During our virtual coffee we discussed his next Latin Jazz album, a tribute to John Coltrane’s music (will not be with Concord), the state of Latin Jazz, and his shows at Dimitrious’ Jazz Alley in Seattle this week.
New Album Tribute to John Coltrane
LMC: Poncho, last time we talked, which was last summer, you were masterminding putting together an album with the music of John Coltrane as the main theme. Are you still pursuing that project?
Poncho Sanchez: we are still working on that. We’re going to do the John Coltrane Jazz and Blues Festival in High Point, NC; that’s where John Coltrane is from, on September 6, and we’ll be recording live there, and then possibly also going to the studio in December and do a studio record, or it may be a combination of both.
Hector’s Note: John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, NC on September 1923, but grew up and learned to play the saxophone in High Point, about 87 miles north of Hamlet. He helped pioneer the use of modes in Jazz, along with Miles Davis.
LMC: What attracted you to record an album in tribute to Coltrane’s music?
Poncho Sanchez: First of all John Coltrane is a legend of Jazz music. As a young boy when I started to listen to jazz, I was…oh…14 years old or something like that, I would listen to John Coltrane records on the jazz (radio) station, and I really loved his sound, his style, his approach, and he was so far ahead of everybody. Also, he played such wonderful tunes, standards and original tunes also. So I thought it was time to pay tribute to John Coltrane, he was so great.
In the new album we’ll have some John Coltrane songs we are doing in the Latin Jazz style, and we’ll also have some original tunes. It will be mixture of Coltrane tunes and surely a couple of Salsa tunes there also. You know, I like to mix a little Salsa, Latin Jazz, and a little bit of Latin soul.
LMC: Will you record the album with the Concord label?
Poncho Sanchez: no, after 30 years and 27 albums later I am with Concord no more. They have changed their whole approach to how they do albums, they are (currently) not recording that many people, and when they do is mostly singers or trios, but to record a big band like mine is not working for them any longer. I got a 9-piece band and that’s a big band nowadays, you know! Before a big band was over 20 pieces, you know.
LMC: …yes, like the Machito or Tito Puente orchetras!
Poncho Sanchez: oh man, that were some bands. I think I’m the last Latin Jazz or even Salsa artist that travels with his band. I travel with my band all over the world. Most Salsa artists just travel with the singer and musical director and hire a local band to back them. It gets expensive to travel with the whole band. But I still travel with my band.
Poncho Sanchez on The State of Latin Jazz
LMC: …and even with your big band, you manage to stay very busy. How do you see the state of Latin Jazz these days?
Poncho Sanchez: it has definitely grown in the last several years. I remember when I started playing with Cal Tjader many years ago, Latin Jazz wasn’t that big; not that many people knew about it. The core fans knew about it, they always have and always will, but it wasn’t that well known in other parts of the world.
I like to think that the Poncho Sanchez band contributed to make it known around the world. I’ve had the band for 35 years and we’ve travelled all over the world, helping to spread the word of Latin Jazz. It’s definitely alive and well, but I think it’s starting to taper down a little bit now, which is OK with me, because that is what I’ m trying to do (laughs); you know what I mean?
It’s been great to have been part of that growth in Latin Jazz, along with my teachers and masters, Machito, Cal Tjader, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Ray Barretto, people like that who are my heroes, and I had the honor and pleasure to play with most of them.
LMC: People may hear the term “Latin Jazz” and “Afro-Cuban Jazz” interchangeably. Do they mean the same thing or is there a subtle difference?
Poncho Sanchez: To me they mean the same thing, it’s just a name change. It’s like Salsa, when I was growing up it was not called Salsa, it was called “musica latina” or “musica cubana”, or even “mambo” or “cha cha cha”, and now they call it all Salsa. That’s what happened with Afro-Cuban Jazz, now they call it Latin Jazz, and tomorrow they may call it something else!
LMC: Now during the summer Jazz fans may go to one of the many summer jazz festivals and sit down in their lawn chairs with the coolers and enjoy the music, and if they don’t know your music, here comes Poncho Sanchez and after a couple of tunes some of them are standing up dancing or shaking their body to the music.
What kind of audience do you prefer to play for, the mellow crowd that wants to listen and appreciate the music, or the rowdy crowd dancing and yelling back to the band?
Poncho Sanchez: (Laughs) I know what you’re talking about. I like to play to both. Most of the time, even if we are at a concert hall, because I have some of my music made for Symphony, even if we are in those concert halls, people get on the aisles and start dancing somewhere. I like playing in the big jazz festivals, where people are with their lawn chairs and their picnic baskets, like you said, they are with their kids and the whole family having a good time, I think that is really great.
But I also like to play in the smaller Jazz clubs, were we get closer to the Latin Jazz music, and people enjoy it so much.
Shows at Seattle’s Jazz Alley (July 30 to Aug 2nd)
LMC: …and talking about jazz clubs, you’re going to Seattle to play the Jazz Alley from June 30th through Aug 2nd. Are you going to play some of the new John Coltrane tunes?
Poncho Sanchez: yes, we are definitely going to play some of the John Coltrane music we are going to record. And of course, we can’t end the night without playing some of the classics people always expect like “Besame Mama” and “Watermelon Man”, “Co Co My My”; people always ask for those too, but we’ll give them a preview to the John Coltrane music.
Hector’s Note: Poncho Sanchez is one of the busiest artists in Latin Jazz because his brand of music is enjoyable to listen and, if you feel like it, to dance in those couple of Salsa tunes he likes to mix in his sets. It’s always great to go see an enjoy the music of this humble and approachable artist.