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Esquivel at the Stardust

(photo courtesy Brother Cleve)

"Who'd have thought that out of a genre as debased as 'easy listening' would come something so mind-curdlingly bizarre and beautiful. With a genius like Esquivel you have to come up with new adjectives. A friend, Byron Werner, played some Esquivel for me when I first arrived in L.A. in 1977 -- and I couldn't stand it. Byron told me, 'I guarantee you're gonna come to love this.' And he was right. I'm a huge fan."

Matt Groening, Creator of The Simpsons

Featuring Esquivel's Exploring New Sounds in Hi Fi!



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A Note from El Maestro

Our friend Bro. Cleve, touring member of Combustible Edison, returned recently from a visit with Esquivel in Mexico City. He brought back this short note which Esquivel asked us to share with the visitors to SABPM:

At the Chicago Sun-Times, there was a very influential columnist named Sig Sakowitz. He wrote the entertainment column, where he would critique everyone playing in town. Before we opened [at the Empire Room in the Parkman House Hotel] he wrote in his column "Esquivel!....Why?" He came to the show, and I showed him why. He came almost every night. The next week in his column he wrote "Esquivel is so good he deserves 2 exclamation points."

Juan Esquivel, July 1995

Esquivel!Esquivel's music is like no other space age pop. While most other orchestral pop arranger/composers of the late 1950s were broadening their classical, big band, and ballroom roots for the age of high fidelity and stereo, Esquivel seemed to spring full formed into the genre. Indeed, his roots were far from the ballroom, having perfected his style writing soundtracks for a popular Mexican radio comedian. He had more in common with Carl Stalling than Glenn Miller, and his influences ranged from Alvino Rey and Stan Kenton to Yma Sumac and Billy May.

Who but Esquivel could bring the entire orchestra to full stop to spotlight a single measure of Alvino Rey's gwa gwa slide guitar. And not just for a final climax -- that would be just the beginning. Whole songs are puncuated repeatedly with a variety of guitar slides, layered brass arpeggios, piano romps, shifting tempos, and vocal nonsense. If orchestral pop music were painting, Esquivel was its Van Gogh (a comparison he made himself). He was fearless, he was shameless.

Esquivel perfected the kitchen sink school of arranging: why settle for just one sound where ten would do? In just a few bars a veritable rain of instruments showered down on the listener, often instruments that had never been heard before on the same song. Yet unlike the hoarde of arrangers who rushed to add ondiolines, harpischords, and theremins to the same old big band sound, Esquivel's arrangements were all of a piece, fresh and never gimmicky. Download this 30-second sound sample from Esquivel's cover of "All of Me," from his 1959 LP "Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi." It shows how Esquivel could showcase more instruments in the opening bars than most arrangers dared feature in an entire tune: piano, slide guitar, vibes, brass, percussion.

Once you've absorbed that introduction, listen to what Esquivel does in the middle of the same tune. Having introduced the familiar and rather tepid melody in a traditional 2/4 tempo -- tinkling along like a true cocktail number -- Esquivel marks time with his trademark "zu-zu-zu" non-lyrics. (Sample some boings from "Who's Sorry Now?" ) Then, as this 30-second sample shows , he suddenly shifts gears and slams into a mambo beat that does wonders for the staid old tune. He makes the song his own.

Esquivel preferred recording and performing arrangements of already-familiar tunes. "Often I deliberately chose songs that were well-known so the audience could appreciate the arrangements," he said recently. "It's like taking a doll and dressing it any way you want: in different costumes, or drawing on her a mustache, or making her smoke a cigar, or presenting her in the nude. It's something familiar, suddenly being presented in a way that's very different and exciting."

In his own compositions, Esquivel proved that he could write a killer hook. Listen to this sample from Watchamacallit, another tune from the lp "Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi." A blast from a nine-piece brass section ends in a classic hilarious Esquivel anticlimax from the ondioline -- not once, but twice!

After listening to Esquivel, other composers seem positively timid.


(Esquivel quotes above from the liner notes to Music from a Sparkling Planet and Incredibly Strange Music Vol. II. See Bibliography, below.)


"Esquivel is to pop music approximately what Aaron Copeland is to serious music or what a John Coltrane is to jazz. He achieves a strange new sound dissonance, unusual juxtapositions of instrument or vocal sounds, and rapid switches in tempi, volume and mood."


