file sharing and MP3s being traded or pirated over the Internet almost doesn't apply to us, at least not in the same way. We're don't stand to make or lose millions of dollars from people trying to get our stuff on the Internet for free. So that hasn't affected me much.
For me it's a positive thing. It gives any artist a chance to compete on a one-to-one level. We can let the world know what we're doing and where we're playing and make our statements, and give people access to our music. So I think it's a wonderful tool. And that's the reason I decided to go ahead and put these records out on my own; I figured I could sell them only through the Internet, exclusively. And I tackled it. But then once it was up and running for a couple of months, I started getting inquiries from distributors, and now we're with a few of them. The ball slowly picked up momentum, and now it's rolling.
AAJ: Let's change gears for a moment. What does the phrase "Latin jazz" mean to you?
JS: To me, that's a whole world of music. It's very similar to just saying "jazz," you know? It's not really a style of music, in my opinion. Jazz is not a style of music, jazz is like an attitude, and so is Latin jazz. It's a vibe. It's a certain freedom, a spiritual content that exists in the music. When you get into styles, you have swing and bebop and Dixieland, where there are certain things that can be identified stylistically, but you can't say that about jazz as a whole, and I don't think you can say that about Latin jazz either.
Yes, Latin jazz is a sub-category of jazz, but it's got a lot of the same problems and history and implications in terms of trying to categorize it. There are certain styles within the genre of Latin jazz: there's different rhythms, different eras, different types of instrumentation, but it's really a wide open field. It's not limited at all. There's a whole dance element to Latin jazz, but also jazz itself started out as mostly dance music in its earlier eras. Latin music has that same legacy, and carries forward into today as still a very strong dance form. But there's that whole other side of it that is not meant to be danceable. Just like jazz does, it gets into the fusion of world music, odd meters, odd instrumentation... there's no limitations.
AAJ: You used the phrase "world music." Latin jazz often gets lumped into that, which is really a catch-all category. Do you think Latin jazz is marginalized?
JS: It certainly gets marginalized, mainly because jazz itself is marginalized. And Latin jazz is a small subcategory of this marginalized form called jazz. So of course it's marginalized.
I'm learning more and more how true that is in trying to promote our music, because there's a lot of jazz radio stations that won't play the Latin jazz stuff if it has certain things. Like if it has lyrics in Spanish or African languages. They don't play it, because their audiences are used to instrumental music being jazz. And maybe if it's Latin but doesn't have the lyrics, then they are more likely to play it. But a lot of Latin jazz has lyrics. And a lot of it crosses over; for example, there's a huge gray area between salsa and Latin jazz.
So I think it does get marginalized a great deal. There's a lack of presence of Latin jazz in most of the educational venues, like the colleges that have jazz programs, the jazz festivals around the world. The Latin element there is still quite miniscule.
AAJ: And there are so many jazz histories out there, both in print and on film, but often it seems that Latin jazz gets one chapter somewhere near the end...
JS: If that!
AAJ: ...like it's its own little thing, and it isn't integrated throughout. As an educator, that's something you've preached quite often, that Latin music is really a force throughout the history of American popular music.
JS: Precisely. And it comes through the jazz connection, which is why it's important to talk about Latin jazz in the same conversation when we talk about the blues and other elements which form the roots of jazz. It's all part of that conversation. It's part of the history of pop culture in the United States, and yet it doesn't get treated that way at all. It's practically nonexistent in jazz education.