You’ll hear this rhythmic jazz number while driving around the streets of Los Angeles, perhaps during the mission “Reefer Madness”.
“Manteca” along with “Tanga” pioneered the introduction of Latin and Afro-Cuban jazz to mainstream audiences. Coincidentally, both were Afro-Cuban slang for marijuana.
John Birks Gillespie was born in South Carolina, the son of a bandleader and the youngest of nine children. Due to his father’s occupation, he begame greatly interested in music and learned to play the piano, trombone, and the trumpet. His professional career began in 1935, performing in the Frank Fairfax Orchestra in Philadelphia. As a result of his sense of humor and practical jokes, he soon earned the nickname “Dizzy”.
He soon began performing with the Edgar Hayes, Teddy Hill, and the Cab Calloway Orchestras, playing his trumpet. He would meet his future wife, a dancer named Lorraine Willis, whom he would marry in 1940. He was able to write, perform, and record, often with outrageous solos. However, he had a falling-out with Calloway regarding his ostentatious behavior and frequent pranks.
Later, he would write music for Woody Herman and Jimmy Dorsey and freelanced with Ella Fitzgerald and Earl Hines bands. He then joined Billy Eckstein’s big band where he performed with saxophonist Charlie Parker.
It was then that he wanted to perform with small combos, experimenting with scat singing and jazz, giving rise to bebop. He frequently improvised with Parker to produce a different sound than the swing music of the time. He composed songs such as “A Night in Tunisia”, “Salt Peanuts”, and Groovin’ High".
He cheerful personality complete with beret and horn-rimed glasses along with pouched cheeks and trademark “bent trumpet” (caused by a musician sitting on the instrument in 1953) all led to the popularity of bebop and later, Afro-Cuban jazz.
Luciano Pozo González, otherwise known as Chano Pozo, was a streetwise drummer already famous in Cuba for his virtuosic percussion work and his rough lifestyle. He also became renowned for his sense of fashion with all-white top hat and tuxedo.
He helped compose this piece with its atypical accenting and his Abakuá chants. The strangeness of collaborating bebop and Afro-Cuban styles soon ironed out with people raving over the infectious rhythms of Latin jazz.
The song became a regular part of Dizzy Gillespie’s band set. However, Pozo’s last performance with the band was on October 9, 1948. He was shot and killed in a Harlem’s Rio Bar two months later.
Some of his experiences are documented in the 2010 animated film, Chico and Rita.