The percussive sound coming from the hands of Poncho Sanchez has been a dominate factor in Latin Jazz for over three decades. The multiple Grammy Award-winning conguero is returning to Indy with his band as the featured artist at the Percussive Artist Society International Conference this Saturday, November 12th. Sanchez, who has just released his 25th recording on the Concord label, just turned 60. His passion for his musical craft is still high, I found out in this phone interview with him at his home.
NUVO: Is your 25th album a tribute to your musical roots?
Sanchez: You could say that. I have had the band for 31 years now. I have recorded some of these tunes before in different settings and in different ways. Yes, it is in some ways looking back at some of the earlier music that I respected. You know Dizzy Gillespie the great jazz trumpet player from America and Chano Pozo the great Cuban congo drummer, they are the actual grandfathers of Latin Jazz they are the guys that made it up. I give them credit as the pioneers of this music.
NUVO: Is Latin Jazz becoming more experimental and moving away from its tradition of dance?
Sanchez: In some ways it has. One thing I tell people is, as long as Poncho Sanchez is alive and well, you are guaranteed to get your authentic dose of Latin Jazz. What we play is authentic Latin jazz and salsa music. We also play Latin soul music. I was raised in the '50s and '60s and I love soul music (like) James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding. I adapted some of those kinds of things to the Latin jazz music. So when I put my show on, it's going to have authentic Latin Jazz, mambo, cha cha cha, also the Bebop era involved with Jazz melodies and we do some authentic Salsa stuff and Soul music.
NUVO: How do you feel about the status of Latin Jazz in this country today?
Sanchez: I am glad it's finally getting its due. I remember back in the fifties and sixties Latin Jazz was not very popular in Los Angeles. Not many people knew about Latin Jazz or Afro-Cuban music at that time. I am glad to see that nowadays it's all over the world and is steadily growing. I am also proud to say that I know that the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band has had a great deal to do with the growth of Latin jazz all over the world, because I have taken it all over the world, even when I was with Cal Tjader's band. I have been taking this music around the world for thirty-eight years; that's a lot of traveling. I am proud to say that Latin Jazz is growing and I hope it keeps on growing.