In April, 1995, Jack Diamond interviewed Esquivel by telephone phone from the studios at KFJC-FM, on the Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills, California. The interview was transcribed by Joe Batutis.
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Esquivel: Yes. I happen to go in New York to a store. It was a very big building with something like four stories full of instruments, very seldom used. There in that store I found a set of tuned bongos, chromatically tuned. 2 octaves from a F, F6 I think, to an F8. And then, you could play melodies with it. And that I used for a recording, the first recording I made in New York I included "My Blue Heaven".
D: That was "Exploring New Sounds"
D: Now on that record Exploring New Sounds which came out in '59 under two different titles. It was released called "Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi." It was also released called "Exploring New Sounds in Stereo." Did you have anything to do with that? Or was that strictly RCA doing their thing.
E: No, I recorded two, I made two different recordings. One was "Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi" and the other one was "Exploring New Sounds in Stereo".
D: Wow, I didn't know that.
E: Yes, they were two separate albums.
D: Wow, great! Because I do count those as two separate albums. I know that most of your records were released in both mono and stereo, but I've always considered "Exploring New Sounds" to have been released in two different versions and it is very interesting to hear you tell me...
E: Well, I mean they should... I'm not sure if they did, but, they should have, because one was monaural and the other was especially made for stereo.
D: They did!!
D: Now, who played the theremin on your arrangement of "Spellbound"? Do you remember?
E: No, I can't and I have tried to recall because it was the only time that I used the theremin.
D: Do you remember a gentleman named Samuel Hoffman? He was a thereminist. He played on the original "Spellbound" He also played theremin on Bernard Herrman's score for "The Day the Earth Stood Still".
E: Seems to me that I do remember his name.
D: But, you don't think that he was the one who played on your arrangement of "Spellbound"?
E: Must have been the same one. Let me try to remember... In the first recording we had some problems with the theremin. I don't remember... it was because of the voltage of the recording studio. But we couldn't get the sound to come through the theremin. I recall that in one chance we had to call a fellow that plays the musical saw. He used to play it with a bow. See, I'm quite confused on that particular recording because we had many incidences in it. We were trying to do things that they hadn't done before. We had some problems with the recording because... I'm not sure... it was the studio voltage. You know the current?
D: Right, the electricity. You couldn't get the sound itself.
E: Because it is played with the hands.
D: Right, no frets nothing to touch. You know in those days there weren't too many thereminists around.
E: Right, I knew that I had asked for a theremin player to the musical contractor. Because that's the way you can get the musicians when you are going to make a recording. Then you ask the musical contractor if he knows someone that can, for instance, whistle. Or whatever you want. And the musical contractor, he calls the musician in question.
D: But it was a man, who played, it was not a woman?
E: No, it was a man.
D: O.K.. Because there was a great lady, who was also a great thereminist named Clara Rockmore.
E: No, I remember that it was a man.
D: You know it could have very well have been Samuel Hoffman. He was the most commercial thereminist. He also performed on two ten inch records on capitol. With one called "Music Out of the Moon" are you familiar with that record.
E: No. I think this was the fellow.
D: I can't really think of anyone else that it could be. He was really the only one who did what he did. E: I know that he just played with me for this particular album and afterward perhaps I used him for another recording that was done in the same New York (studio). But was only in a posterior date.
D: That wasn't released?
E: I don't think it was released.
D: Who did you admire ?
E: Lalo Schifrin, Henry Mancini. To me, Henry Mancini was a genius, a genius with his own style. Him (Lalo Schifran), Henry and John Williams. They are the most. Henry with his own style and John Williams. (first we used to call him Johnnie)
D: Right , he played harpsichord on a few of Henry Mancini's records.
D: He played harpsichord. Fantastic. I love the sound of the harpsichord. E: I played the harpsichord on one recording or two. I played harpsichord on "Strings Aflame" And I played harpsichord on, I think it was in "Lazy Bones", also.
D: Could be, I can't really remember. I've been listening to "Strings Aflame" a lot lately, which I think is a fantastic record.
