Clave is key in Latin jazz

Sep 27, 2012

Clave (klah-vay) is the basic defining rhythm of Latin Jazz and other types of African, Cuban,  South American and even Australian Aboriginal music.  The claves are wooden sticks used to produce the rhythm.

"Clave" means "key" in Spanish.  It's the heartbeat of the music and dances of the world.

The clave rhythm can sometimes be tricky to identify in a piece of music. It has two main configurations, the "3-2" beat and the "2-3" beat, and it can change those configurations in the middle of a song. It can move from the claves to other percussion instruments like the congas or cowbell at any given point in a composition.

Of course, this is just a way to explain the rhythm to those not born to it. In fact, most Cuban musicians don't distinguish between the 3-2 and the 2-3 configuration. To them, clave is clave, however it happens and however it best serves the music. For them, being "en clave" is a way of living.

"In Cuba we just play. We feel it, we don’t talk about such things. ... In Cuba we don’t think about [clave]. We know that we’re in clave. Because we know that we have to be in clave to be a musician." – Mongo Santamaria

Watch the master, Mongo Santamaria, and find the clave rhythm:

Listen for clave and more on Jazz Caliente,Thursdays at 2 p.m. on KPLU’s Mid Day Jazz.