© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
For many years, newspaper columnist Ralph J. Gleason [San Francisco Chronicle], radio disc jockey and impresario Jimmy Lyons, newspaper columnist Philip Elwood [San Francisco Examiner] and Jazz educator and writer Grover Sales, provided a running commentary on the San Francisco Jazz scene.
All were particularly devoted to those musicians who based themselves in that lovely city with special emphasis on Dave Brubeck [even after he left to take up residence in Wilton, CT], Cal Tjader and Vince Guaraldi.
And all were very proud of their association with the Monterey Jazz Festival, which Jimmy Lyons and Ralph co-founded in 1958 and which has been held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds on the third weekend in September for much of its storied existence.
Today, Jazz Festivals are so universal that it is difficult to remember how novel they were when first established at Newport, RI and Monterey, CA in the 1950s.
The standard Jazz environment of the time, aside from occasional forays into philharmonic halls and auditoriums, was usually a nightclub in the seedier part of town. Booze and blues went hand-in-hand.
I was fortunate to be able attend both the Newport and the Monterey Jazz Festivals quite early in their existence.
As you would imagine, Cal Tjader the San Francisco-based vibraphonist and percussionist made numerous appearances at the Monterey Jazz Festival where he received a kind of “local-boy-makes-good” welcome from the fans.
I particularly enjoyed Cal’s appearance at the 1959 MJF because he added flutist and reedman Paul Horn to his standard quartet and also brought along conguero Mongo Santamaria. Like Cal and pianist Lonnie Hewitt, Paul was a great straight-ahead player and his flute lent an added “voice” [dimension] to the Latin Jazz numbers.
Here’s a more detailed look at Cal Tjader’s Monterey Concert [Prestige PR 24026], one of the earliest recordings associated with the Monterey Jazz Festival which as Phil Elwood explains was not actually recorded at the MJF, but which had a lot to do with ensuring the success of later festivals.
By way of background, “Phil Elwood blazed a trail with his jazz shows on FM radio, primarily KPFA in Berkeley, from 1952 to 1996 and was a respected critic for the San Francisco Examiner from 1965 to 2002. He died of heart failure on January 10, 2006, just two months shy of his 80th birthday.” [S. Duncan Reid, Cal Tjader: The Life and Recordings of The Man Who Revolutionized Latin Jazz, p.43].
© - Concord Music Group; used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“The Monterey Festivals have been a basic annual part of the jazz scene for so many years that it isn't easy to recall that way back in 1958 they got off to a rocky, money-losing start. Then came this [April 20, 1959] "preview" concert by Tjader prior to the '59 Festival; it was hugely successful, and another permanent jazz institution was launched! This package presents the concert in its entirety.
Standing still as an artist in a readily defined field is a lot easier than to shift, drift, and change one's image. Look around pop music and jazz—there are plenty of petrified performers still going through the same old thing for their same stagnant audience.
In popular music of all kinds categorization and definition have long been tools of dedicated enthusiasts as well as casual fans and the musicians themselves. Terms like the "swing era", "traditional jazz", and "cool", and the artists identified with such classifications, are assumed in jazz studies.
But when a boat-rocking jazzman like Cal Tjader comes along, all kinds of established attitudes are jumbled. Cal's music has never remained stationary long enough to be permanently defined—or to have petrified.
It's best termed just Tjader jazz.
Back in the 1948-1951 period when Callen Tjader, Jr., was teamed with pianist David Brubeck he might have been identifiable as a jazz drummer. But even then, Cal was doubling on vibraharp and coming up with some highly individualistic rhythmic material, both in the Brubeck trio and in the experimental Octet in which Brubeck, Tjader, Bill Smith, Paul Desmond and others participated.
Tjader recorded in 1949 with a full drum set, plus bongos, and conga. Yet in 1953 he was quoted as saying, "I am not an innovator, I am not a pathfinder—I am a participator."
That, of course, was a ridiculously (though typically) modest comment. What
Tjader really should have admitted was that he has remarkably good ears, and instrumental talent to make use of what he hears. When he is a "participator" it means that he is playing, and Tjader's playing for 25 years has been opening up his listeners' ears to all kinds of new musical worlds.
When Tjader made that remark, in '53, he was exactly at the point in his career that Latin music was becoming his dominant expression. He had joined George Shearing's quintet, where he stayed for 18 months, and was discovering all kinds of Latin music cul de sacs around the nation (which Shearing toured regularly), especially in the East Coast cities.
Interestingly enough it was during the same period that Shearing, too, made a noticeable shift into Latin material, and, like Tjader, explored the possibilities for harmonic and melodic adventure that Latin music could provide.
The prime source for both Shearing's and Tjader's Latin-kicks was the giant string bassist, Al McKibbon, who was playing with Shearing at the time and is with Tjader on the two 1959 concert LPs in this set.
There was little in the stiff and self-conscious rhythms of most 1950 "bop" that had the swing and freedom that Latin rhythms offered. And whereas the jazz of the '50s moved increasingly away from the dance scene (and thus, that "participation" that Tjader finds so important), the Latin music world assumes dance-participation.
Tjader and McKibbon toured the Spanish Harlem music scene whenever the Shearing band got near New York, and the more he heard, the more Tjader liked.
The work of Machito and Tito Puente especially intrigued him. And, typically, he plunged into this "new" musical world with energy, persistence . . . and participation.
Tjader, McKibbon and guitarist Toots Thielemans (who doubled on harmonica) developed some fantastic rhythmic patterns within the Shearing group and contributed immeasurably toward Shearing's own emergence as an "Afro-Cuban" jazz interpreter.
