Bay Area Latin Jazz
“Guarachi Guaro” - Cal Tjader
1954 version from Tjader plays Mambo
The mambo craze of the 1950s started in New York City and spread worldwide. In the San Francisco area, one non-Latino jazz bandleader, vibraphonist Cal Tjader, became an innovator in small-band Latin jazz. Tjader hired Latino musicians, like Panamanian percussionist Benny Velarde, from the San Francisco Bay Area to give him a distinctly Latin sound in the jazz world.
“Afro Blue” - Cal Tjader use 1959 Mongo
On a tour to New York City in 1958, Tjader played on the same bill with Tito Puente. Two of Puente’s percussionists, Cuban Mongo Santamaria and Nuyorican Willie Bobo decided to leave Puente to join Tjader’s band in California and also begin their own solo careers. Listen to the melodic tone of Santamaria’s congas on his tune “Afro Blue,” which has become one of the most popular Latin jazz standards. [Listen.]
Notice the 6/8 rhythm that is typical of some Cuban rumbas. A groove like this can be called “polyrhythmic” because of the multiple simultaneous rhythmic cycles or a “cross rhythm” of 3 against 2. Notice how the bass plays a three-beat rhythm while the vibes play two-beats in the same amount of time. Try to clap one rhythm and speak the other, like this: [sing bass line “1-2-3” while clapping 1-2 and/or vice versa.]
“Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro)” - Cal Tjader
By 1964, Tjader had been performing “Guarachi Guaro” for a decade when he recorded this version retitled “Soul Sauce”. Notice the difference between the more calm version heard earlier, and the loose, partying sound here, similar to what was developing in the “boogaloo” sound in New York. The [make slap/rattle sound] is Willie Bobo playing a donkey’s jawbone, a percussion instrument of indigenous origin used in Latin America. Bobo also interjects vocalizations like “¡Sabor!” and “¡Ay qué rico!” typical of how Latino musicians encourage each others’ playing.
“Evil Ways” - Willie Bobo
Willie Bobo left Tjader’s band and found success as a singer and bandleader. Listen to him sing the original 1967 version of guitarist Sonny Henry’s song “Evil Ways” that would later be a hit for Santana. Listen for the chachachá rhythm. The echo effect and sliding technique gives Henry’s guitar a funky, almost psychedelic quality.
“Spanish Grease” - Willie Bobo
Willie Bobo’s 1965 album Spanish Grease had a huge influence on the young conga player Michael Carabello, who helped create the fusion of Carlos Santana’s bluesy guitar with Latin percussion. To acknowledge the influence, Santana later adapted the chorus of the tune “Spanish Grease” for their tune “No One to Depend On”.
“Operation Mambo” - Carlos Federico
Numerous other Latin bands were active in the Bay Area during the 1950s mambo era. This is a later recording of a tune of that era by the Panamanian-born bandleader Carlos Federico, who, in addition to performing, trained hundreds of musicians in the Bay Area. Listen to the thick, dense harmonies that Federico plays on the the piano, and notice how the sound is reminiscent of Cal Tjader’s group with the interplay between piano and vibraphone.
The San Francisco Bay Area has been a fertile ground for Latin musical development from the 1950s to the present. Musicians of various ethnicities promoted the mambo craze, and the Latinization of jazz influenced the Latin rock scene of the late 1960s and 70s.