Pete Escovedo and Azteca

Azteca, an influential Oakland band that brought together musicians from diverse scenes, including rock, jazz, and Latin, was founded by Brothers Pete and Coke Escovedo in 1972. Chicanos born and raised in the Bay Area, the Escovedo brothers were captivated by East Coast Latin styles like mambo and salsa, and especially admired Tito Puente.

They sought out local musicians who could help them play in those Caribbean styles, honing their percussion and singing skills in “mambo sessions” led by Panamanian pianist Carlos Federico, who became Azteca’s musical director. They also hired Puerto Rican percussionist Victor Pantoja to play congas. Trombonist Julien Priester, trumpet player Tom Harrell and guitarist Neal Schon were among the veteran musicians from other scenes that played with Azteca.

A large band with shifting membership, Azteca only recorded two albums and toured relatively little because many of the musicians were also committed to other groups. Nonetheless, the band established a compelling presence for Latin dance music and Latin jazz in the Bay Area in the 1970s and helped lay the foundation for a creative Latin music scene for decades to come.

Perhaps the most famous product of that scene is drummer and percussionist Sheila E., Pete Escovedo’s daughter.