October 1, 2021- Today's Topic: West Coast Latin
Although New York was considered the epicenter of latin jazz in the 1940s and 1950s there was also a lot of activity in Los Angeles. It began with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the mid 1940s with the recording of Machito and the addition of Jack Costanzo to the rhythm section. Shorty Rogers joined the Kenton Innovations Orchestra in 1950 and wrote several latin pieces including Viva Prado and Sambo.
When Shorty left the Kenton Orchestra in 1951 he began working at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach and continued to experiment with latin rhythms. Shorty’s Viva Zapata and Casa De Luz
were so popular that it began a tradition of the various Lighthouse All Stars arrangers to contribute latin pieces to the book.
Los Angeles audiences were also hearing all the sounds coming out of New York thanks to legendary disc jockey Chico Sesma who began broadcasting on KOWL in 1949. Chico was the first to introduce the Mambo to west coast listeners. He also started promoting latin jazz concerts in the early 1950s and by 1959 he was presenting his “Latin Holidays” live shows at the Hollywood Palladium.
During the 1950s there were a number of latin bands in East L.A. and many of the young west coast jazz musicians worked in those bands. Included were several artists that made big names for themselves later including Lennie Niehaus, Tony Ortega, Jack Montrose, Art Pepper and Bill Trujillo.
Since Los Angeles became home to so many composers and arrangers there was much experimentation with latin rhythms on many recording sessions. Luckily there were three important latin percussionists in town that were called in for many such sessions. They also all worked regularly at the Lighthouse.
First was Carlos Vidal. Carlos was one of the original members of Machito’s Afro Cubans. He moved to Los Angeles in the late 1940s and became in high demand. Second was Jack Costanzo who left the Stan Kenton Orchestra he ended up in Los Angeles and became very famous as “Mr. Bongo” In addition to leading his own sessions, he appears on countless west coast dates and became a favorite of the Hollywood crowd. He appeared in many motion pictures as well as television.
Third was Mike Pacheco who was another important west coast artist that came to prominence with Stan Kenton and became of mainstay of the west coast scene. Shorty Rogers continued his latin explorations including a collaboration with Perez Prado called the Voodo Suite as well as The Afro Cuban Influence which is one of Shorty’s finest albums. Many other west coast artists incorporated latin themes into their recordings including Frank Morgan, Pete Rugolo, Bud Shank, Victor Feldman, Art Pepper, Bill Holman and many more.
Bud Shank and Laurindo Almeida did a series of samba based recordings in the early 50s which pre-dated the Bossa Nova craze by ten years. In addition to the american west coast artists who worked in a latin idiom there were a number of important latin bands in Los Angeles most notably Rene Bloch and Rene Touzet.