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Latin music scene in California

Notes From The West

by Alfredo "Latin Jazz" Cruz

Contrary to popular misconception, I've found that there are, indeed, some very interesting musical happenings out here in southern California. Having spent the last five and-a-half years in the (Latin) jazz capital of the world (NYC), I was naturally a bit skeptical about what I might find once I decided to move out here. In the short time I've been here, however, I've discovered quite an active and healthy scene. It ain't New York, but it definitely ain't Timbucktoo, and it's a lot warmer.

Radio, unfortunately, leaves something to be desired. There was a huge pile-up on the 710 the other day. It was reported that several motorists fell asleep at the wheel while listening to the local jazz station. Thank God that Jose Rizo is here with his "On The Latin Side" Friday nights from 8-11 on KLON/88.1. Too bad he's only on once a week. The lovely Nina Lenart, Alan Geik, and the rest of the folks at Alma del Barrio, KXLU/88.9 do Latin programming all weekend long. This is good. My other buddy, Raul Rico, just got a Latin jazz program (Jazz Latino) on a station in Thousand Oaks, KCLU/88.3 FM) (why does that frequency sound familiar?). He's on Thursday nights from 8 'til midnight. Of course, Hector Resendez continues his community affairs oriented salsa program Friday nights on KPFK/90.7 FM. Hey you guys, any room for me? I hear KCRW/Santa Monica and KPCC/Pasadena are ripe — maybe I'll try them.

First person I checked in with was Poncho Sanchez. He plays a lot in the area when he's not on the road. El conguero is real excited about going into the studio early in '95 to record his next Concord release. It's going to be a tribute to his mentor, Cal Tjader. On vibes will be fellow Tjader enthusiast Ruben Estrada of the Estrada Brothers. Poncho's also invited his maestro Mongo Santamaria and, El Rey, Tito Puente to be in on the sessions. Can't wait to hear this one, it should be really nice!

Violinist Susie Hansen (Solo Flight) sounds especially good playing with her "horn" group, and kept the Baked Potato warm with her charanga and jazz groove Monday nights in December. Fantasy Records is on-again with their off and on courtship of her. What's the problem? Go for it guys. Todd Barken and I will produce it...if that's o-kay with Susie. At the "other" Baked Potato, Mexican (TJ) bassist/vocalist (this vato can sing!) Marcos Mendoza led a power trio of drummer Joey Heredia, and pianist Renaldo Nato through some very serious R&B, jazz, Brazilian and funk. Woof! Don't know if he's got a record deal yet, but if he doesn't - he should, and when he out!

Called Juan Carlos Quintero (JCQ & Through the Winds) the other day just to say hi — turns out it was his birthday! Happy double digits dude! This killer guitarist is a great live performer, and no slouch in the studio either. He's doing lots of session work and is also the west coast rep for LP (Latin Percussion). JCQ and LP brought Cuban percussion master Changuito out West to do interviews, perform and give workshops and classes. Response was overwhelming, SRO — everybody wanted in. Wonder how Andy Garcia's private lesson went? Look for a new JCQ project sometime in '95.

One of the scariest cats out here is trumpeter Tony Lujan ("Zulu"), also one of the nicest! Lujan and the recently transplanted Charlie Sepulveda are buds and are sharing their expertise with each other. Charlie's got a nice group and seems to be adjusting well to the west coast. Tony and fellow Angelino (now NYer), trombonist Luis Bonilla (Pasos Giganites) just put the finishing touches on Louie's next release. Recorded in NY, this is a real east-west collaboration with sophisticated arrangements by LA's George Stone and Bonilla, combined with the intense - cutting edge New York arranging and playing of pianist Héctor Martignon, and trombonist William Cepeda. This is the crew with a five-piece brass ensemble (with a French horn), and a vicious, locked-down Latin rhythm section. They nail everything from guaguanco to samba to funk. Expect to hear this sometime in the spring. By the by, the Lujan twins have just been confirmed and are expected in mid '95. Congrats! With these two and my new girlfriend, 3 year-old Tiana on piano, Lujan's got the makings of his very own, built-in rhythm section...for life!

That's what's happening out here for now, and I've only hung out twice! 'Til next time, keep that sun block handy, and don't forget to take long pants and a sweater to the might need 'em!

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