Of Dizzy Gillespie’s many jazz compositions, none is more infectiously catchy than Manteca. First performed in 1947, the song–named for the Spanish word for lard– memorably opens with the stand-up base playing a Cuban-influenced riff, and builds to a rousing climax by the horn section. The music critic Gary Giddins hails Manteca as ‘one of most important records ever made in the United States.”
It is also a tribute to the power of diversity. Gillespie’s hard-living Cuban drummer, Chano Pozo, wrote the unusual opening baseline, and the layered melodies that were staples of Latin jazz at that time. Known for his bent trumpet, puffy-jowled showmanship, and association with Charlie “Bird” Parker, Gillespie, who was African-American, wrote the bridge, and his longtime arranger, Walter, “Gil” Fuller, balanced Pozo’s Latin jazz touches, Gillespies’ Blues-infused bebop with a traditional, big band flourish.
“And Gil blew it up and that’s how Manteca came about,” Gillespie would tell an interviewer a few years before his death in 1993. ‘It was similar to a nuclear weapon when it burst on the scene. They had never seen a marriage of Cuban music and American music like that before.”
Studies consistently show that diversity reduces circular thinking or “group-think’ and sparks creativity, and fosters innovative solutions. Manteca’s combination of Cuban jazz, Blues and the big band sound into one of the 20th century’s most unforgettable songs is evidence that diversity–collaboration between talented people with different perspectives–is the key to creating dynamic content with some pop.