One of the most appealing Latin Jazz/Pop crossover artists was vibraphonist Cal Tjader (chay-der).
His parents were vaudeville performers, and young Cal became an accomplished tap dancer, drummer and pianist as a child.
Tjader met pianist Dave Brubeck at San Francisco State College, and played drums in several groups with Brubeck before moving on to work with pianist George Shearing. He taught himself vibraphone and developed an active interest in Latin percussion.
Just in time for the US mambo craze, he formed the Cal Tjader Modern Mambo Quintet. Unlike other artists, he didn’t treat Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms as a gimmick or a fad. Cal had a deep appreciation and respect for Latin music and musicians.
Tjader’s recordings in the late 1950s with percussionists Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria took his fans beyond mambo. Their remake of a Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo tune called Guachi Guara, later called Soul Sauce was a pop music hit. His 1960s collaborations with pianist Eddie Palmieri are a showcase of multi-layered, innovative Latin Jazz compositions.
Award-winning conguero and bandleader Poncho Sánchez worked with Tjader in the 1970s, and refers to Cal as his “musical father,” both for his musicianship and his professionalism.
You’ll see a young Poncho Sanchez and pianist Clare Fischer (another Anglo who had a deep love for Latin music) with Cal Tjader in the video below:
Listen for Cal Tjader on Jazz Caliente, Thursdays at 2pm on KPLU’s Mid Day Jazz.