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Cal Tjader: 'Monterey Concerts'

The cover of Monterey Concerts


MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: Hello, I'm Murray Horwitz, and that is the sound of small group Latin jazz. In fact, some would say, that is the definitive sound of small group Latin jazz. The music is from vibraphonist Cal Tjader in 1959. The CD is called Monterey Concerts and it's going into the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library today for a couple of reasons.

First of all, there's the quintet itself. The percussionists were Mongo Santamaria on congas and bongos, and the underrated Willie Bobo on timbales and trap drums. They play with all the discipline that Afro-Cuban drumming requires, and yet, they play with a looseness that allows them to almost read each others minds. Listen to Willie Bobo accompanying Mongo Santamaria's solo on "Tu Crees Que?"


HORWTIZ: How did Cal Tjader, who was a Swedish-American, become an icon of Afro-Cuban jazz? Two words: Al McKibbon. Bassist Al McKibbon learned about Cuban music from the source, the legendary percussionist Chano Pozo. He was in the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's band when Chano Pozo and Dizzy first met and played together. He took Cal Tjader to the hippest Latin clubs in New York, and the rest is musical history. On this disc, he lays into Dizzy's "A Night in Tunisia" with a deep Latin groove, but swinging all the way. He bridges the two styles beautifully.


HORWITZ: Another reason why this recording is classic, is that it is — can I say this? — bilingual. Of the 13 tracks, five are Latin and the others are straight-ahead swing. You know, Cal Tjader was first inspired by the great Lionel Hampton, and he's got a great swing, rhythm-section with the pianist Lonnie Hewitt that handles the intricate Latin parts like they've been doing it all their lives.


HORWITZ: The CD is called Monterey Concerts by Cal Tjader and it's on the Fantasy label. For NPR Jazz. I'm Murray Horwitz.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Murray Horwitz
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