Poncho Sanchez Takes Time Out to Jazz Up Young Dancers

Poncho Sanchez leads one of the busiest bands around. Just last weekend, the respected conga player's Latin jazz group appeared at the Long Beach Carnavale, then traveled to Fresno for a concert. His future itinerary includes Japan, the Pacific Northwest and an almost endless string of local club dates. In addition, the group just finished its 10th recording (scheduled for release in August) for Concord records.

But this weekend, Sanchez and company will take time out to appear at Rancho Santiago College with 190 children and young adults from the St. Joseph's Ballet, a nonprofit organization that conducts dance programs designed for inner-city youth.

"We believe in having children perform to live music," said St. Joseph's artistic director, Beth Burns. "And we're especially proud to give them the opportunity to work with someone as talented and as well-known as Poncho Sanchez."

Sanchez, who has two sons, said he surprised himself by finding the time to take the five-performance stint when Burns called to ask if he would participate. (Sanchez was unfamiliar with Burns and the ballet company when she first approached him early this year, he said, but she was persuasive, and the cause is one he could relate to.) "I've been blessed with a beautiful family and a beautiful band that's like family to me," Sanchez explained earlier this week on the phone from Los Angeles. "We all have kids and know what is happening, how hard it is growing up today. This gives us the chance to put something back into the community from which we came."

The band will perform five numbers, including Sanchez's version of the James Brown classic "Cold Sweat--Funky Broadway," with various groups of dancers on stage.

"We do a Paul Horn tune called 'Half-and-Half' that moves back and forth from a 6/8, African time signature to a 4/4 beat and back again," the bandleader, known as El Conguero, explained. "It seemed like it might be too difficult for them to understand, but they really like moving to it, especially that 6/8 rhythm.

"My band seems to have a natural instinct when it comes to dealing with the kids who come around," Sanchez said. "Kids are always scared of me because I'm big and have a beard and pound on these drums. But then I tell them, 'C'mon man, come up and touch the drums, try them out.' They see us open our hearts to them and they speak to us. After that, they want to hang around us all the time."

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