The East Bay’s history of R&B and funk, with its propulsive mix of soul and high-energy rhythms punctuated by a horn section, laid the foundation for one of America’s premier big bands working today, Pete Escovedo and his Latin Jazz Orchestra.
An 87-year-old Pittsburg native, the winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Grammys, Escovedo — a master percussionist who seamlessly plies the sounds of Latin jazz, salsa, funk and R&B — brings it all, including tunes from his latest 2021 recording, “Rhythm of the Night,” to the Downtown Theatre in Fairfield on Saturday.
Besides the family patriarch on timbales, the ensemble includes his sons, Juan on congas, Peter Michael on drums, a four-piece horn section, a bassist, guitarist, keyboard player and a vocalist, Leah Tysse.
“We still have the funk foundation of the Bay Area — Sly and The Family Stone, Santana, Tower of Power,” Peter Michael, 61 and a former Vallejo resident, said during a telephone interview Tuesday from his Los Angeles-area home.
Noting “We were originally from Oakland,” he said the most recent nine-tune recording includes covers of “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Al Green), “I’ll Be Around” (The Spinners), “The Glamorous Life” (by his sister, Sheila E.).
“They were all the songs we grew up with, soul and R&B,” said Peter Michael, who produced and arranged the album. “We made Latin versions of them. They make you want to get up and dance.”
“At the same time, they’re songs everybody knows,” he added. “You can sing along with them.”
The newest recording was not the first Escovedo effort to incorporate a tribute to soul and R&B tunes. In 2018, the family released “Back to the Bay,” with versions of “What You Won’t Do for Love” (with Bobby Caldwell), “Let’s Stay Together (Al Green), and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” (Stevie Wonder).
Peter Michael said the Fairfield audience can expect to hear many tunes from those albums and others from the Escovedo discography — 10 solo albums, two with Sheila E., and the “Latina Familia” live albums, featuring Sheila E. and the late Tito Puente, the late American bandleader best known for dance-oriented mambo and Latin jazz compositions over a 50-year career and the composer of “Oye Como Va” (Hey, how is it going), made even more widely known when released on Santana’s 1970 “Abraxas” album.
Over five decades, the elder Escovedo, who performed at The White House during the Obama administration, broke down the barriers between smooth jazz, salsa, funk, and contemporary music and made it “Latin jazz,” said Peter Michael. “It was a melting pot.”
“All of that makes sense,” he said, adding, “It’s the culture we come from, our upbringing and geographical” history. His father, raised in Oakland, is Mexican-American, his mother French Creole and Black, his grandfather an immigrant field worker who later became a pipefitter and worked in the Bay Area shipyards.
As it did for many musicians, the pandemic crimped the ensemble’s live performance schedule, but Peter Michael said he stayed busy producing music, TV shows, and making music videos.
“I was completely fine, but for this particular orchestra we were pretty much shut down,” he said.
But the reduced schedule appears to be behind the orchestra as the pandemic, while still extant, is going up against a population that is increasingly vaccinated and, thus, it generally bodes well for more live performances.
Listening to the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra — and much Latin music in general — is to smile, be cheerful and feel a desire to tap your feet, if not to get up and dance.
“The music actually comes from the dance,” said Peter Michael. “The Cha Cha is a dance. The waltz is a dance. All these rhythms are from a dance. That’s how they coincide. They’re really one. I don’t know which came first. The tango, mambo, the merengue — these are all dances and also rhythms. Cuban and Puerto Rico sounds— it all comes from Africa. It’s tied to dance. It’s going to make your body move. Your inner being is going to feel those rhythms. It’s almost like your heartbeat.”
It stands to reason that playing with family members can lead to a specific sound, especially a family of singers who can effortlessly blend their voices, as the Beach Boys, the Wilson brothers and other relatives, did. In that way, does the Escovedo family perform with one percussive “voice”?
“I would say we have rhythmic harmonies,” said Peter Michael. “And I would attribute that because we’re a family unit — because of the time you put in with one another.”
“There were bands that lived together,” he continued, citing The Beatles, Journey, and Tower of Power. “Kool and the Gang … they spent their whole lives together and we’ve done that since we were kids. We all have our own separate careers. But when it comes to our father performing, we’ll chip in and help him.”
“It is a gift and honor — and how uncommon it is — to have our father at 87 but also to be onstage with him as well,” added Peter Michael.
IF YOU GO
Pete Escovedo and his Latin Jazz Orchestra, featuring Juan and Peter Michael Escovedo
8 p.m. Saturday
1035 Texas St., Fairfield
Tickets available at ftpresents.com:
$55 orchestra seating; $45 balcony (plus a $5 facility fee)
*VIP ticket add-on, $25, which includes an artist meet-and-greet on stage at 7 p.m. and entry into a live drawing for a signed copy of Escovedo’s latest CD, “Rhythm of the Night,” an autographed copy of his book, and a very special set of Escovedo-branded LP bongos (a $379 value)