Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2014: Cécile McLorin Salvant

Poncho Sanchez: Latin Fire

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Nothing says heat and happiness quite so effectively as Latin jazz, and Winnipeg audiences are in for a blast of both when one of the most respected Latin masters comes to town.

Mexican-American Poncho Sanchez grew up in California in the 50s and 60s being influenced by two very different styles of music: infectious Afro-Cuban dance rhythms like mambo, cha-cha, rumba, and salsa, and the brilliant elaborations of bebop performed by artists like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. As a young kid, he learned guitar, discovered in a failed guitar audition that he also loved to sing, then went on to learn flute, drums, and timbales before settling on the congas in high school.

In his mid-twenties, he was invited to join the band of vibraphonist Cal Tjader. That relationship cemented his role as a conguero, and kicked off his long and vibrant musical career.

Fast-forward to the present, and Poncho Sanchez has taken his place as one of the world’s premier Latin jazz artists. He has played with heavy-hitters in both the Latin and jazz worlds, and shared his fiery intensity with audiences around the world, at huge festivals and in small nightclubs. He has released almost three dozen recordings, including Papa Gato, Chile Con Soul, Soul of the Conga, Live in Hollywood, Chano Y Dizzy!, and the Grammy Award-winning Latin Soul (1999).

Sanchez is not only a high-octane player and bandleader, he’s also an ambassador for Latin jazz. He calls it the “the world’s greatest music” because “it has the melodic and harmonic sophistication of jazz and American standards, and the flavor and energy of Latin American music. What I’m most proud of is that this music—while it may sound exotic at times—is from America. It was born in New York City, when Chano Pozo met Dizzy Gillespie for the first time in the mid-1940s. They created something that didn’t exist before in this country. I’m very proud to take this music all over the world all the time.”

On April 12, the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band plays two concerts at the Winnipeg Art Gallery as part of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series. Featuring Francisco Torres on trombone, Joey De León on timbales, Rene Camacho on bass, Rob Hardt on saxophones and flute, Ron Blake on trumpet and flugelhorn, Angel Rodriguez on bongos and percussion, Andy Langham on piano, and the man himself on congas, no doubt these concerts will have Winnipeg audiences dancing in the aisles!

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