In this article, I argue that Herder’s aesthetic theory provides a conceptual apparatus for empirical research on aesthetic expressions across cultural contexts and historical epochs. Contrary to common approaches to understanding aesthetics as “a theory of beauty” – that can be traced back to Kant’s idea of the dis-interested and Hegel’s notion of fine arts – Herder’s focus on aesthetic pleasure and his idea of aesthetics as an empirical discipline can enrich our understanding of music as an aesthetic phenomenon within distinctions such as popular music, world music, and art music. By recognising all musics as potentially aesthetic phenomena, Herder provides the basis for a less elitist, and thus a more democratic and empirically sensitive understanding of music aesthetics. The arguments presented in this article suggest that Herder’s overall emphasis on pleasure in the aesthetic experience resonates well with Cuban jazz musicians’ understanding of sabor (musical flavour, often related to expressivity and rhythms) and bomba (referring to rhythmic beauty and intensity). The analyses further suggest that these aesthetic pleasures are sonically constructed in the perception of specific groove-structures. By outlining central groove-structures, such as the role of the clave in Afro-Cuban jazz, I argue how aesthetic pleasure can be defined in specific musical terms.

Keywords: Groove, aesthetics, clave, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Pleasure