No matter which musical style is considered hot at any given time, there’s a good chance that someone else did it first, and maybe even did it better. Remember when swing hit big a few years ago? Horn players loved the work and slick young dancers learned all the right moves, but the sound had been around for the better part of 60 years. And with the success of so many rap-rock acts lately, it helps to remember that Rage Against the Machine released its first album in 1992.
So when Ricky Martin, Christina Aguilera, and Marc Antony all started integrating Latin American rhythms and sounds into their music a couple years back, industry folks proclaimed Latin American rhythms the next big thing. Suddenly, Latin was in.
And that’s not to suggest that plenty of people don’t deserve popular recognition. Carlos Santana has certainly paid his dues over the past 30 years, and the folks from the Buena Vista Social Club have been concentrating on their sounds for generations. But when we think about Latin jazz and Latin drumming, one name sits at the top of the all-star list – a name of not only a person, but a family, a philosophy, and, most importantly, a perfect example of dedication to an art despite popular whim. That name is Escovedo.
DRUM! spoke with Pete Escovedo and his daughter, Sheila E., wanting to tap into a pulse that has rooted Latin rhythms in American culture for the past 30-odd years. From Pete’s early days with Santana and Sheila’s start with George Duke; through Pete’s orchestra and Sheila’s pop hits in the ’80s; to now, when both have new albums that keep the family name and rhythms in our minds – this family refuses to quit.
So what’s their take on Latin sounds and rhythms that have suddenly become so popular? How does it feel to work your entire life on an art form that, when it’s finally realized by the masses, may or may not be just a passing fad? And what is it like to be a member of one of the most influential and creative families to play the timbales?
“Well, to sort of go back to the beginning for me, my dad was a frustrated singer who wanted to play and actually sing in a big band, so his love of the music carried on to myself and my brothers,” Pete says. “He used to take us along for the ride to go hear these big bands, there were probably five or six different ballrooms here in [the San Francisco Bay Area] that my dad used to frequently go to. He would like to go in and sit in with the bands. They were mostly the bands from out of town. They were all bands from different parts of the country. They would have these Latin dances in the afternoon and so we would tag along and listen to a lot of this music coming out of the hall. That I guess planted the seed in us.”
Well, it certainly helps to have music in the house. And so, as Sheila grew up, she also was exposed to some powerful music and musicians, which led to her taking up the drums at an early age. But her manner of learning was a bit different from her father’s.
“I learned by watching and listening, so if I saw him play, whatever his right hand would do my left hand would do and vice versa,” Sheila says. “But when I sat down to play, once he got up the drums were already set up for a right-handed player, so I didn’t know I was playing left handed on a set for a right handed player.