Cal Tjader [1925-1982]
The son of Swedish Vaudeville performers, Callen Radcliffe Tjader became an accomplished tap dancer, drummer and pianist as a child.
In 1946 after serving in the war as an Army medic, he enrolled to study music at San Francisco State University, where he met pianist Dave Brubeck. Tjader played drums in several groups with Brubeck and later went on to play with other Bay Area musicians, including pianist George Shearing. During this time he taught himself vibraphone and developed an active in interest in Latin percussion.
In 1954 he teamed with local Latino musicians, including percussionist Benny Velarde, to form the Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quintet, riding the wave of the mambo’s current popularity. Some critics portrayed his Latin repertoire as exotica, but in fact Cal Tjader understood and deeply appreciated the rhythms and forms of Latin Caribbean music and he worked creatively and respectfully with some of the great Latin percussionists.
In 1957 he convinced veteran percussionists Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaría -- both of whom had played with Tito Puente -- to come to San Francisco and play with him. One of their most popular albums, titled Salsoul (1964), scored a Pop hit with a remake of a Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo tune called Guachi Guara.
In 1966 Tjader also recorded an album titled, El Sonido Nuevo (The New Sound) with pianist Eddie Palmieri. In the 1970s Tjader teamed with a young Los Angeles percussionist named Poncho Sánchez who went on to have his own successful career in Latin jazz. Sánchez has called Tjader his “musical father,” both for his musicianship and his professionalism.