With more than two decades as one of the busiest and most successful Latin jazz bandleaders in the world, PONCHO SANCHEZ has become one of the idiom’s most important practitioners. The bearded, jovial conguero and the members of his veteran octet are today living symbols of this tradition.
Born in Laredo, Texas, but raised in Southern California, Poncho Sanchez was the youngest of 11 children. Thanks to his sisters’ extensive record collection and his exposure to Lionel “Chico” Sesma’s Latin radio program, Poncho fell in love with the Afro-Cuban Latin jazz pioneered half a century ago by such legendary musicians as Machito, Tito Puente, and Tito Rodriguez.
He learned the intricacies of Afro-Cuban drumming by attending weekly percussion jams at L.A.’s Griffith Park and earned the respect of the city’s resident Cuban and Puerto Rican congueros along the way.
Then came the most fruitful association of his professional career: playing for seven years with vibraphonist Cal Tjader, whom Sanchez credits with teaching him both the technical and human aspects of making music. Next to his bedrock style of Latin jazz, the sound that has had the greatest influence on Poncho Sanchez is the funky brand of soul music that was the rage in the 1960s. In recent years, his releases increasingly have showcased this side of Sanchez’s musical personality.
His latest release, Poncho at Montreux, represents the kind of tradition-rooted Latin jazz that has earned him several Grammy nominations, critical acclaim, and the admiration of his peers.