Poncho Sanchez

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Do you hear the sound of some serious, percussion laced beats? How about the salsa stirring dance steps that is often orchestrated the minute you listen to one of the finest, legendary latin jazz cats in the game? We welcome the one & only Poncho Sanchez to the scene as he hangs out with Terrill & speaks on the recent Playboy Jazz Festival, his upcoming tours (including the Playboy Jazz Cruise -2009) & influences to his music & much more!!

(You may find the discography of Poncho Sanchez, available for purchase by visiting Amazon today!) 

TERRILL: The Urban Music Scene has with us today, one of the most legendary conga players, Latin jazz players that we consider of all time. We are privileged to have with us today the mighty Poncho Sanchez! What’s up Poncho?

PONCHO: Hey, how you doing, man?

TERRILL: I’m doing it man. I can’t do it no better than you.

PONCHO: Thank you man, pleasure to be with you today.

TERRILL: Hey, likewise man. How are you doing?

PONCHO: Real good, man. The band’s been very busy. Been working a whole lot last week. We were in a jazz festival in Jacksonville, Florida. We worked last night at USC, at the University. So we’ve been staying pretty busy. 

TERRILL: Oh cool. Then you got the big Playboy Jazz Festival coming up in June, man talk to us.

PONCHO: Oh yeah, well that’s always good. You know we’ve done it several times already in the last, oh I don’t know I’ve had the band almost been 30 years, you know. So we’ve done it a hand full of times. It’s always great, the Playboy Jazz Festival is together, you know what I mean?

TERRILL: Oh absolutely.

PONCHO: Its happening!

TERRILL: Absolutely man, and when you get out there, you’ve got a serious band too, brother.

PONCHO: Oh yeah, and this year, this time around we’re going to have Eddie Floyd as our guest, you know. And Eddie Floyd man, I grew up in the 60s and I was a big fan of Eddie Floyd, “Mr. Knock on Wood” himself, you know. And Bookie T and the MGs and all that stuff. All the music that came out of Memphis and Stax Records and it’s always an honor and pleasure to speak. And then of course to sing with Eddie Floyd. We’ve done a couple of dates where he has sang with us and of course he’s on the new CD – “Raise Your Hand,” which is an Eddie Floyd number and so it’s always a pleasure man.

TERRILL: How is “Raise Your Hand” doing?

PONCHO: Good, it’s doing good. It’s been out for a while, about nine months I think now and it’s doing pretty good. Eddie sang “Raise Your Hand” and “Knock on Wood” with me. We shared the lyrics. I also had another great singer from Puerto Rico: Andy Montañz sang a salsa number on there with us. And of course we had Booker T. Jones on organ and Steve Crawford – so it’s a nice little mixture of some Latin Soul, some salsa stuff and we also had Maceo Parker as a guest on there. We have some Latin jazz stuff with Maceo Parker on there too.

TERRILL: Oh wow! Then you guys are going to come and blow up the stage. 

PONCHO: Oh yes, absolutely! We’re going to have a good time.

TERRILL: Definitely blow up the stage. It’s something about how spicy you get on those congas, man, I mean really. What was your primary influence in getting into playing the congas like you do, as opposed to being serious about Latin music, Latin jazz?

PONCHO: Well . when I grew up – I’m the youngest of 11 kids so thank God all my brothers and sisters are doing really well. I’m the only musician out of 11 but, my older brothers and sisters were into the first wave of the mambo and the cha cha cha, that came from New York City to Los Angeles back in the late 50s and they got into that whole mambo, cha cha cha craze and started buying the Cal Tjader records and the Tito Puente Records. Tito Rodriguez and Machito and all that stuff. So I grew up listening to that music all my life and my favorite conga drummer, if I had to choose one, I would say is Mongo Santamaria. The late great Mongo Santamaria. I used to listen to the records, his records along with the records he recorded with Tito Puente. And with Cal Tjader. And I picked up more or less the style that Mongo played. I wanted to play like Mongo. And of course as I got a little bit older, I had the chance to go see Mongo. When I was in high school, I went to the world famous Light House in Hermosa Beach and would go watch Mongo’s band play when Mongo would come from New York City to Los Angeles. I would go sit in the front row and just stare at him. Well actually I was such a fan that I would get there about an hour before the band would even start and I would sit there and just stare at his conga drums for about an hour man. That’s how deep I was into it man. I wanted to be there early and I didn’t want to miss a thing. I would just sit there and look at his drum. I couldn’t touch them but I would just sit in front of the stage and stare them, you know what I mean? 

