Pete Escovedo’s Latin-Jazz Beat Goes On and On

By Lee Hildebrand

Pete Escovedo

Percussionist Pete Escovedo was a beloved fixture of the Bay Area music scene for more than 40 years — with brothers Coke and Phil in the Escovedo Brothers, with Santana, with Azteca, with daughter Sheila as Pete and Sheila Escovedo and with his own Latin-jazz orchestra. Born in Pittsburg, California, and raised in West Oakland, on Linden Street near 7th, Pete suddenly pulled up stakes a decade ago and, with his wife Juanita, moved to Valley Glen in the San Fernando Valley. “I didn’t like it at first,” Pete, 74, says of Southern California. He made the move at the urging of Sheila, in order to be closer to her and two of his three other children — Peter Michael and Zina (only youngest son Juan still lives in the Bay Area) — and to his grand and great-grand kids. He and Juanita have 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. The grandchildren include actress Nicole Richie, the biological daughter of Peter Michael and adopted daughter of Lionel Richie, with whom both Sheila and Peter Michael had toured as percussionists during the 1980s. “I haven’t seen her in quite a number of years, but actually Sheila bumped into her,” Pete says of Nicole. “It’s not really a close family thing.” The Escovedos are a musical family. Pete remembers his father singing and playing guitar around the house. His late brothers Coke and Phil played percussion and bass, respectively. His brother Alejandro is a nationally known singer-songwriter based in Austin, and brothers Javier and Mario both play guitar in Southern California. His children Sheila (known professionally as Sheila E. since her days with Prince), Peter Michael and Juan are all percussionists. Only youngest daughter Zina does not play an instrument. “I had her in the band for a little while,” he says of Zina. “She used to sing, but she didn’t like it.” Pete, who is of Mexican American heritage, was a teenager when Joe Ross, a West Oakland neighbor of Puerto Rican heritage, introduced him to the recordings of Latin jazz pioneers Machito and Tito Puente. “We didn’t really think that, because we were not Puerto Rican or Cuban, we couldn’t play that music,” Pete recalls. “And it probably had a lot to do with Cal Tjader, because Cal was Jewish and here he was playing American standards with Latin rhythms, so we got into doing standard jazz tunes and putting them into a Latin mambo or cha-cha.” He also credits conga drummers Candido and Ray Barretto, both of whom frequently recorded with jazz artists, as early influences. Pete has performed frequently in the Bay Area since his departure. He’ll be at the Rrazz Room of the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco Thursday through Saturday, March 18-20, with a nine-piece band that includes Peter Michael and Juan. And he plans to celebrate his 75th birthday with July 15-18 performances at Yoshi’s in Oakland and hopes to have Sheila on the bandstand for the shows. Send comments and story ideas to Lee Hildebrand at LeeHilde@aol.com.
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