E: Yes, it was a very nice combination.
D: I mean it's not as, it's different than your other records. In that it is... guitars have strings... I mean they do say strings. And pianos and harpsichords have strings. A lot of people will look at that record and think that it is violins and whatever... But there are a lot of stringed instruments that are not violins and your harpsichord playing on that is just fantastic. I really love it.
D: Also on "Latinesque" you re-recorded, in a different arrangement Jungle Drums which you had originally done on "To Love Again". But this different arrangement is fantastic.
E: Well, RCA gave me all kinds of facilities. They never said no to any of my ideas. I was recording in Los Angeles and I had to get in touch with New York... that is my producer was Nealy Plumb. First was Johnnie Comacho. He was for "Other Worlds, Other Sounds."
D: So, what was your producers job. What did he do?
E: Well that's very funny, because in the case of Johnnie. Johnnie Comacho was the man in the studio at the time of the recording. The producer, at that time, actually he was the man in charge of the timing, he was in charge of the money. Seeing that the recording didn't go over a certain amount of hours.
D: Was he also the person who sought out and hired the musicians that you said that you needed, that you wanted?
E: No. No, that's the musical contractor. The musical contractor in New York, I can't remember his name, but in Los Angeles was Ben Barrett. He got mad at me because one time I was recording for Universal Studios and I asked the musical contractor for the orchestra at Universal, I can't remember his name also, I asked him to get me the studio for the RCA and Ben Barrett got mad and I think that's he's still mad at me.
D: Do you remember some of the musicians who played in the Esquivel Orchestra? I mean you did mention Stan Getz.
E: Stan Getz and Laurindo Almieda was the guitar, Alvino Rey was the steel guitar. Muzzy Marcelino was the whistler...
D: What about Shorty Rodgers?
E: No, Shorty Sherock was in the trumpets and I had Pete Condoli in the trumpets.
D: Was Art Pepper in any of your orchestras?
E: No. I think that they were all, more or less the same kind of gang, that played together with Shorty Sherock and Pete Condoli, because they were such a wonderful group of musicians that I didn't care who played who played the first or second or fifth trumpet. I gave the five trumpet parts to the group and sometimes one of them would say "You play this" and he'd leave the first trumpet to one musician. The third to another one. I had just a fantastic group.
D: You did!! There's no doubt. Are you familiar with the other arrangers like Ray Martin?
D: Frank Comstock?
E: No, I can remember Pete Rugolo. He was the arranger for Stan Kenton. I used to love his "Artistry in Rhythm"
D: That's a great record.
E: I used to play that in Mexico City and I'd dream of having that ability to write for the trumpets the way that Pete Rugolo did. Because when I met Pete Rugolo. I met him at his home. I think that Stanley Wilson took me to Pete Rugolo's home. And he had his writing room instead of wallpaper on his wall, he had the original scores on the wall of his studio.
D: So you liked Pete Rugolo and the jazz stuff he did...
E: And Billy May... I never met Billy. But I used to listen to him in Mexico. I loved him.
D: So, how do you feel about the CD?
E: The CD?
D: Yes, as compared to vinyl, analog recordings.
E: Well, I think that if I had recorded with the facilities that the CD has now, I mean the sound that you can get from a CD... I would have made it tremendously. People ask a composer or an arranger if he is ready to do something usually he says "Yes, I have a lot of ideas. But this is true in my case because I have my mind so open and all this time I have been in bed, I just think of music and at least of the songs I would try to work on. As soon as I can get on my feet, I have my piano in Mexico and I'm going to have it brought here.
D: Do you personally play the organ on any of your recordings?
E: No, I didn't ever try to play the organ.
D: So you played the piano of course and you played the ondioline and you played the harpsichord and you played the boobams. Correct?
D: Are there any other instruments that you played that we haven't discussed?
