(Ed. Note: More this week on West Coast versions of the quintessential ‘60s Spanish Harlem musical phenomenon, the boogaloo, that fusion of black R&B; aesthetic with Latin rhythms and orchestration. Broadly speaking, the boogaloo’s West Coast cousins tended to be a lot jazzier and more relaxed, a Pacific balm to El Barrio’s Nuyorian grit.
1. Ricardo Luna and The Latin Jazz Quintet, Strolling the Cha Cha (Blue-Rubi)
The chugging Afro-Latin rhythms, the R&B; sensibilities, the dancefloor mojo: don’t let the title’s “cha cha” reference throw you, this is pure boogaloo. This is pure boogaloo with, of course, that infusion of jazziness so prevalent among the West Coast Latin groups. More time is given over to instrumental solos, more time to general breeziness. Even that rarest of exotic Pacific birds, the jazz flute, gets some precious seconds here.
This, I believe, is Ricardo Luna of los Hermanos Luna, an obscure and jazzy Los Angeles-based Latin combo that pianist Ricardo led with his brother. Along with a few 45s on Revolvo Records, the brothers Luna issued one LP (Bailando a lo Latino) on Discos Corona Records in the ‘60s.
The vocal chorus of “Strolling the Cha Cha” refers obliquely to the Diamonds’ “The Stroll.” No one knew that a cha cha could be strolled until this 45. As “Strolling the Cha Cha” probably sold in exclusive – that is to say, negligible – quantity, no one would really think much of that possibility after this 45, either.
“Strolling the Cha Cha” was likely recorded around 1967.
2. Harold Johnson Sextet, Sorry ‘Bout That – Part I (HME)
Probably the best known of this week’s artists – which really isn’t saying that much – the Harold Johnson Sextet was a young Los Angeles combo that existed for three albums of hip, late ‘60s instrumental soul jazz and Latin modes. Harold Johnson, a pianist who grew up playing in his father’s church, first formed his sextet in the mid-‘60s; the Sextet’s first record, this selection, would be released while Johnson was still a senior at Los Angeles’s Washington High School in 1967. Succeeding full-length releases would feature an ever-shifting roster, always revolving, however, around Harold Johnson.
By the early ‘70s the popular vogue for modish combo jazz had basically dissolved, and so had the Harold Johnson Sextet. A series of unsubstantiated connections suggests that this is the same Harold Johnson who later played keyboards on, among other mainstream R&B; sessions, numerous Motown recordings during the label’s ‘70s Los Angeles years. These connections suggest, too, that this is the same Harold Johnson who has recently played organ behind expatriate black gospel diva Liz McComb.
Lo, from a primordial soup of emails, inference and unsubstantiated speculation an Office Naps post is born.
3. Harold Johnson Sextet, Sorry ‘Bout That – Part II (HME)
Addressing the boogaloo fad, the Harold Johnson Sextet’s “Sorry ‘Bout That” is a revealing demonstration, West Coast-style, of the whole phenomenon. “Sorry ‘Bout That” is an understated instrumental, more Latin jazz than torrid El Barrio fare, more polyglot stew of jazz musicians and Latin percussionists than Puerto Rican anthem. It doesn’t so much invite one to dance as it invites one to have a seat, relax.
Run by local record impresario Harry Mitchell, HME Records was a tiny label that was home to a few interesting Latin-ish releases, including Reggie Andrews and the Fellowship’s Mystic Beauty and Harold Johnson’s first full-length, House on Elm Street.
The musicians of “Sorry ‘Bout That” (a song which only appeared on 45) probably reflect, in some form, the personnel of House on Elm Street: David Crawford (flute), Billy Jackson (conga), Jimmy Nash (bass), Mike Shaw (tenor sax), Alfred Patterson (alto sax), Eddie Synigal (alto sax), Ronald Rutledge (drums) and Harold Johnson (piano).
4. Tony Done’s Hollywood Quintet, Micaela (Vance)
Recorded around 1967, Tony Done’s “Micaela” is a spare reading of a minor Latin hit for New York City bandleader Pete Rodriguez.
The mysterious Tony Done’s Hollywood Quintet’s repertoire, if this EP is any indication, was based in guaguanco, bolero, mambo, son montuno and boogaloo – styles familiar to any late ‘60s working New York Latin combo, styles which would have made his combo both anomaly and perfect fit in Hollywood’s after-hours club playgrounds.
“Micaela” is not only the most obscure of three obscure selections this week, it’s also the most representative of Spanish Harlem-born boogaloo. What else can one say, though? The legacy of Tony Done’s Hollywood Quintet leaves us with precious little save a four-song EP and that familiar sense of Office Naps mystery.