A Character of Esquivel

Juan Garcia Esquivel was born in Mexico in 1918, After mastering the piano, he taught himself composition and arranging when he was fourteen and headed a 30-piece orchestra by age 17.

Esquivel honed his talents with a 24-piece orchestra at Mexico City's popular radio station, XEW. In addition to writing jingles, he composed an original soundtrack every day for Panseco, a popular radio comedian. "The entire orchestra would arrive at ten o'clock in the morning," he recalled recently, "the comedian would give me the script for the day, and the boy who set up the music stands would give each musician a pencil, an eraser, and blank music paper." By the time the comedian's show aired at 8:00 p.m., Esquivel had composed and arranged the score and rehearsed the orchestra.

When he first arrived in Hollywood in January 1958 to record "Other Worlds, Other Sounds" for RCA, the record company gave him just five hours of studio time to record the twelve tunes. Esquivel had rehearsed the orchestra so well that he finished in three and a half. He used the remaining hour and a half to rehease and record an entire second album's worth of material with a smaller combo, released as "Four Corners of the World."

Featuring Esquivel's Latin-EsqueLater albums became more elaborate -- and more expensive to record. 1962's "Latin-Esque" required stereo separation so total that the orchestra was split into two parts and placed in two entirely separate studios a block apart, linked by closed-circuit TV and headphones. Esquivel conducted both orchestras simulaneously, recording the album in the new 4-channel method. As with all his recordings, there was no overdubbing. Each tune was recorded live, though Esquivel was such a perfectionist that many takes were usually required.

Esquivel wrote, arranged, and performed incessantly, working for 32-hour stretches and then sleeping for eight. His live show, "The Sights and Sounds of Esquivel," had a 12-year gig at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, and toured other cities, and Esquivel also found time to compose and record for dozens of television series (including Markham, The Tall Man, The Bob Cummings Show, Kojak, Charlie's Angels, Simon and Simon, and Magnum PI, among many others), and record several more lps for a total of eleven domestic releases. When his orchestra broke up in 1974, he returned to Mexico where he continued to record for film and television; an album tied to a children's TV series sold more than a million copies in 1978.

Esquivel's lasting influence can be felt especially on TV soundtracks. He not only provided music for many series, but his style can be readily discerned in many others of the same period. The percussion and brass arrangements in the theme to "I Dream of Genie," for instance, fairly drips with Esquivel style.

These days a back injury keeps the 77-year-old Esquivel confined to a wheelchair or bed. But just last year he told Spin magazine that he was "sketching some ideas for a new recording." We can only hope...



Esquivel was a genius arranger who created a beautiful pop mutation.

John Zorn

Amor single label!The two cuts on this early single (the flip side is "Nocturnal") are from the album "To Love Again," which Esquivel recorded for RCA Mexicana in 1957. When executives at RCA in New York heard the tapes, they released it in the US.

"Amor" and "Nocturnal" are relatively crudely produced by the standards of later Esquivel work, but his trademark slide guitar, brass, and "Pow!" vocal styles are all evident in abundance. Download the 30-second sample for a taste.
(Courtesy Holy Cow Records, Brooklyn, NY)


Esquivel was way ahead of his time and should be heard now to give arrangers and producers some lessons. When so much production nowadays sounds like mush coming out of speakers, it's great to hear recordings with dynamics coming at you in true stereo.

Fred Schneider of the B-52s



Featuring Esquivel's Other Worlds, Other Sounds

Drop me email with other sources.


Complete Esquivel LP & CD Discography

Researched and compiled by Brother Cleve.

Also check out the Esquivel

12" LPs (out of print unless noted otherwise)

