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Poncho Sanchez

Poncho Sanchez’s latest Concord Picante release Out of Sight is one of the year's most fun CDs to listen to. Poncho is almost certainly the hardest working man in Latin Jazz, so it is only appropriate that the new album finds him paying tribute to James Brown, The Hardest Working Man in Show Business--and to classic R&B more generally. Helping him on this date is a number of true soul legends like Ray Charles, Billy Preston, Sam Moore and former James Brown horn men Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. Like JB, Sanchez is only out of sight in the sense of being exceptional-on any given night. Poncho and band are most likely to be quite visible on a bandstand somewhere in the world, be it in New York, L.A., Japan, or any other point on the globe. Briefly, we somehow managed to find Poncho Sanchez at his home in California for the following conversation.

Jazz Review: Let’s talk about the new album. I really like it, and when I’ve seen the band over the last few months, audiences really seem to respond to the new numbers.

Poncho Sanchez: Yeah, we’re real excited about it. The record’s doing great. It’s been out a little over a month now and the response has been really good from everyone-fans, critics. It’s been a long wait, we worked on it a long time. Concord was really great about it. It’s been two years since the last one because there’s been a lot of changes in the band-you know, it was just time for a change, some new blood. With the new guys, we had to spend a year getting the band organized, shape things up.

I really like the young guys. There’s George Ortiz, a great, young timbales player. He’s very enthusiastic. Sal Vasquez plays the bongos, percussion and the Cuban trés guitar. He’s just 22. I’ve known him since he was a kid. His father is one of my all-time best friends, Rob Velasquez. Rob was in my very first band, the Halos, back in junior high and high school. Sal comes from all of that. He’s very special and is doing a wonderful job. Serafin Aguilar on trumpet and flugelhorn-he’s a strong young player with high chops. There’s David Urquidi, a baritone saxophone player. You can read about the whole band on my website, Of course, I’m really excited about the great guests we have on Out of Sight.

JazzReview: We’ll get back to that, but before we go into all the wonderful players on the album, I’d like to know what inspired you to play so much R&B this time out.

Poncho Sanchez: Well, Jim Cassell, my manager and Jon Burk, the vice president of Concord, we got together at my house to talk about the upcoming album. You know, John asks me ‘What would you like to do’-we always have a meeting before we make an album. And I’ve always loved soul music, so I started putting stuff on TV-I have all these old videos of James Brown, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson I collect that stuff. I go to all these little shops when I’m on the road in places like Chicago and Augusta, Georgia and find these videos and old records, you know, some them are a little bootlegged. Anyway, John cold see how excited I was about this music and said ‘Why don’t you do this? You’ve always loved soul music.’ And, you know, about twelve years ago I did a version of (Brown’s) "Cold Sweat" on Live at Kimball’s East. So this was a chance to revisit that and devote a whole CD to the soul music I grew up with as a kid.

JazzReview: So, then, let’s talk about some of the guys on the record. Fred Wesley plays trombone for you here, and he was with you onstage at your record release party at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. You said when you introduced him that you two used to be in a band several years ago in Long Beach, which is where I live. I had no idea that you went back that far with him.

Poncho Sanchez: Brother Fred, man. Yeah, we’re old friends. I met him about fifteen years ago. Luther Hughes, a great local LA bass player, called me and said he wanted to put together a funk/jazz band. He was part of the Long Beach Municipal Bands and they wanted a side, small funk/jazz band. He called me, Fred, a bunch of other people our drummer was Jeff Hamilton.

JazzReview: Wow, great band.

Poncho Sanchez: Yeah. And being around Fred, I started picking his brain about James Brown. I got involved in all the Long Beach bands and, playing all these summertime concerts in Long Beach for two years with Fred, we became good friends. Since then, I seem to run into him every five years or so. On the road, we cross paths at festivals, in the funniest places-we were both playing at this festival in the middle of Canada, we were staying on the same floor. A couple of years go by, I’m walking down the street in New York, and Fred’s running out of a restaurant, he’s got a napkin hanging out of his lap and everything, yelling ‘Hey, Poncho, Poncho!’ and I’m ‘Hey, Fred!’ So, when we decided to do this record, I called Fred. He said he’d love to do it. We brought in Pee Wee Ellis, too, and Maceo Parker wanted to play also, but he couldn’t make it because he was on tour in Europe when we were doing the recording. We had five horns, Fred, Pee Wee, plus Searafin, Francisco Torres on trombone and Scott Martin, who wrote a great song for the album called "JB’s Strut," on sax.

JazzReview: And you’ve got Ray Charles on "Mary Ann."

Poncho Sanchez: Brother Ray, that was unbelievable. We’d already recorded the album, (harmonica player) Dave Spalding had already recorded a vocal. We were listening to the masters and I mentioned to John Burk that "Mary Ann" was written by Ray Charles. He said ‘Oh, Ray just signed with Concord. Do you want me to ask him if I’d like to sing on your record?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Do I want Ray Charles on my record? Of course I do.’ So we call him up in LA I met Ray about twelve years ago at an airport, and we talked and he said he always loved Latin music, the mambo, cha-cha-cha and he said he’d be happy to do the record. So, we sent him the tape without the vocal and he recorded in the studio by himself, overdubbed his voice. We talked to his sound engineer beforehand and he said that’s how Ray likes to work, he sets everything up for Ray and then Ray comes in and does everything all alone. And, of course, when he sent it back to me, it sounded wonderful.

JazzReview: Another musician you worked with recently was James Moody at the last Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. I caught that set and really enjoyed it.

Poncho Sanchez: Thank you. It’s a blessing getting to work with these great cats, being able to get these great guests. And vice versa, you know, sometimes I’m the guest and I appreciate those opportunities, too. With James Moody, I was asked who I would like to have as a guest at the Bowl. I gave them some names, and James Moody was one and they said ‘We can make that happen.’ He has so much knowledge of the past, of the history of the music. He lives in San Diego, and it may work out that we get him on a future recording.

JazzReview: Well, that’s certainly something to look forward to. Poncho, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

Poncho Sanchez: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Poncho Sanchez
  • Interview Date: 11/1/2003
  • Subtitle: Out of Sight
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