In the 1930s young Chicanos were re-fashioning jazz culture into their own rebellious expression. From Texas to Los Angeles these young hipsters were dancing the jitterbug, forming social clubs, and speaking calo; a hybrid of English and Spanish. Young Chicano men were sporting the “zoot suit” called “el tacuche.” Chicana women wore their hair in very high “pompadours.” These teenage rebels called themselves “pachucos.”
Pachuco culture was born in El Paso, Texas in a section of town known as “Segundo Barrio.” It spread through the southwest and exploded into a vibrant scene in 1940s Los Angeles. But Anglo society condemned pachucos, leading to the infamous “Zoot Suit Riots” of 1943.
In Texas, pachucos went to neighborhood dances wanting to hear jazz music. Local conjuntos were happy to oblige.
“Mi Dolorcita” was recorded by Conjunto San Antonio Alegre. They combined jazz rhythmic elements and scat singing with conjunto aesthetics marked by the accordion.
The singer talks about being girl crazy and needing a doctor, only to get a recommendation that he really needs a psychiatrist.
Central Avenue in downtown L.A. was dotted with clubs that boasted a multicultural jazz scene.
After WWII, many Chicano bandleaders and musicians stepped onto the stage.
A transplant from Segundo Barrio, Edmundo Martinez Tostado, recorded as “Don Tosti.” In 1948 he cut a jump blues tune called “Pachuco Boogie.” Jump blues was a stripped-down big band sound pioneered by artists like Louis Jordon and Joe Liggins.
Tosti fashioned “Pachuco Boogie” in the same way.
Tosti walks the bass as the boogie-woogie piano and sax keep it cool in the background. Tosti “raps” in calo about a pachuco arriving in L.A. from El Paso to enjoy the scene. It hit with pachucos nationwide and became their anthem.
Lalo Guerrero “The Genius of Chicano Music” jumped in on the pachuco craze and began pouring out hits. He successfully merged Latin styles coming from Cuba, New York and Mexico with jazz and calo lyrics, into a sound that pachucos admired.
In “Los Chucos Suaves” recorded in 1949, you’ll hear Latin elements like the driving 16th note guaracha rhythm of the maracas and the piano and bass rumba riff; mixed with a raspy and soulful trumpet melody.
Chicano artists and their pachuco audience forged a sound and culture that reflected their desire to be “American.”