Latin juggernaut


POSTED: Thursday, April 23, 2009

Most bandleaders audition musicians one at a time. Poncho Sanchez is auditioning entire symphony orchestras.





        Poncho Sanchez with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra

» When: 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday


» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall


» Cost: $20 to $82 (discounts available for military, seniors and students)


» Call: 792-2000




“;Yeah! We're looking to record an album with a symphony orchestra, so I'm keeping an ear out for the right symphony,”; said Sanchez, whose Latin Jazz Band is sitting in with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

“;We just finished our 25th CD for Concord Records, which will be out in August. We like working with all sorts of musicians—our current release, 'Raise Your Hand,' has Booker T and the MG's. Because I grew up in the '60s, I'm a big fan of soul,”; said Sanchez. “;Before that, on our 'Do It!' album, we worked with Tower of Power and Hugh Masekela.”;

Although Sanchez has done fewer than 10 symphonic concerts to date, he finds it a comfortable fit.

“;It was Tito Puente who asked us in,”; said Sanchez. Puente, the timbales master, and Sanchez, a “;conguero,”; or conga player, operated similar bands, Latin-based jazz ensembles that could play almost anything. “;He called up, and he had been doing symphony gigs for a while. Tito wanted to put his band and my band right there in the middle of the symphony, but by the time we got it together, he had passed on.”;

It's has been four years since Sanchez's band hit the islands. This week they also have Big Island and Maui gigs bookending the Honolulu shows. “;We've done straight salsa dances in Hawaii, and also regular concert hall performances. We're a jazz band with Latino influences, not simply a salsa band,”; said Sanchez. “;There's a good Latino population in the islands, but everybody likes good, hot jazz.”;




        Honolulu Symphony



Sanchez is something of a rarity in professional music, having been with the same record label for nearly three decades.

“;I was working with Cal Tjader, and we recorded for Concord's Picante division back around 1980,”; said Sanchez. “;A couple of years later, I did my own recording, and we've averaged about an album a year since.”;

Gig invitations keep coming over the transom, although Sanchez has noticed a slight slowing due to the national economy. “;We've been steady gigging, keeping busy for 30 or 40 years, with five Grammy nominations, so we're able to keep working,”; said Sanchez, whose home base is Los Angeles—although he's rarely there.

“;The last time things were this bad was about 12 years ago. The whole business is changing. I get royalty checks from downloads now, and it's half of what we got before, but at least it's coming in. We'll just have to ride it out and see what happens. I never thought I'd live to see Tower Records go out of business!”;