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Feel the beat

Fri., Nov. 9, 2007

Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band, guest artists for the Spokane Symphony SuperPops concert on Saturday, are widely considered one of the most popular Latin jazz bands in the world.

Yet Sanchez’s music, like the man himself, is truly all-American.

Sanchez was born in Texas into a large Mexican-American family and raised in California. He grew up listening to James Brown and Tower of Power as well as Mongo Santamaria and Tito Puente, his most direct Latin-jazz forebears.

So when we say all-American, we mean all-North, South and Central American.

We also mean he has incorporated all kinds of American styles into his music, including rhythm & blues, funk and Motown. His latest CD, “Raise Your Hand,” includes the Stax record classics “Knock on Wood” and the title song.

In a 2004 interview with The Spokesman-Review, Sanchez said that he got his first taste for performing when he was in seventh grade in California, at an audition for a band that needed a singer.

“So I jumped up and did my best James Brown imitation – and cats loved it,” he said. “I learned how to be a frontman and lead singer right there on the spot.”

Sanchez soon found himself captured by another American great musical invention – jazz – that had acquired a proudly Latin accent.

His musical tastes, and his conga-playing in particular, were profoundly influenced by Santamaria, the great Cuban conga titan, and Puente, the longtime “king” of Latin jazz.

“I loved Mongo and Tito so much I named my two sons after them,” Sanchez said in 2004.

At age 23, he joined Cal Tjader’s Latin-jazz outfit. He stayed until Tjader died in 1982, then went off on his own.

Sanchez has been recording on the Concord label ever since. He has become renowned for mixing salsa, Cuban music, bebop, R&B, soul and Latin jazz together in one spicy stew.

His latest album continues that tradition, with a cover of the Jr. Walker and the All-Stars hit “Shotgun,” followed by the Cuban song “¿Dónde Va Chichi?”

The first half of Saturday’s concert will feature the symphony, conducted by associate conductor Morihiko Nakahara, in a program of Latin-tinged pieces including “Malagueña.”

The symphony will then back Sanchez and his band in the second half of the concert.

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