As Elvis Presley was to rock and roll and James Brown was to soul, Poncho Sanchez is to Latin jazz.
But, whether it’s Latin jazz, salsa, straight ahead jazz, or even elements of soul and blues, the mesmerizing array of sounds and colors from Poncho Sanchez’s youth have telegraphed across the decades and continue to inform his creative sensibilities to this day. As he explains, “these are the sounds I grew up with. So when I play this music, I’m not telling a lie. I’m telling my story. This is the real thing.”
And, more than anything else, Poncho Sanchez is a storyteller. As leader of the most popular Latin jazz group in the world today, it’s his congas and seasoned ensemble that do the talking. Live in concert or on recordings, they spin vivacious tales that pay homage to the glories of a half-century tradition that was born when Afro-Cuban rhythms merged with bebop. And, for almost three decades, Sanchez has been an unswervingly-passionate exponent of the bedrock style of Afro-Cuban Latin jazz pioneered half a century ago by such legendary musicians as Machito, Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie.
Today, Sanchez’s life’s story has become a well-known part of Latin jazz lore. He was born in Texas on October 30, 1951 into a large Mexican-American family (rumor has it that his 13-year old mother fled to the U.S. after hiding under the bed as revolutionary Pancho Villa stormed her village), but grew up in the Los Angeles area, where he was weaned on a broad range of Latin and non-Latin popular music. 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. Inspired by the conga playing of Cuban great Mongo Santamaria, he honed his skills as a percussionist and broke into the limelight at the age of 23 when he joined vibraphonist Cal Tjader’s famed Latin jazz ensemble in 1975. Poncho performed with him until Tjader’s untimely death in 1982. A year later, he began his unprecedented 27-year relationship with Concord Records, which has produced two dozen recordings, including his latest, Psychedelic Blues, a GRAMMY® Award and several GRAMMY nominations.
To these many honors, the Los Angeles Jazz Society is proud to add 2010 Jazz Tribute Honoree.)