Jazz Caliente: Meet the Rhythm Makers, Part 9 | KNKX

Jazz Caliente: Meet the Rhythm Makers, Part 9

Feb 9, 2018

It's all about family for percussionist/bandleader Pete Escovedo.

From the start, he was surrounded by music in his Oakland, California home, and his father was a singer with a few Latin big bands.  Pete started on sax and vibraphone in high school, but eventually, enchanted by the timbales, he dedicated himself to percussion.

Pete and his younger brother Coke became first-call percussionists in northern California.  With their other brother Phil on bass, they formed the Escovedo Brothers Latin Jazz Sextet, which lasted until Carlos Santana hired Pete and Coke to work with him in 1967.  

After three years on the road with Santana, the brothers put together their own 14-piece band called Azteca, which sometimes grew to 24 pieces, and at one point included some fledgling jazz greats like trombonist Julian Priester and trumpeter Tom Harrell.  The band only recorded two albums, but it had a great following for its live shows.  Azteca established the foundation for the Bay Area Latin Jazz and Latin dance music scenes that still thrive today.

Pete and Sheila Escovedo's 1978 album Happy Together
Credit Fantasy Records 1978

Pete's been running his own Latin Jazz Orchestra for many years now, where his daughter Sheila got her start when she was still a teenager.  She still performs with him, as do his sons Juan and Peter Michael.  Daughter Zina has taken on the management and production end of the many Escovedo family endeavors.  Juanita, Pete's wife of over 60 years, is a gracious and welcoming presence.  Fans are encouraged to refer to her and Pete as "Moms and Pops," just like family.  

Pete has also been drawing and painting since he was 15, and recently he's exhibited some of his paintings.  Last year he published his memoir, "My Life in the Key of E."  

We'll hear some of that 1970s West Coast Latin Soul from Pete and Sheila this week on Saturday Jazz Caliente.   In the meantime, enjoy this segment of Pops and the kids performing at Anthology (now the Music Box) in San Diego.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.  The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.