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A Fireside Chat With Poncho Sanchez

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PS: Oh, absolutely. Ten years ago, I really didn’t feel that way. I was just a struggling musician, trying to get another gig for the band. I would lean forward and have my head down, thinking that I was pulling this heavy load uphill. But I started feeling the change. You are absolutely correct, Fred. OK, I am the guy with the responsibility for Latin jazz. Young kids started coming up to me and asking me for advice. I thought, “Maybe I have come full circle.” I remember I used to do that to Cal, Mongo, and Tito. It comes with the territory and if you recognize that, it makes you better. That is what I’ve tried to do, recognize the authority and respect you have to have. We do clinics and master classes all over the world. I try to spread the word and let the young kids know that it is very important to take advantage of all the things that are available to them nowadays, the internet, DVDs, and videos. When I was growing up, you could not get percussion lessons at any music store. You could not go out and buy a book on how to play. But now, even I have my own book out about how to play, Poncho Sanchez’ Conga Cookbook. It teaches you how to play congas and also, how to cook. All these things are available to them. I tell them that it is very important to take advantage of that, set a goal in their lives, and stay focused in that goal until you reach it. That is what I did and if I can do it, I know they can.

FJ: It seems everyone wants to play with Poncho Sanchez, Latin Spirits featured Chick Corea.

PS: That came together because I’ve been with Concord for almost twenty years and I have seniority at the label. Glenn, John, and all the great people at Concord get along great with me. John Burk really helps me about a lot, John and Jim Cassell, my manager, and David Torres, my musical director. Between the four of us, we get together ahead of time and decide what we will do for the next CD. The meeting for Latin Spirits, John Burk has been to my house many times and I have all this old footage of the old soul bands of the Fifties, Louis Jordan, and James Brown. I have CDs and records of all this stuff. They see me get all excited about this stuff at home. So they said, “Why don’t you do an album that has some of that New Orleans stuff that you like?” So that is how I got the idea to use Dale Spalding. I saw him playing at a local club in Long Beach and he was playing that old Louis Jordan tune, “I Want You to Be My Baby.” As a matter of fact, that was supposed to be on that record, but it was so different than that record, we decided not to put it on there. We have a version of that in the can that we will use one day. He also did a tune called “Early in the Morning” and a tune called “Going Back to New Orleans,” which is an old Joe Liggins number that goes back to the Honeydrippers. I heard them do it as a funk and I thought that would work good as a mambo. And I told Dale that “Early in the Morning” would work as a cha-cha.

Now, Dale Spalding is a big fan of Latin jazz. He tells me, “Poncho, you changed my life. I don’t play those tunes, even with my band, the way I used to. I think of everything as a mambo or cha-cha now.” For me, it worked out great because we got a touch of New Orleans with Dale’s harmonica. When was the last time a Latin jazz band used a harmonica player on their record? Then John Burk told me that Chick would like to do some stuff. I had met Chick through his sound guy, Bernie Kirsh, who has been with Chick Corea for many years as his sound technician. One day, we played at the same gig and Bernie introduced me to Chick. I asked why don’t we do something for the next record and he said, "Let me write something for the next record.” He wrote the title track, “Latin Spirits.” Chick is a harmonic genius. It was an honor and a treat to have Chick on the record.

FJ: And Ray Charles guests on your latest, Out of Sight.


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