The weather keeps on keeping on and it looks like spring is here to stay. We’re all swimming in postive vibes over here in the Síbín and so to keep that going, I raided our jazz shelf for a ‘vibe’ appropriate pick for this week…now wait for the ‘pun’chline: The vibe appropriate album of the week is Cal Tjader’s ‘Soul Sauce’ (Verve Records, 1964).

Didn’t get it? That’s ok. Cal Tjader, or Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr. was a composer and percussionist whose primary instrument was the vibraphone! Har har har. Anyway…born in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri Tjader is considered the most successul non-Latino Latin musician. His primary focus was in jazz and he is credited with helping fuse the two genres together.

His parents were a touring vaudevillian couple; his mother played piano and his father was a tap dancer who settled in California and opened a studio when he was very young. He learned both dance and piano from his parents, taught himself percussion, and joined a Dixie land jazz band in his teens and gigged around the San Francisco area.

World War II arrived and Tjader served as a medic from 1943-1946. After the war, the G.I. Bill allowed him to enter San Francisco State College which is where he furthered his musical education and met Dave Brubeck. They formed the Dave Brubeck Octet which was then followed by the Dave Brubeck Trio, the latter becoming a staple of the Bay Area jazz scene of the late 40s and early 50s.

Brubeck had an injury in 1951 causing Tjader to look for a new act. He was picked up by pianist George Shearing along with bassist Al McKibbon. Tjader and McKibbon were interested in the Cuban scene and encouraged Shearing to work with Cuban percussionists. During this time, he cut a few 10” LPs for Fantasy and was mentioned in Down Beat’s 1953 Critic’s Poll as the best New Star on vibes. During recording, he and McKibbon went to New York and while there met some big names in the Afro-Cuban big band circuit like Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo.

In 1954, Tjader split with Shearing and began building his own group – Cal Tjader’s Modern Mambo Quintet. The cut a few albums with Fantasy and distinguished themselves by having top Cuban names and jazz musicians unlike other groups at this time. The 1950s mambo craze was in full swing (ha! another one…) and this was a big help to his career.

When the 60s rolled around, Tjader signed with Verve Records (MGM) and worked with other big jazz names; Donald Byrd, Lalo Schifrin, Chick Corea, Clare Fischer, and Anita O’Day. It was during this time that Tjader cut ‘Soul Sauce’ – his biggest success. It was this album which popularized the term Salsa for dance music.

The album itself is a fun, mysterious romp through the developing Latin jazz scene; equally cool and driving, the openning track to this album, ‘Soul Sauce (Guacha Guaro)’ is a cover of a Dizzie Gillespie and Chano Pozo tune. Spicey Spicey Cal Tjader is perfect for a low key Friday evening accompianed with candle light and a spicey Spiced Tonic cocktail…

P.S. Remember! Anytime you see an album with food on it…get it!!!