For more than three decades as both a leader and a sideman, conguero Poncho Sanchez has stirred up a fiery stew of straight ahead jazz, gritty soul music, and infectious melodies and rhythms from a variety of Latin American and South American sources. His influences are numerous, but among the more prominent figures that inform his music are two of the primary architects of Latin jazz – conga drummer and composer Chano Pozo and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
Sanchez pays tribute to these two titans on his new album, Chano y Dizzy!, his 25th recording as a bandleader on Concord Picante, set for release on September 27, 2011. “These two musicians were the pioneers of what is now known as Latin jazz,” says Sanchez. “Chano Pozo was a genius. He’s considered the godfather of conga drummers, and he’s someone whom I respect a great deal. And of course, Dizzy Gillespie was an iconic artist in American jazz. I had the honor and pleasure of working with him on several occasions.These guys were the first musicians to bring elements of Latin music to American jazz– which has resulted in some of the greatest music of the last 50 or 60 years. I felt that it was time to pay tribute to them and their accomplishments.”
Although born in Laredo, Texas, in 1951 to a large Mexican-American family, Sanchez grew up in a suburb of L.A., where he was raised on an unusual cross section of sounds that included straight ahead jazz, Latin jazz and American soul. By his teen years, his musical consciousness had been solidified by the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. Along the way, he taught himself to play guitar, flute, drums and timbales, but eventually settled on the congas. At 24, after working his way around the local club scene for several years, he landed a permanent spot in Cal Tjader’s band in 1975. “I learned a great deal from Cal,” says Sanchez, “but it wasn’t as though he sat me down and taught me lessons like a schoolteacher. Mostly it was just a matter of being around such a great guy. It was the way he conducted himself, the way he talked to people, the way he presented himself onstage. He was very elegant, very dignified, and when he played, he played beautifully. The touch that he had on the vibes– nobody has that sound. To me, he was – and is, and always will be– the world’s greatest vibe player.” Sanchez remained with Tjader until the band leader’s death in 1982. That same year, he signed with Concord for the release of Sonando, an album that marked the beginning of a musical partnership that has spanned more than 25 years and has yielded more than two dozen recordings. Chano y Dizzy! is the latest installment in that ongoing partnership.