Artist Profiles: Poncho Sanchez

Poncho Sanchez

Poncho Sanchez was born in Laredo, Texas. He was the youngest of 11 children. Poncho grew up in Norwalk, California and remembers hearing Afro-Cuban music while growing up. “As a kid in third or fourth grade I would hear my sisters dancing while listening to Machito, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader and various bands from Cuba while my brothers listened to doo-wop music and early rhythm and blues.”

While in sixth grade, Sanchez bought a fifty- cent guitar in hopes of joining an r&b band that rehearsed across the street from his home. Although he practiced quite a bit when he showed up for an audition he knew immediately that he did not stand a chance. “But it turned out that they needed a singer and although I had never sung I gave it a try and became the lead vocalist in that band for five years. Then when I was in high school the first chance I had to get behind a set of conga drums I hit them and it felt quite natural.” Soon Sanchez had saved up money from his singing jobs and was practicing congas as much as possible in his garage playing to Machito, Tito Puente and Cal Tjader records.

Sanchez’s big break occurred in 1975 when after a period of struggle he had an opportunity to play with his idol vibraphonist Cal Tjader. “I found out later that Cal’s conga player was planning on leaving soon and he was letting a lot of people sit in with him. I played one number with Cal, he asked if I could play the rest of the set with him and a week later he asked if I could join him for a week, starting New Year’s Eve at the Coconut Grove opposite Carmen McRae!.” Sanchez would be a major part of Tjader’s band for the next seven years an association that lasted until the vibraphonist’s death.

Poncho Sanchez first formed his own group in 1980, leading his ensemble during Tjader’s vacation periods and recording two albums for Discovery. Shortly before his death, Tjader recommended to Concord founder Carl Jefferson that he sign Sanchez to his Concord Picante label (a subsidiary originally started to document Tjader’s music). Poncho recorded numerous albums for Concord and won a Grammy Award for 1999’s Latin Soul.

My band and I really do love Latin jazz. We played this music before it was popular and I think we’ve played a part in helping it to become popular again. Our main goal is always to keep Latin jazz alive growing and moving while being authentic to the music that we love. I’m proud to say that we have stuck to the basic fundamentals and the roots which are very important to us. And as I always say in clinics this music is not just for Latino people. It was born in the United States and it is American music. It is for everybody!

Discography:

Salsa Picante (1980)
Straight Ahead (1980)
Machaca (1981)
Sonando (1982)
Baila Mi Gente (Concord Records, CCD-471-2 1982)
Bien Sabroso (1983)
El Conguero (1985)
Papa Gato (1986)
Gaviota (1986)
Fuerte (1987)
La Familia (1988)
Chile Con Soul (1989)
A Night At Kimball’s East (199)
Bailar (1990)
Cambios (1990)
El Mejor (1992)
Para Todos (Concord Records CCD-4600-2 1993)
Soul Sauce (Concord Records CCD-4662-2 1995)
Conga Blue (Concord Records CCD-4726-2 1995)
Freedom Sound (Concord Records CCD-4778-2 1997)
Afro-Cuban Fantasy (Concord Records CCD-4847-2 1998)
Latin Soul (Concord Records, CCD-4863-2 1999)
Poncho Sanchez – The Concord Jazz Heritage Series (2000)
Soul Of The Conga (Concord Records, CCD-4894, 2000)
Latin Spirits (2001)
Ultimate Latin Dance Party (2002)
Instant Party: Poncho Sanchez (2004)
Poncho at Montreux (2004)
Out of Sight! (2004)
Do It! (2005)
Raise Your Hand (2007)
Psychedelic Blues (Concord Picante 2009)
Chano y Dizzy! (Concord Picante, 2011)
Live in Hollywood (Concord Picante 2012)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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