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All that jazz, and then some

Grammy-winner Poncho Sanchez will bring his congas — and an eclectic set list — to the Festival of Arts.

July 25, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band will perform from 1 to 3 p.m. July 27 at the Festival of the Arts in Laguna Beach.
Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band will perform from… (Rob Gage )

Poncho Sanchez only had one professional conga lesson.

The class, which took place in the garage at his mother's house, was a treat from his sister while he was still in high school.

"He had asked me to play a little bit of Cal Tjader, and after, he actually started asking me questions," Sanchez said. "I remember he said, 'How did you do that with your left hand? It sounded great!'"

The teacher thought Sanchez had been playing the single-headed Cuban drum for six or seven years. It had, in fact, only been six weeks.

"I remember that I would go to various clubs in Los Angeles and make sure that I sat [in the] front row so I could closely watch and make sure that I was learning correctly," Sanchez, 61, said via email. "So, I guess I could say that my heroes literally taught me."

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The Grammy Award-winning musician will be at the Festival of Arts grounds from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, backed by his Latin Jazz Band.

Returning for the fourth time in a decade, Sanchez is a fan of the Festival, which appeals to both families and art aficionados, he said. It stands to reason that the Whittier resident will be accompanied by his family — kids, grandkids, siblings — as he presents fan favorites and new Afro-Cuban jazz, salsa and Latin soul music.

"It doesn't take long for the fun to start once Poncho's band starts to play," remarked Susan Davis, the Festival's director of special events and member services for 13 years. "He has an infectious energy that quickly results in the audience on their feet and dancing."

According to Davis, her responsibility of developing a music series and lineup of events that complements the Pageant of the Masters and the Festival's Fine Art Show is very rewarding. She particularly enjoys watching guests being swept up in the excitement and fun.

This year, performers from the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas include the Laguna Concert Band, Jason Feddy, Peter Dobson and the Missiles of October. Trumpeter Tony Guerrero kicked off the summer's festivities, which also featured Bay Area-based world music band David Correa and Cascada.

Davis, who selects a mix of jazz, blues, world music and other genres to enrich the outdoor art exhibit, counts jazz saxophonist Greg Vail, bassist Max Bennett and keyboardist Rob Mullins among the festival's veteran musicians. She is also looking forward to modern rock band Quattro's imminent debut at the grounds.

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