Poncho Sanchez was born October 30, 1951 in Laredo, Texas, the youngest of eleven children, but was reared in Norwalk, California. Exposed to and influenced by Afro-Cuban music (mambo, son, cha-cha, rumba, guaracha, salsa) and bebop jazz, he originally started as a guitarist. Discovering his talent for singing during an R&B band audition, he become the group’s lead vocalist. He later taught himself the flute, drums and timbales before finally deciding to pursue conga playing in high school.
In 1975, Sanchez’s idol, vibraphonist Cal Tjader invited him to perform one set with his band. Seeing the young man’s talent, Tjader hired Sanchez for a week before officially making him a full member of the ensemble. Sanchez played a crucial role as conguero for several years until Tjader’s death in 1982.
Before his death, Tjader suggested to Carl Jefferson, Concord Records founder, to sign Sanchez and his soon-to-be-formed group under the Concord Picante label. Tjader’s wishes were honored, and the first two records were composed and arranged by long-time Tjader collaborator Clare Fischer. Poncho produced 19 albums for the label and garnered a Grammy for his “Latin Soul” album.
He has played with Mongo Santamaria, Hugh Masekela and a host of jazz and Latin musicians and vocalists to numerous to name along with the iconic funk band Tower of Power on his “Do It” project. Poncho Sanchez is respected as one of the top percussionists of our time and continues to perform worldwide.
Airto Moreira was born in Itaiopolis, Brazil on August 5, 1941 into a family of folk healers but was raised in Curitiba and Sao Paulo. Showing an extraordinary talent for music at a young age, he became a professional musician at age 13, and his first landmark recording was “Quarteto Novo” with Hermeto Pascoal in 1967. Shortly after, he followed his wife Flora Purim to the U. S., settling in New York City.
Airto began playing regularly with jazz musicians in the city beginning with the bassist Walter Booker and through him began playing with Joe Zawinul, who in turn introduced him to Miles Davis. At this time Miles was mounting the seminal fusion recording Bitches Brew to which Airto became a part of.
After two years with Miles, Airto joined Miles alumni Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miroslav Vitous forming Weather Report and recording their self-titled debut album. He left Weather Report and joined Chick Corea’s new band Return To Forever, drumming on the debut Return To Forever and Light As A Feather, commonly regarded as fusion classics.
Airto has played with many of the greatest names in jazz including Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan, George Benson, Donald Byrd, Paul Desmond, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, John McLaughlin, Astrud Gilberto, Keith Jarrett and George Duke just to name a few. He also has played with symphonic orchestras and as a solo percussionist, and during live performances often includes a samba solo, where he emulates the sound of an entire band using just a single pandeiro.
In addition to jazz concerts and recordings, Airto has composed and contributed music scores to both television and film including Apocalypse Now and Last Tango In Paris. The drummer and percussionist has taught at UCLA and the California Brazil Camp and collaborated with his wife Flora and P.M. Dawn on “Non-Fiction Burning” for the Aids benefit album Red Hot + Rio produced by the Red Hot Organization.
More Posts: percussion
Naná Vasconcelos was born in Recife, Brazil on August 2, 1944. At age 12 he began playing his father’s guitar and joined the city’s marching band. His intense curiosity and inquisitive ear prompted him to listen to music from Brazil’s greatest composer Villa Lobos to Jimi Hendrix. He played with every imaginable musical configuration in Recife from orchestras to street bands until finally moved to Rio where he began performing with Milton Nascimento.
By 1970 Argentinean tenor, Gato Barbieri came through Rio and invited Nana to join his group and everywhere the played Nana created a sensation. After the tours end he settled in Paris where he made his first recording, “Africa Deus”. He returned to Brazil to record Amazonas, began an eight-year collaboration with guitarist Egberto Gismonti, returned to New York and formed the group “Cordona” with Don Cherry and Collin Walcott, while touring and recording with Pat Metheny.
Throughout his career he has worked with everyone from B.B. King to Jean Luc Ponty to the Talking Heads but has never become a studio musician. With over two-dozen albums as a leader, Nana has contributed special energies to another sixteen albums with such musicians as Walter Bishop Jr., Jan Gabarek, Pierre Favre and Danny Gottlieb that go well beyond the usual contributions of a percussionist.
