Speaking by phone from his Los Angeles home, percussionist and bandleader Pancho Sanchez is clearly enthusiastic about his latest project Chano y Dizzy: a Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo tribute record with New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard.
"This record and the live gigs with Terence are a joy," Sanchez says. "It's a groove and we get to play!" Such sentiments are evident on the recording as well. It exudes an energy and tightness that highlight not only how much the two men enjoy the collaboration but also how much they are influenced by Gillespie and Pozo.
"Dizzy and Chano created Latin jazz in the early 1940s. They were the arrangers and creators. Nobody had been doing this stuff," Sanchez says. "I loved the way Dizzy played trumpet. I loved the way he looked. He used to wear a beret, and I used to wear a beret in high school after I saw Dizzy. I thought he was the coolest dude. And the bent trumpet? Wow."
Chano also was an influence.
"Chano was only on the scene for three years or so, but he was famous as a dancer and rumbero (drummer) in Cuba. Those guys were pioneers. They stuck their neck out. For that alone, they are big men," Sanchez says. The rhythms and arrangements they wrote of standards "Con Alma," "Manteca" and "Tin Tin Deo" are now jazz classics.
Sanchez and his manager Ivory Daniels came up with the idea for this project.
"We had to figure out, if I was playing the part of Chano, who was going to play Dizzy? We went through all the great trumpeters and Terence's name came up. We had done 'Stella By Starlight' before, and he had sat in with the band at Jazz Fest years before."
Just by playing in the Crescent City, Blanchard was familiar with Latin music, including the rhythms of Cuba and places farther south, but he also delved into Latin sounds more deliberately. In 1996, Blanchard recorded The Heart Speaks, a project with guitarist/composer Ivan Lins featuring Brazilian music. Sanchez and Blanchard's "Nocturna" is recreated from a ballad on that record.
The two have found an easy harmony.
"I dig Terence," Sanchez says. "He's a good cat ... and we speak the same language. When we get to play, there's no wading. We dive right in."