Tjader always slipped between music’s cracks. He was an accomplished
jazz swinger – first on drums, then on vibraphone. He was also one of
the first to successfully introduce Latin dialects to the jazz language.
This accorded him great popularity – and, as a result, critical
throughout his career, Tjader was never tjust tjazz. His music appealed
to many with varied tastes but was never likely to tjibe with those who
were hoping to hear tjust one thing (whatever that is).
on July 16, 1925, in St. Louis, Missouri, Cal Tjader was first heard in
the drum seat of Dave Brubeck’s 1949 trio (right before Paul Desmond
joined the group) and later in pianist George Shearing’s famed and
hugely popular quintet (where he first met up with percussionist Armando
kicked off his own recording legacy at San Francisco’s famed Fantasy
Records, where he recorded an amazingly large and varied body of
historic and defining records, including TJADER PLAYS TJAZZ
(1954), JAZZ AT THE BLACKHAWK (1957), CONCERT BY THE SEA
(1959) and WEST SIDE STORY (1960) – many featuring several of
his own musical discoveries, like Peanuts-man Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976)
and “Afro Blue” percussionist Mongo Santamaria (1922-2003).
switched to the high-profile Verve Records label in 1961, where producer
Creed Taylor set the vibist on a rollercoaster of musical settings,
yielding such classics as SEVERAL SHADES OF JADE (with Lalo
Schifrin - 1963), SOUL SAUCE (1964) and the influential EL
SONIDO NEUVO (with Eddie Palmieri – 1966), which introduced the
entirely new Latin sound of Salsa and was followed by the even better BAMBOLEATE
music heard here catches Tjader mid-career in the first two of his three
albums on Skye Recordings, the label he owned with fellow musicians,
Gary McFarland and Gabor Szabo. These recordings represent Tjader’s
studio output for the label – excepting a live album for Skye issued
in 1969, another live date issued years later on DCC Jazz and a guest
spot on Armando Peraza’s Skye album WILD THING – and catch
him away from his regular group and a little outside his usual bag.
HEAT, probably meant to continue the wave of soulful titles Tjader
popularized like SOUL SAUCE, SOUL BIRD and SOUL BURST,
was recorded in January 1968 and is the very first of 20 Skye Recordings
made during 1968 and 1969.
is beautifully framed here by Gary McFarland’s crystalline
arrangements (and occasional dual vibes work) and João
Donato’s gorgeously understated organ.
McFarland, who was
sponsored by Tjader early in his career, had done some arranging for
Tjader in 1964 (in several unissued Verve recordings) and came up with
the sprite treatment of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” that Tjader
performed on SOUL SAUCE (Verve-1964).
Tjader and McFarland
are ideally matched here, particularly on the pop covers of “Never My
Love” and “La Bamba” and McFarland’s own “Fried Bananas” and
the entrancing “Eye Of The Devil,” the theme to a little seen film
McFarland scored featuring David Niven, Deborah Kerr, David Hemmings and
ill-fated Sharon Tate.
previously heard on Tjader’s magnificent THE PROPHET (Verve –
1967), is also a notable presence here. Employing one of the softest
touches on organ ever heard, Donato lends the music shades of the
exotica the album’s title suggests – particularly on his own
“Amazon” (the sole song here that ended up in Tjader’s
Recorded eight months
later, CAL TJADER SOUNDS OUT BURT BACHARACH is a curious
collection that continued Skye’s emerging reputation for putting a
pretty polish on pop perennials.
Here, Tjader sounds out
an offbeat – even downbeat – set of Burt Bacharach originals with a
rhythm section of L.A. studio musicians and an ever-subtle sprinkling of
overdubbed horns and strings.
McFarland seasons the vibist’s front line with a light-touch organist
(Mike Melvoin), cultivating an appealingly mellifluous pairing he first
crafted on organist Shirley Scott’s LATIN SHADOWS (Impulse-1965).
most interesting here is that Bacharach’s harmonic and rhythmic
complexity is nearly absent – although “Moneypenny Goes For Broke”
(from the James Bond spoof Bacharach scored, CASINO ROYALE) hints
at it – forcing the listener to consider the composer’s gift for
melodic writing and Tjader’s melodic approach to playing. Unlike other
vibists who emphasize the rhythmic quality of the instrument, Tjader
reveals himself to be more of a melodic player, not like Milt Jackson
is particularly evident in the way Tjader handles the tunes made popular
by Bacharach’s most cogent muse, Dionne Warwick: “I Say A Little
Prayer,” “You’ll Never Get To Heaven” and the hymn-like
“Message To Michael.” One can only wonder what Tjader would have
made of “The Look Of Love,” a Dusty Springfield vehicle which,
unfortunately, was not covered here.
Skye label continued to issue records by Tjader, Szabo and McFarland, as
well as records by SOLAR HEAT drummer Grady Tate, Tjader
percussionist Armando Peraza, even Tjader’s godchildren, the talented
teen-aged folk singers Wendy & Bonnie (Flowers). But it didn’t
last long. While the records were magisterially produced (most by Gary
McFarland) and beautifully packaged, the expense of the records
regrettably outweighed their sales.
1970, Szabo left for Bob Krasnow’s recently launched Blue Thumb label
and McFarland folded operations into the Buddah Records group (several
Skye albums were reissued on the Cobblestone label before turning up
later on Gryphon and DCC Jazz).
went back to Fantasy Records, home to his first famed musical forays of
the 1950s, where he recorded more in the Latin jazz bag he was known
for. He continued performing in and around his San Francisco home base,
recording a series of fine albums for Carl Jefferson’s Concord Jazz
label, before dying on May 5, 1982, at age 57.
the albums he recorded for Skye Recordings, which slipped between the
cracks of 1968, are fine examples of the different places the vibist
could go and still sound like the one and only