TERRILL: I know exactly what you mean.

PONCHO: And so, by the time he would come and walk out, it was almost too much when he started playing, you know. I’d get home and the next morning, I’d wake up and walk up to my mother’s garage and start trying to play what I’ve seen him do and trying to remember what he did on the drums – on the conga drums. I would say Mongo is my biggest influence. But as I got older, I started learning more about Ray Perez and the other guys – and started adapting some of their sounds or some of their styles to the way I was learning to play.

TERRILL: Well that’s cool man. And you know what’s good too, the influences you learned carries right into today’s young lions or lionesses for the Latin jazz genre. 

PONCHO: It sure does. Well, it’s exactly what I was doing man. Now the younger generation is watching me play and guys my age or whatever. People like Sancho Raul who plays around Los Angeles a lot and is a very good friend of mine. The great Giovanni is a great conga drummer. So all these conga drummers, the younger guys are checking up on, you know what I mean? 


TERRILL: Oh yes, absolutely. One of the other inspiring questions I wanted to ask was – is there anyone in particular for Latin jazz or jazz period that you’re feeling or diggin’ right now? Feeling the flow of their vibe or you think might be a successful artist?

PONCHO: Well, there’s a lot of young great players – I live of course in Los Angeles so there’s a lot of great cats in Los Angeles, as well as New York City and San Francisco. There’s some good young and upcoming conga drummers. But myself personally, I’m really still into the old style and the original recording of Motown and all these great guys I mentioned. As a matter of fact, I’m a collector. I have a huge collection of CDs, records, LP’s, DVDs and Videotapes. I like to collect the stuff from the past. The stuff, the early Cuban conga drummers from Cuba and people like that and a lot of the Rumba players that play in the streets of Cuba. So I’m still collecting and looking at that stuff and learning stuff off of those things myself personally. You never stop learning.

TERRILL: That’s right.

PONCHO: There’s a lot of young drummers coming up today and there’s even conga drummers from Europe, from the Netherlands, from England that are now also into Latin jazz. So for me it’s just great to see so many people opening up all over the world that really dig Latin jazz now. Because, I’ve been doing this so long, I remember when Latin jazz was not that popular. And now-a-days, I’m really proud to say I believe that Poncho Sanchez’s Latin jazz band has played a big part in the growth of Latin jazz all over the world, because we take it all over the world. As a matter of fact, this upcoming week, we’re leaving Monday to, we’re going to Finland. To play in Finland – two festivals in Finland, and then we’re going to play two nights also in Istanbul, Turkey. So, we travel the world all the time and so I know we’re definitely passing the word on as ‘Keepers of the Flame,’ so to speak. Or the Latin jazz messengers of the world. So I know we play an important part in growth of Latin jazz. It’s just great to see the younger generations and young lions so to speak coming up and really digging the music. 

TERRILL: Thats right. And I noticed that looking at your itinerary too, that not only are you flying all over the world but you’re also on some cruises.

PONCHO: Oh that’s going to be fun.

TERRILL: Oh yes, Miami – January the 2009.

PONCHO: Yes, it’s going to be the first Playboy Jazz cruise. It’s the first one they’ve ever done.

TERRILL: That’s right.

PONCHO: So we’re excited about that. We’re going to do about a week on the ship with a bunch of other great artists. Herbie Hancock is going to be on it, Roy Hargrove is going to be on it. Arturo Sandoval….it’s going to be fun man.

TERRILL: Its going to be serious too. It’s hosted by Marcus Miller, so you know he’s gonna interject some musical flow.

PONCHO: Well, Marcus has it going on man.

TERRILL: Yes, yes! Marcus is something else man. I know it’s going to be one big happy family going on over there. Looks like I’m going to have to make some reservations.

PONCHO: There you go, there you go.

TERRILL: But I got to make sure I come by and see you guys at the Playboy first.

PONCHO: That’s right. Yes, that’s coming up first. We’re really excited about it and it’s going to be a great day. I think we’re on, I believe Saturday and we’re on also the same day with Tower of Power and I think Dr. John is on that day so it’s going to be a great variety of music. Latin music, Latin jazz, a little salsa, funk music, New Orleans music, I mean it’s going to be great.

