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VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Pete Escovedo Still Perfecting Percussive Latin Sound

August 08, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The love affair between Pete Escovedo and the world of percussion took off like wildfire, and is still burning 45 years later.

"I was 14 and playing sax when a pianist named Ed Kelly needed some percussion," recalled the upbeat Escovedo, 61, who has played and/or recorded with Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana and Mongo Santamaria.

"It was like hitting coffee cans together. I thought, 'Hey, I can do this,' so I took the job. When I found out how exciting it was--the energy of making the rhythms and the sounds--it was later for the sax."

Escovedo, who appears with his band Sunday at Universal CityWalk, found percussion easy at first. "I thought I could just bang away forever," said the native of Pittsburg, Calif., during a phone interview from his home in Oakland. But then he found out that percussion required technique, just like any other instrument.

"You're another person playing rhythms, so you have to be careful not to step on other people's toes," he said. "That makes it a little more delicate and you really have to listen to everybody else."

Escovedo specializes in the timbales, the pair of standing drums that are hit with sticks. He also plays hand percussion, such as shekere, a gourd covered with a net of beads, and guiro, a gourd in which grooves are cut and which is scratched with a stick.

"Hand percussion is like sprinkling magic dust all around, spicing up everything," he said.

Escovedo's 10-piece band offers a musical brew that blends African, Brazilian and Latin elements with jazz. These days he's added a contemporary jazz flavor to his presentation, and a few cuts from his latest album, "Flying South," on Concord Picante records are getting solid airplay on new adult contemporary and smooth jazz formats like The Wave, KTWV-FM (94.7).

"Nothing I've ever done has gotten airplay like this, and it sure feels good," said Escovedo. "I'm getting more work, more exposure. Before, I was lucky to get on jazz or Latin stations."

At Universal CityWalk, Escovedo will be joined by two of his sons--drummer Peter Michael and percussionist Juan. He is also the father of Sheila E., the conga drummer known for her work with Prince.

"The kids were always soaking this stuff in, and the fact that they share the bandstand with their dad is one of the greatest blessings of my life," he said.

* Pete Escovedo plays 5-7 p.m. Sunday at Universal CityWalk's Cinema Plaza, 1000 Universal Center Drive, Universal City. Admission is free; parking $6. Information: (818) 622-4455.

*

Switch-a-Rooney: During the day, Phil Gainsborough is founder and CEO of Associated Financial Group, a small stock brokerage located near LAX.

But on occasional nights, he changes hats and becomes Phil Norman--that's his middle name--tenor saxophonist and leader of the Phil Norman Tentet, a star-laden band that plays easy-grooving jazz.

Norman's band appears Wednesday at the Moonlight Tango Cafe in Sherman Oaks.

A longtime musician who put a career in business ahead of his artistic desires, Norman started his band about a year ago. He sought out some of the best players in the Los Angeles area, and offers solid remuneration. "As [drummer] Frank Capp told me, 'I'm getting paid to practice,' " said Norman.

The leader's idea was to play "arrangements of originals and standards that are hip but not too far out, re-creating the sound of West Coast jazz," he said. "I love hearing an ensemble where you can recognize the tune and there are backgrounds behind the solos."

Norman uses the work of top-notch writers, among them Bob Florence, who also plays piano in the band, Roger Neumann and even the renowned Bill Holman, whose "Theme and Variations," arranged by Florence, serves as the group's theme.

At the Moonlight, Norman's crew will include Capp, saxophonist Charles Orena, trumpeter Bob Summers and trombonist Andy Martin. The leader, who doesn't rave about his musicianship, won't play many solos. "As my wife told me, 'Don't give up your day job,' " he said, laughing.

* Phil Norman Tentet plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Moonlight Tango Cafe, 13730 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. $7 cover, $9.95 food or drink minimum. Call (818) 788-2000. Free swing-dance lessons are available before show time.

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