What are all those X's in the title? They're a rhythm.

Try clapping that rhythm and see if you can identify it. Try it twice through, repeated exactly. The capital X's are accented, but each x takes the same length of time. They represent eighth notes in a four quarter measure. 

If you're having trouble counting them, there are eight X's per measure. In the first, accents are on 1, 3, 6, and 8. In the second, 4 and 6. This is really syncopated: Natural accents are on odd numbered beats, which only the first two X's are on. This is one reason it sounds cool. The other is the way the accents are all paired. 

From what I can figure out, this rhythm originally showed up in a song by Israel "Cachao" Lopez, a Cuban double bassist who was one of the inventors of Mambo,  called Chanchullo. It dates from the fifties. The rhythm is played on piano with the melody (aside from vocals) played n high flute.


In the early sixties a Puerto Rican songwriter/bandleader/timbale player born in New York who knew Cachao, Tito Puente, wrote another song with that rhythm and, in fact, the same chord changes, plus pretty much the same instrumentation. It may sound familiar. It's called Oye Como Va. 

Here's a recording with Tito Puente featuring Cachao as guest bassist:


The recording starts with a bass solo, and at the four minute point, Tito calls Oye Como Va. 

The song was well known in his circles but not by the public at large until the late sixties, when it was covered by a rock group out of the Bay Area, resulting in Tito getting Way more substantial royalty checks. The group is of course Santana. The Santana version is actually extremely faithful to the original in terms of what's played when. What's radically different is On What. 

Santana kept the timbales. It's a big part of their sound. The piano was replaced by organ going through a Leslie. For,those of you who don't know what a Leslie is, it's a speaker cabinet in which the speaker or some device controlling the speaker's output physically rotates, giving a sound a little similar to tremolo but not quite. It's most typically used on organ. To illustrate a Leslie sound, here's a great example, starting at precisely 57 seconds in. This is not Santana, it's Steppenwolf.


What's unusual about substituting organ through Leslie for piano is that piano is in part a percussion instrument. Organ is not. The beat is established by an instrument that is not percussive, at least not in this usage. And yet it completely works.

Organ instead of piano is one major substitution. The other is replacing flute with electric guitar. Most players would have a hard time doing this justice but Carlos Santana isn't Most Players, he's probably the most lyrical guitar player of his generation. 


I saw Santana play live once. It was in the early seventies in the summer while I was in college. I lived in Maryland. My best friend , a guitarist and bass player I'd be in a band with for a little while after we graduated, and I were painting houses. In the evenings we'd often go up to Meriwether Post Pavillion in Columbia to catch rock concerts. Lawn seats were three bucks, so it was about as expensive as a movie. 

If the act was one we really wanted to see, we'd spring for actual seats closer to stage. Such was the case with Santana. Unfortunately, events that summer during the Santana concert and I think Edgar Winter led Meriwether to change its programming away from rock for many years, and also to institute a policy of checking every container coming into the facility. It wasn't easygoing any more and felt very Police State.

The events in question were the place being crashed. Once that happened, the place was so mobbed that my friend and I had to stand on our seats to see, fairly good center seats pretty close, and three people stood on two seats because of how crowded it was. Having paid for the seats I was kind of pissed. I turned to the guy next to me, other side from my friend, and said "They should put barbed wire around this place." He opened his hand. His palm was cut open and bleeding. 

"How'd you do that?"

"Barbed wahr."

What could I say? It was Santana. 

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Comment by Steel Breeze on December 9, 2017 at 6:04am

gotta music question for ya. i'm a big fan of the sax, and was wondering if you ever heard of someone hookin an air compressor to the mouthpiece of one and just playin the keys.imagine the sounds without the human pauses,no limit duration or range,possibly with a foot pedal to regulate air flow.....weird i know,thats how my noggin works....

Comment by koshersalaami on December 9, 2017 at 7:42am


I've never heard of it but as a musician I wouldn't do it because it has a cost, one I'm extremely conscious of as a keyboard player and in my case extra conscious of as a melodica player. And I guess more conscious yet as someone with classical training.

Doing what you're talking about effectively makes the sax the equivalent of a reed sound on an organ or maybe a synthesizer. You give up some dynamic control of the voice in exchange for sustain. I generally prefer playing piano over organ because the harder I hit a key, the louder the note, which gives me very detailed control. But in a wind instrument, which melodica is, you get more control yet (on single voices only - more than one note at a time, you lose some piano type control). I can make the sound louder in the middle of a note, though your pedal would do that. I can vary attacks and, on a reed, you can vary tone. I can use vibrato and alter its depth and speed. In short, you'd pull too much expressiveness out of the instrument, at least for my tastes. Though synths aren't doing bad now if you use enough capabilities. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on December 9, 2017 at 1:39pm

My musical "talent" does not extend to rhythm figures or poly-rhythms, though I can keep a beat well enough to play bass guitar. I play a lot Santana songs on guitar – Evil Ways and Black Magic Woman, of course, but also Europa and Samba Pa Ti. I confess, I can't quite get there on Smooth or Oye Como Va , though. The latter presents a particular problem since I'm working on a CD entitled To Russia With Love, that consists of parody songs supposedly sung by one Donald Drumpf. One of those songs is Oye Comey Va – yeah, not everybody is going to catch that. Other titles? Down by the Boardwalk, They Broke My Heart in Puerto Rico, Smallfingers, Scaramucci Why ... should I go on?

Comment by Rodney Roe on December 10, 2017 at 1:12pm

While I can do very well listening to rhythms and poly-rhythms and then reproducing them I can't read and reproduce.  I seem to have some dyslexia for written music.  I took years of piano and could painfully go through a note at at time until I memorized the piece, but never really read.  I play virtually entirely by ear consequently.  I even went back to the XxX stuff and couldn't hear Oye Como Va.  That experience with Santana falls under OMG!  Your interpretation of his accent reminded me of a medical school lecture from some fellow from Texas on Ahrn metabolism.  Finally, one of my classmates asked, "Excuse me, what are you talking about?"  The reply; "Ahrn.  Like you make wahr out of."

Comment by Rodney Roe on December 10, 2017 at 1:17pm

SB, you should do it.  I have a bamboo fipple flute with a saxaphone mouthpiece and reed.  It sounds like a sax.  Kinda limited, though.  I picked it up at a street fair.

Comment by koshersalaami on December 10, 2017 at 1:31pm


I've got something like that but composite, not bamboo. My mother picked it up for me. The only thing that drives me nuts about it is there Sean,t seem to be more than one octave. 

Comment by Steel Breeze on December 11, 2017 at 8:53am

RR,nah,the only thing i can play is a torque wrench.....

Comment by koshersalaami on December 11, 2017 at 9:18am

If you're interested, it's not hard to start

Comment by Steel Breeze on December 11, 2017 at 9:20am

<zeeero musical/artistic talent......and mangled fingers....

Comment by koshersalaami on December 11, 2017 at 10:42am

Mangled fingers could be an issue, depending. There are exceptions. 


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