TERRILL: You guys are going to be dancing back into the Old School, you know that’s where it’s at.

PONCHO: Oh yeah!

TERRILL: That’s where it’s at. It looks like that flavor is coming back too, I mean with a lot of the Old School groups coming back – Tower of Power, for one, you know that fan base is so serious. But then again with your music, it has transcended over a long period of time, Poncho. I’m extremely, I’m very happy for you! I’m lost for words to say that I’m just happy to be on the phone with you, because I’ve been one of your biggest admirers for Latin jazz over the years. I have all your music. I’ve seen you live so many times, I can’t count. 


PONCHO: I’ve had the band for gee almost 30 years now and that’s my own band because of course, before I started my own band, I was with the late great Cal Tjader for so many years. I was with Cal Tjader for seven-and-a-half years and I won a Grammy with him way back in 1980. We won the Latin Grammy with Cal Tjader and now of course I won the Grammy myself with my own group and been nominated five different times for Grammys. So we’ve been doing this for a little while. 

TERRILL: Uh huh, just a little while. (laughter)

PONCHO: (laughter) It’s been a lot of fun and I’m still having fun. You know what’s great about it? Is that the young guys in my band – they keep me going. I see myself when I was their age and young. They’re full of fire and they want to travel and they want to play. And so they keep me young man. They keep me wanting to stay on my toes, you know what I mean?

TERRILL: Oh, yes. Absolutely, and that’s what you need. They already, those guys are totally excited. I think it’s more than just the traveling. It’s just knowing that they’re in the band, they’re in Poncho Sanchez’s band!

PONCHO: You know, I got a great group with me. Most of the guys have been with me for a while and there’s a couple of new guys. I guess Rob Blake on trumpet has been with us for about a year-and-a-half, he’s the new guy in the band. Joey De Leon is playing congos now in the band. He’s been with the band for about a year. So these are a couple of the new guys. I still got Tony Banda, who’s the original bass player in the band for almost 30 years now. David Torres, musical director on piano and organ. Francisco Torres on trombone, who’s been with me for about 12 years now & one of our arrangers in the band. So yes, I got a lot with me and we like to mix it up man. We like to do authentic Latin jazz; we like to do some hot salsa. And now we’re also doing – we have incorporated some Latin soul sound. And therefore that’s why we’re inviting Eddie Floyd to sing with us on that day.

TERRILL: Oh man, that’s going to be awesome. That’s going to be hot! I look forward to seeing you brother when the concert’s on!

PONCHO: Oh for sure.

TERRILL: You know how we do it.

PONCHO: Yes, that’s right!

TERRILL: Don’t forget now, I remember when you turned out the 2007 Long Beach Jazz Festival.

PONCHO: Oh man, we’ve been doing that festival for years. I’ve known Al Williams from day one when I started this band. Al Williams, of course, is the founder of the Long Beach Jazz Festival and I’ve been, I think we only missed one Long Beach Jazz Festival because we were in Japan or something. We were out of the country so we couldn’t do it. But I’ve been doing that one for years also and Al Williams is the guy that gave the Poncho Sanchez Jazz Band our first gig at the old Jazz Safari in Long Beach. Yes, it used to be right near the Queen Mary and that was almost 30 years ago. I’ve known Al Williams that long.

TERRILL: That’s history man. He’s keeping you on the template, keeping you on the table. Man I know his Long Beach Jazz Festival 2009, I’m sure, is going to be coming up.

PONCHO: Yes, every year. We’re on the roster for this year. We’re real excited about this Playboy Jazz Festival, always exciting to play at the Hollywood Bowl.

TERRILL: Oh man. Tell me about it, the serenity, open air. You know, people vibing, and year in year out man, Playboy Hollywood Bowl got it going on.

PONCHO: Absolutely.

TERRILL: Well bro, I pray for you to have a blessed time there and I hope the best on behalf of the crew at The Urban Music Scene. We’re very thankful for you to come and spend some quality time with us. We look forward to a part two. Do you want to do a part two down the line?

PONCHO: Sure, absolutely man.

TERRILL: All right my brother, God bless.

PONCHO: Let me know, brother, let me know.