Although born in Laredo, Texas, in 1951 to a large Mexican-American family, Poncho Sanchez grew up in a suburb of L.A., where he was raised on an unusual cross section of sounds that included straightahead jazz, Latin jazz and American soul. By his teen years, his musical consciousness had been solidified by the likes of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Wilson Pickett and James Brown. Along the way, he taught himself to play guitar, flute, drums and timbales, but eventually settled on the congas.
At 24, after working his way around the local club scene for several years, he landed a permanent spot in Cal Tjader’s band in 1975. “I learned a great deal from Cal,” says Sanchez, “but it wasn’t as though he sat me down and taught me lessons like a schoolteacher. Mostly it was just a matter of being around such a great guy. It was the way he conducted himself, the way he talked to people, the way he presented himself onstage. He was very elegant, very dignified, and when he played, he played beautifully. The touch that he had on the vibes – nobody has that sound. To me, he was – and is, and always will be – the world’s greatest vibe player.”
Sanchez remained with Tjader until the bandleader’s death in 1982. That same year, he signed with Concord for the release of Sonando!, an album that marked the beginning of a prolific musical partnership that has spanned more than 25 years and with the September 2011 release of Chany y Dizzy!, 25 albums!
Whether it’s salsa, straightahead jazz, Latin jazz, or even elements of soul and blues, the mesmerizing array of sounds and colors from Poncho Sanchez’s youth have telegraphed across the decades and continue to inform his creative sensibilities to this day. “There’s room for a lot of different sounds in our music,” he says. “I think people have come to know that that’s what Poncho Sanchez is all about. We put it all together in a pot, boil it together and come out with a big stew. This isn’t some marketing strategy to sell records. These are the sounds I grew up with. So when I play this music, I’m not telling a lie. I’m telling my story. This is the real thing.”