E: Once, Lauredo Almeda made me a present, I think it was my birthday, he gave me a very nice guitar. I just tried to learn the guitar because I always have loved the way the guitarist harmonize. Any arranger who plays the guitar is a good... He uses a special kind of harmony. Because of the guitar, see? The guitar gives to you more with a few strings... you can hit three or four strings and gives you a much nicer combination than the piano.
D: But the piano and the guitar are very closely related.
E: Well, they are and they aren't.
E: Because the piano it's more of a very complete instrument. If you're searching for a certain way to harmonize... with the guitar you can easily get with a few strings some chords that, of course you could reproduce it at a piano, but it's difficult, the position of the left hand, let's say in the guitar, with the left hand you form the chords and with just three fingers you can produce in the guitar, sounds that are on the piano, kind of awkward. Because they are far away. It is more harmonizing than the piano.
D: What about Frank Rosolino does that name ring a bell?
E: Yes, I... he recorded with me.
D: Oh, really!
E: And another best bass trombone player by the name of Roberts or something...
D: George Roberts?
E: Yes, George Roberts.
D: I imagine that living in Hollywood you had access to all the best west coast jazz and studio musicians.
E: Yes, I had.
D: Did Willie Rodriguez do any percussion work for you?
E: No, but I have heard of him.
D: How about Larry Bunker?
E: Larry, yes. He played with me in the sessions. But he didn't play the...
D: He was very versatile because he played drums, he played the vibes, he played the bongos.
E: Yes, I was going to tell that because sometimes he would come to play the bongos, sometimes he would play the drums. He played for me three or four times.
D: What about Jack Castanzo?
E: Also, yes.
D: He was a great bongo player...
E: Another one was Joe Loco.
D: Oh yeah, I have Joe Loco records. Jack Castanzo played with Pete Rugelo on some of his records.
E: Yes, I heard that. He was tremendous.
D: He was tremendous!! In fact I think I have a bongo instruction record by Jack Castanzo.
E: Oh... Do you remember by any chance a tremendous, very good organ player.. he's dead... but he used to play with me and afterwards he made some recordings of his own. He made an orchestra.
D: Is that Buddy Cole?
E: That's the one! Buddy Cole.
D: I've got Buddy Cole records.
E: Because he used to play with me. Once I was living in Beverly Hills and I remember him going to my home with some recordings that he played for me with his band. I don't know if they were a group or I can't recall. But I do remember Buddy Cole. He died quite a few years ago.
D: Let's talk briefly about the vocal group you had with you on your records.
E: They were the Randy Van Horne Singers, yes.
D: Did you do the arrangements for their wordless vocals?
E: Yes, I made all the arrangements for my bands, for my recordings and all performances. If there was a piano to be played, I would play it. All the arrangements were done by me. All the vocals and combo arrangements. I never remember recording anything but arrangement of mine. Once I was in Mexico, and RCA sent to me a number by a composer who had died. And they asked me to write the arrangement, telling me I should hold the royalties given to the wife of that musician. They send me the tune. I made the arrangement for... (hums the tune...da dee dee da da...)
D: I think you did that on "Other Worlds, Other Sounds". Well I've got that record right here, ... E: I think so... Ends with "I don't want to play..."
D: Playfully! It's Playfully!!
E: Yes! I thought of that because I said I have never recorded anything but arrangements of mine, but then I recorded that song that was my arrangement but it wasn't my tune. I don't remember his name. RCA asked me to write an arrangement and to give the royalties to the wife of the composer, which I did.
E: When I finished with RCA... that was in 1962... I started with "The Sights and Sounds of Esquivel" and I started writing music for Universal pictures. I never went back to RCA.
D: "The Genius of Esquivel" came out in '67 on RCA. Then your very last record for RCA was "Esquivel '68".
E: No, that was recorded with "The Sights and Sounds of Esquivel" the small group in Las Vegas, much closer to the 1962 period. I was very surprised. So, "Genius of Esquivel" I don't know how they put that together.
D: They must have had those in the can. Did you get paid for those sessions ?
E: I recall in Las Vegas receiving a check for $10,000 with an apology note: "Sorry, we couldn't get in touch with you before, but we didn't have your address."