A master all of Brazil’s percussion instruments, specializing in the berimbau and taking it far beyond its traditional uses, he currently leads his own group “Bushdance” and has developed a theatrically staged piece that explores the full, fascinating range of sounds and songs that lie in the heart of his music.
Nana Vasconcelos has performed at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, “Luz De Candeeiro” to the AIDS benefit compilation album Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon produced by the Red Hot Organization and was awarded the Best Percussionist Of The Year by the Down Beat Critics Poll for seven consecutive years, from 1984 to 1990. He continues to perform, record and tour.
More Posts: percussion
Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr. a.k.a. Cal Tjader was born July 16, 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri to touring Swedish-American vaudevillians, a tap dancing father and pianist mother. At two, his parents settled in San Mateo, California, opened a dance studio where he received piano and tap instruction from his parents. Tapping alongside his father in the Bay area he landed a role in the film “The White of the Dark Cloud of Joy” tapping with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
Playing in a Dixieland band around the Bay area, at sixteen Cal entered and won a Gene Krupa solo contest but the win was dampened by Pearl Harbor. After serving in the Army, he enrolled at San Jose State College and under the G.I. Bill majoring in education. He later transferred to San Francisco State College, took timpani lessons, met Dave Brubeck who introduced him to Paul Desmond. The three formed the Dave Brubeck Octet with Tjader on drums and recorded one album.
Disbanding the octet, Tjader and Brubeck formed a trio that became a fixture in the San Francisco jazz scene. During this period he taught himself the vibraphone, alternating between it and the drums depending on the song. A diving accident in 1951 forced Brubeck’s trio to dissolve, however, Tjader continued trio work with bassist Jack Weeks and pianists John Marabuto or Vince Guaraldi, recording his first 10″ LP as a leader with them for Fantasy. He went on to work with George Shearing and continued recording for Fantasy.
After a gig at the Blackhawk Cal quit Shearing and in 1954 formed The Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quintet that produced Mambo with Tjader. The Mambo craze reached its peak in the late 1950s, and his band opened the second Monterey Jazz Festival in 1959. The Sixties was his most prolific period and his biggest success was the 1964 album Soul Sauce, the title track, a Dizzy Gillespie composition.
The 70s were lean years suffering like most jazz artists due to rock and roll’s explosive growth. During his later years he cut what most consider his seminal work “Onda Va Bien”, roughly translated as The Good Life, earning him a Grammy for Best Latin Recording.
Just as he was born on tour, he died touring on the road with his band in Manila, succumbing from a heart attack on May 5, 1982. Cal Tjader, who 40 year career playing vibraphone, drums, bongos, congas, timpani and piano stands alongside Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson as a vital influence and is linked with swinging freely between jazz and Latin music.
He was born William Correa on February 28, 1934 but to the jazz and Latin music worlds he was simply known as Willie Bobo, a moniker given him by Mary Lou Williams after they recorded in the early 50’s. Growing up in Spanish Harlem in New York City, he began playing bongos at age 14 and started performing a year later with Perez Prado. Over the next few years he studied with Mongo Santamaria while serving as his translator and at 19 joined Tito Puente for four years.
Willie became one of the great Latin percussionists of his time, a relentless swinger on the congas and timbales, a flamboyant showman onstage, and an engaging if modestly endowed singer. He also made serious inroads into the pop, R&B and straight jazz worlds, and he always said that his favorite song was Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi.”
He worked with Cal Tjader, Herbie Mann and Santamaria with whom he recorded the evergreen Latin standard “Afro-Blue” but it was in 1963 that he made his first recording as a leader with Clark Terry and Joe Farrell. He went on to record with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock, Wes Montgomery, Chico Hamilton and Sonny Stitt. In 1969, he moved to Los Angeles where he led jazz and Latin jazz combos, appeared on Bill Cosby’s first comedy series in 1969.
He recorded on his own for Sussex, Blue Note, Verve and Columbia. One of his last appearances, only three months before his death, was at the 1983 Playboy Jazz Festival where he reunited with Santamaria for the first time in 15 years. Jazz percussionist and timbale master Willie Bobo, known for his Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz succumbed to cancer on September 15, 1983 at age 49.