West Coast Latin jazz

Three different Latin jazz combos this week. They sprang from the fascinating Latin jazz world of ’50s and ’60s California (the Bay Area and Los Angeles, in this case).

These were diffuse scenes. They drew their devotees from the Mexican-American and African-American communities, from the jazz musicians who’d already themselves established in California (the Cal Tjaders, Al McKibbons, Clare Fischers, et al.), and from a handful of Cubans and Puerto Ricans.

Due in part to its smaller scale, it was the versatile five- or six-piece jazz combos – rather than larger orquestas like New York City’s – which reigned on the West Coast. And it was the vibraphone, with its capacity to fill a room with shimmering, exotic sound, that was accorded such a predominant place in some of California’s more popular working jazz groups of the era, quintets like Bobby Montez’s and Cal Tjader’s, and, later, the Harold Johnson Sextet and the Afro Blues Quintet.

1. Manny Duran and His Sextet, Johnny Comes Marching Home Mambo (Cavalier)
It’s lovely to hear Duran and company deconstructing a patriotic warhorse like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” with such wild inventiveness.

Manny Duran was pianist who played in the 1950s Bay Area with other simpatico Latin jazzbos like Cal Tjader and Armando Peraza. He’s heard here along with his brothers Carlos (bass) and Eddie (guitar), percussionist Benny Velarde (see next selection), and Cliff Anderson and Bevan Brahms on vibes and percussion.

This was likely recorded around 1959 or 1960. Cavalier was small California label with a odd discography of ’50s and early ’60s pop, country and teenage-type rock ‘n’ roll 45s.

2. Cool Benny (Velarde) and His Stone Swingers, Wobble Cha (Virgo)
Benny Velarde was one of the cadre of great West Coast Latin percussionists which included Francisco Aguabella, Moises Oblagacion, Armando Peraza, and, briefly, Mongo Santamaria – a cadre which dominated their Pacific corner of the jazz universe in the ’50s and ’60s (albeit mostly in a supporting role).

The wobble was one of about a million dance crazes in the early to mid-’60s. The wobble could tenuously claim some Latin forbears, too, with some ’60s New York City Latin groups – Joe Cuba’s and Joe Quijano’s come to mind – performing twist-cum-chas in a style known as “wobble.” No word on whether that’s actually Velarde heard here enthusiastically offering his encouragement with those exhortations, though.

3. Tony Martinez Quintet, Ican (RCA)
Tony Martinez was a bandleader and vibraphonist whose names pops up occasionally in the context of Los Angeles Latin music.

On this early Latin jazz recording (ca. ‘54), Martinez leads his razor-sharp quintet through a classic Eddie Cano composition, with the great Cano himself handling piano duties. “Ican” is the template for the dark, exotic strain of Latin jazz that found favor in post-War California nightclubs (see also Roscoe Weathers) – both Cano and Martinez whip through their parts with the kind of crazed, infernal energy that must have spooked the bourbon ‘n’ pineapple crew down at PJ’s.

“Ican” was later covered with characteristic elan by conguero Poncho Sanchez (who’s kept the spirit of West Coast Latin jazz alive in recent decades) on his Bien Sabroso album.

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14 Responses to West Coast Latin jazz

  1. Blanca says:

    Cal Tjader is Mexican? Cool!

  2. Sorry to disappoint you, Blanca, but that’s just my weird, misleading wording. Cal was a white-boy (and one of the “established jazz musicians”). I told you this one needed revising!

  3. Blanca says:

    Damn. I was hoping Cal was short for Cal “Caliente” Tjader. How perfect would that be?

  4. It would have been perfect alright. A little *too* perfect, if you know what I mean. Sort of like calling yourself “Sting,” for instance. Or “The Edge.”

  5. Anonymous says:

    what i really dig about the manny duran cut is the guitar weaving in and out of it – sort of holds it together by a twangy thread

    slow poke morales

  6. XENOPHANIS says:

    The Cool Benny track is probably the best tune heard in the year 2006.Respect for the find my friend.Thanks

  7. Thanks! Believe me, I nearly broke down and wept when I found Wobble-Cha. Benny & crew transcend hip.

  8. Anonymous says:

    question? did the tony martinez quintet produce an album.

  9. I don’t think so, unfortunately; he’s credited on a GNP album from the late ’50s called “Eddie Cano & Jack Costanzo w/Tony Martinez and His Orchestra.” It’s great Latin mambo but it’s difficult to discern what Martinez’s role in it was, exactly. I have 3 or 4 45s by him on RCA (and one on GNP), they’re fantastic Latin / Mambo jazz but I’m thinking that it’s all he recorded under his own name, alas. He’s a bit of a mystery.

  10. TomSchober says:

    I’ve been trying hard to find a CD with a good version of Ican, but thus far have only found one that’s not great.

    I’d like to get my hands on an original 45. Any suggestions on how?? I live in Orlando. Not many old vinyl shops around.

  11. Dustin says:

    re: Tony Martinez Sextet. I understand that he had a lot of his recordings stolen from him, he didn’t even know about it. The most famous example of a bootleg I know if is titled CUBANGA with TEODORO MORALES and his TORRID CUBANGA DANCES on an obscure label ‘ TREASURE ‘. They even dont give the songs any titles on this lp just call them MAMBO, MERENGUE, CHA CHA etc etc.. but there is an amazing version of ICAN on this record with vibes and trombones.. definatley worth to buy.

    Just wanted to also say Danny you have a nice blog brother. Keep up the great work and those blessing the world with those rare finds. I also enjoy to dig. Hope it’s ok If I link you on my site.

    Best wishes from Norway

    Dustin Anthony (Dj Duste)


  12. Zeno says:

    What a cool blog, this. I am thinking that the mystery trombone player on those latin jazz tracks from “Torrid Cubanga Dances” might be Joao Donato. Although mostly known as a pianist he did later record trombone with Eddie Palmieri’s La Perfecta. The tune “Ican” and the presence of vibes suggests that the group, although not really credited on this bootleg LP, was probably Tony Martinez who, as pointed out here, did make that other 45rpm of Cano’s great tune “Ican”. Anyone ever hear of “Teodoro Morales”? I suspect it is a made up name to market these uncredited tracks, much like the name “Jose Madeira” which was used to market the uncredited tracks by the pianist Ray Davila on Masterseal (“Havana…2 A.M.”). BTW, Tony Martizez also has a couple of tracks on the classical collectible LP “Mambo For Cats” on RCA, collectible because of the Jim Flora cover. Don’t you hate it when you have to complete with cover collectors in order to get the music! The Cubanga LP is collected by “cheesecake” cover collectors, for example. The consummate version of “Ican” is on the GNP album “Mucho Piano” and later reissued as “A Taste Of Cano” and may even be reissued on CD for all I know. It is one of Eddie Cano’s greatest albums. I could go on….but….

    Zeno Okeanos

  13. Tommy says:

    After much searching on every available online outlet, I haven't found a version of Ican as smooth as this one. I'm desperately searching for the original 45 so I can have it remastered. Suggestions??

  14. Paul says:

    Thanks for this Little Danny – I just came across Wabble Cha after litrerally playing the tune for my mother on this site. Do you know of any OTHER Benny Velarde 45s from the period?

    Also, the flip from Tabu would be worth posting – slightly more laid back version of “Johnny Comes Marching Home”. Killer stuff on here man!

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