D: What about when you toured with The Sight & Sounds of Esquivel. Tell me about the club in Chicago called The Scotch Mist.
E: They used to play rock and roll and the psychedelic sounds there. It was recommended for me to play there. The waitresses of the place were delighted because they had never received so much money in tips. And that news got to the owners of the Stardust. To the pit bosses, so that when I went back to Las Vegas, I was commended saying I had made such a big hit at the Scotch Mist. That was in Chicago. That was one of my first appearances out of Las Vegas, because I used to play Las Vegas most of the time- 26 weeks a year.
D: So after you stopped making records and you had taken a few years off, were you playing Vegas at that time? Or was that later in the 60's?
E: Let me see... I started recording for Universal Studios in 1962. And from 64 to 65, in the meanwhile, it was very unusual because the musical director from a place in Lake Tahoe that's now known as Harvey's Resort Hotel and before was named the Wagon Wheel. But Mr. Harvey, the owner, didn't like the name of Wagon Wheel. He changed it to Harvey's- that's his name Harvey. But, the opening at Harvey's was something very peculiar for me because I was recording at RCA Victor and I have dealings in town in Hollywood with two mangers who managed Lawrence Welk. The name of the two managers were Lutz and Loeb. Well, I signed with Lutz and Loeb at the recommendation of Stanley Wilson who was the musical director of Universal Pictures which at that time was called Revue Studios. I signed with Lutz and Loeb and believe me, they didn't do a thing for me. Nothing. The guy who got my first engagement in the nightclub was a guy by the name of Ernie Benuto. Ernie got the contract with Bill Oswald- sight unseen. He sold the show, which hadn't been seen. He signed because of my name and I had some recordings out and I think he thought that "Well, I'll just use the name of Esquivel, present him playing the piano or something..." He never imagined that the group was going to be so highly successful. I went to Harvey's for three weeks and then I stayed there about three months. I remember talking very clearly talking to Bill Oswald, a very nice gentleman. Do you remember having heard a tune that goes "The neck bone is tied to the....
D: Oh yeah, the head bone is connected to the neck bone.
E: He was the composer of that tune.
D: That was a very big tune.
E: Yes, I know. So Bill Oswald came to my dressing room every week and he was kind of embarrassed you know to ask me to stay another week and that happened almost every week, because, as I said before, I stayed close to three months. So I had to change my show to present new tunes and new format after the three weeks that were supposed to be of my present engagement. The engagements was handled by Ernie Venuto and I had to fight Lutz and Loeb because first, regardless of the fact that I had made the contact through other means than theirs. They wanted the percent on the three weeks. Which I did and then afterwards, they wanted me to keep paying them, which I didn't. I presented a complaint before the Musician's Union, I explained the whole thing. You see, it wasn't fair, I had just made the recordings, I signed with them because I thought they had managed Lawrence Welk. But, I couldn't stomach it. They did nothing. I kept sending them letters. Once every week. Three months without them answering my letters and without calling me back. I was quite annoyed with them. Ernie Venuto got the contract and I called them to tell them that he had gotten me the contract with the Wagon Wheel and they told me that "That guy Ernie Venuto was a big mouth. He couldn't get nothing for you."
D: They should talk.
E: Then Ernie Venuto got the contract and they wanted the percentage. So, I fought the thing and won the case because something Lutz and Loeb hadn't thought about was that they hadn't registered the contract with the musician's union and I had, when I went to the Wagon Wheel and I had registered the arrangement with the musician's union.
E: I have received so many comments on the CD, more than the ones I received for many of the old albums. It's very gratifying.
D: After 35, 40 years there are people rediscovering your music. I talk to people all the time who thank me for turning them on to the music of Esquivel. They are so thankful, as I am thankful to you Mr. Esquivel for creating this wonderful music and for talking with me today.
E: No, it has been my pleasure.
D: Bye bye for now Mr. Esquivel
E: Bye bye Jack
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