Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of the Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz

S. Duncan Reid By

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The following is an excerpt from the "Reaching for the Skye" chapter of Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of the Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz by S. Duncan Reid (McFarland, 2013).

Tjader had reached the East Coast by November and on November 17, he arrived at Van Gelder Studio for a session ("Willow Weep for Me" and "Joey Joey") that probably included tenor sax man Jimmy Heath and trumpeter Donald Byrd. Two days later, Heath, Byrd, Kenny Burrell and Armando Peraza, among others, were definitely on hand to produce a powerful pianoless "Afro Blue." In 1959, Tjader had given all the solo space to his sidemen, but this time he weighed in with some stimulating vibravisation.

Creed Taylor had originally earmarked all of the above material plus a new version of "Doxy," the number that had introduced Lonnie Hewitt to the world, for Tjader's latest album. Tjader, however, had some other tunes in mind and was especially excited about remaking "Guarachi Guaro." Furthermore, he wanted his entire ensemble—Lonnie Hewitt, John Rae, Terry Hilliard and Armando Peraza—to join him at A&R Studios. Taylor liked the idea and this landmark session, which also featured Willie Bobo's percussionist pal Alberto Valdes, began at noon on November 20, 1964.

Terry Hilliard recalled that the band spent many of the intervening hours discussing what they thought would be effective and then "knocked it out." "Most things were first cuts. There wasn't a lot of fine-tuning. We got the feeling and everybody was loving it." According to Tjader, the basic tracks were finished by 2:30 P.M. "Guaro" was taped twice; one version was long and loose and the other more restrained. Taylor thought the latter could be a hit single but was worried that the disc jockeys would have trouble pronouncing the title. So he suggested changing it to "Soul Sauce." Tjader didn't object and was open to calling the LP Soul Sauce as well. Then he had a brainstorm of his own: Get Willie Bobo to come in the next day and overdub the jawbone and some Spanish lingo. Bobo's contributions, particularly the vocals ("Ay, que rico!," "Sabor" and "Salsa ... Salsa") helped the title track achieve crossover success on the jazz, pop and rhythm and blues charts when the album was released in the spring of 1965.

The single initially grabbed the public's attention but there is more than one delicious ingredient in this Sauce. Among them are a less cluttered and more seductive arrangement of "Leyte," "Spring Is Here" (Rodgers and Hart), which features the vibraphonist's sublime ballad artistry, "João" (Clare Fischer), a bossa nova tribute to guitarist Gilberto, and originals by Hewitt, "Pantano" and "Tanya." The pianist's affection for Cuban jazz is amply displayed in these two enchanting melodies.

Creed Taylor was still determined to complete his Tjader album. Consequently, on November 23 in New York City, Gary McFarland's arrangements of "Dream Lover," "Monkey Beams" (McFarland) and "Ming" were recorded with Jimmy Heath and friends.

"Afro Blue" was selected for the original Soul Sauce LP, but "Monkey Beams" and "Ming" would not be heard by the public until the CD reissue of Soul Sauce in 1994 and "Willow Weep for Me," "Joey Joey," "Doxy" and "Lover" have yet to be put out as of this writing. Finally, the CD also includes version number three of "Mamblues," an outtake from the first New York session.

Later on the same day, Tjader reunited with his ensemble for a week-long engagement at the Showboat in Philadelphia and by December 23, he was back in San Francisco's North Beach, working at El Matador (492 Broadway). Formerly a bar run by writer, painter and bullfighter Barnaby Conrad, it was a hip hangout in the '50s for locals and those who lived in the public eye. Conrad sold his establishment to Robert Catecchi and Aussie John Clarke in the autumn of 1961. The new owners kept the bullfight photographs, a full-length portrait of the late matador Manolete, swords, brilliant capes and other items from the bull ring that were hung on the white walls. Moreover, they began to routinely book jazz musicians. The Off Broadway did not, as Ralph Gleason had hoped, become Tjader's new home club. But once his successful run ended in early January 1965, Tjader decided that El Matador was the place to be.

There were two reasons why Shelly's Manne Hole became a fairly regular part of Tjader's annual southern California tour. First, the majority of the Hollywood patrons were true jazz aficionados and second, it was a treat to have a musician as both the owner and a close friend. On this occasion, the stint went from Thursday, January 21, to Sunday, January 31.


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