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.