While around New York in 1954 Tjader recorded his first Latin-jazz sides, for Fantasy, including conga performer Armando Peraza in the personnel; in that same March week, in '54, Tjader also recorded a number of jazz and pop standards, using Peraza and/or Roy Haynes or Kenny Clarke as percussionist. He was already making his musical category rather difficult to identify.
When Tjader left Shearing and returned to his San Francisco Bay Area home (a house boat at that point), Tjader's future musical direction was discernible. Before the end of 1954 he had hired pianist Manuel Durand and his brother Carlos, on string bass, as well as conga performer Benny Velarde and bongoist Edgar Resales (all from the S.F. Latin music community) and was appearing as "Cal Tjader and his Modern Mambo Quintet."
Within a year or two Tjader's name was well known in California and his earliest Fantasy "Mambo-jazz" records were spreading the word, and sounds, nationally.
Some people were even beginning to pronounce his name correctly.
An eastern tour in 1956 was something less than spectacular but it did get Tjader into Manhattan, where his mambo jazz was booked opposite Dizzy Gillespie's big band for a couple of weeks at Birdland. And Tjader also laid the groundwork for future New York engagements for his combo in various Spanish Harlem dance halls.
"None of the country was ready for Latin-jazz", Tjader commented, recalling that tour, "except parts of California and the big eastern cities."
Returning to the San Francisco area late in 1956, Tjader established some kind of a record by producing nearly two dozen Fantasy LPs in a four year period, and identifying himself nationally as the leader in Latin-jazz expression.
In the midst of that awesome four year output the Monterey Jazz Festival's managing director, Jimmy Lyons, brought Tjader's group to Carmel's Sunset school auditorium on April 20, 1959, to give what was called a "Jazz Festival Preview." Actually the performance was designed to get some local interest going for the big September event (the first Monterey Jazz Festival, the fall before, had suffered financially) and also to work out some concert-production difficulties with the same crew that would handle the Festival.
The complete concert from that April night in '59 comprises the music of this pair of Prestige discs.
That period at the end of the 1950s was a particularly important one for the larger jazz scene—from which Cal Tjader can also not be separated. Jazz festivals were burgeoning jazz clubs were in greater abundance than at any other time (before or since) and, although none of us was quite sure of it, the end of the most significant of all jazz eras was not far off. Basic blues-rock rhythms in pop music were arriving fast, ready to capture the public's fancy and swamp the free-blown sounds of the 1960's avant garde "jazz".
Cal Tjader has always been frank in his observations and thoroughly professional in his attitudes toward music and in structuring his presentations. Looking over the selections from the 1959 Monterey peninsula performance one is struck by their variety.
A handful of ballads—mellow, standard, material. Tjader loves pretty music—over the years I cannot think of a musician friend who gets more turned-on by the beauty of some popular ballads.
On the concert he also included three bop-oriented themes ("Doxie", "Midnight", "Tunisia"), a couple of swinging originals and some Latin-inspired specialties.
This is the Tjader approach and it is the reason for his continuing popularity, regardless of the current rages in pop or jazz or "free music". Tjader plays his mallets off, and tries to provide some kind of musical stimulation for everyone in any audience.
At the Monterey Jazz Festival, for instance, no artist has played more often nor been so successful. And there are plenty of San Francisco area nightclub owners who are quick to acknowledge that Tjader draws larger and more enthusiastic audiences year in and year out than do most of the "big name guys that we import from the east", as one put it to me recently.
Tjader's life has always been in musical performance, a fact that no doubt accounts for his consuming interest in all aspects of his art— and in his awareness of the broad variety of taste likely to be represented in any audience.
When you start in as a four year old vaudeville tap dancer (as Cal did) and four decades later you're still out there performing before a crowd, a certain dedication is obvious.
And this absorption in his musical craft has meant, naturally, that all manner of instrumentalists have been Tjader colleagues over the years.
Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, with Cal on these LPs from Monterey, had underground Latin-popularity prior to their associations with Tjader. But their widespread fame came with Tjader, who was usually cast in the role of a dual catalyst.
He introduced Santamaria and Bobo (and many other Latin musicians) to a jazz-oriented audience and the Latin musicians, in turn, brought many of their followers into jazz surroundings and introduced that phase of American music to their ears.
What has been happening in "Latin-rock" with such groups as Santana or Malo (not surprisingly, both San Francisco bands )is a continuation of what Cal Tjader has been doing since the early 1950s.
And note that on these concert recordings the flute and alto sax of Paul Horn are featured —an extra, added attraction for the performance. Horn's flute brings some of the melodic beauty that Tjader so loves into the presentation, and his alto helps to shift the sound, occasionally, closer to the Brubeck-style combo jazz that Tjader also presents with integrity.
There are few instrumentalists whose careers have been broader in scope than Horn —the last time I saw him he was soloing behind Donovan, and he is abundantly evident on rock, pop and soul recordings.
Horn is, of course, only a single example of the astonishing breadth and depth typified by the Tjader colleagues over the years.
By never being static, even in the size of the groups, Tjader has given himself as well as his audiences the opportunity to absorb the whole spectrum of musical sound. I guess that's what he means when he says he's just a "participant".
I'm glad I've been a participant in his participation all these years. When Cal's playing there is always something worth hearing.”
—Philip E wood, S.F. Examiner
The following video montage features Cal and Paul Horn along with Lonnie Hewitt on piano, Al McKibbon on bass, Willie Bobo on timbales and Mongo Santa Maria on conga drums performing A Night In Tunisia.