Las Tandas de Juan Garcia Esquivel 1957 RCA MKL-2001 (monaural)*
Cabaret Tragico (soundtrack) 1957 RCA MKL-1088 (monaural)*
Pedro Vargas Sings (conducts 2 tracks) 1957 RCA LPM-1182 (monaural)
Tony Camargo (arranged two tracks) RCA Mexicana MKL 1359 To Love Again 1957 LPM-1345 (monaural)**
Other Worlds, Other Sounds October 1958 RCA LSP-1753**
Four Corners of the World 1958 RCA LSP-1749
Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi 1959 RCA LPM-1978 (monaural)
Exploring New Sounds in Stereo June 1959 RCA LSP-1978**
Strings Aflame Sept. 1959 RCA LSP-1988
The Merriest of Christmas Pops (six tracks, Ray Martin doing the rest) Nov. 1959
Christmas Programming from RCA Victor (1 track) Dec 1959 RCA SP-33-64
The Dancing Beat of the Latin Bands (2 tracks) Jan 1960 RCA LSP-2087
Hello Amigos - The Ames Brothers; Feb 1960 RCA LSP-2100
Infinity in Sound Sept 1960 RCA LSP-2225**
Infinity in Sound, Vol. 2 May 1961 RCA LSP-2296**
Latin-esque March 1962 RCA LSA-2418**
In a Mellow Mood - The Living Strings; June 1962 CAMS-709
More of Other Worlds and Other Sounds August 1962 Reprise RS-6046**
The Best of Esquivel 1966 RCA LSP-3502
The Genius of Esquivel (in Mexico: Esquivel! Actuel!) Jan 1967 RCA LSP-3697**
Esquivel! 1968! 1968 RCA MKS-1777*
Nulvos Exitos (Combination of "Genius" and "1968") June 1969 CAMS-394*
Solo Para Bailer (reissue of MKL-2001 minus 2 tracks) 1980 OTR-36*
Juan Garcia Esquivel y su Orchestra Sonorama (reissue of 1345 minus 2 tracks) 1982 OTR-70*
Burbujas 1978 Discos America*
Odisea Burbujas 1979 Discos America 534*
Burbujas: Vamos al Circo 1981 Discos America 598*
15 Internacionale Exitos de Juan Garcia Esquivel 1986 RCA MKS-??*
La Bamba, La Rasapa (reissue of Latinesque) 1986 BMG CD

* Mexico Only
** Also released in Mexico under different catalog number

Singles and EPs

Amor, b/w Nocturnal, 7" single, 1957 RCA 47-6008. From the album "To Love Again" ("Record Prevue"). No PS. See a picture of the label.
Latin-esque, 7" 6-song EP - Stereo Action. RCA LSA-2418. Same cover as the Latin-esque LP. Includes Latin-esque, La Paloma, Cachito, Jungle Drums, Carioca, and Estrellita. (In the collection of Randy Ferguson.)

In Current Release

Space Age Bachelor Pad Music 1994 CD (1958-1967) Bar/None AHAON 043
Music from a Sparkling Planet 1995 CD (1958-1967) Bar/None AHAON 056
(Both titles were simultaneously released on 12" vinyl, now sold out and discontinued.)
Cabaret Manana 1995 CD RCA/BMG

WFMU's online Catalog of Curiousities offers both of the Bar/None CDs.

Drop me email with additional information.


Esquivel at the Grammys

(Info courtesy of Jack Diamond and Brother Cleve.)

While Esquivel never won a Grammy, he was nominated several times:

Other Worlds Other Sounds nominated for Best Orchestra. Winner was Billy May's "Big Fat Brass" over Mancini's "Peter Gunn," Johnny Mandel's "I Want To Live," and others.

Featuring Esquivel's Strings Aflame!Other Worlds Other Sounds nominated for Best Engineered Nonclassical Record. Winner was "The Chipmunk Song."

Strings Aflame nominated for Best Orchestra. Winner was David Rose and his Orchestra with Andre Previn, "Like Young."

Strings Aflame nominated for Best Arrangement. Winner was Billy May for Frank Sinatra's "Come Dance With Me."

Infinity In Sound nominated for Best Orchestra. Winner was Henry Mancini for "Mr. Lucky."

Infinity In Sound nominated for Best Engineering. Beating out Esquivel, Terry Snyder's All Stars, "Persuassive Percussion Vol. 2," and Dick Schory's "Wild Percussion & Horns A' Plenty," was Ella Fitzgerald's "Ella sings the George & Ira Gershwin Songbook."

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Album cover art used with permission BMG Music Corp. NY, NY. Sound samples posted with permission BMG Music Corp. NY, NY. No compensation or fees are received in connection with these Space Age Bachelor Pad Music pages.

"Space Age Bachelor Pad Music on the World Wide Web" is compiled and maintained by Joseph Holmes/The StreetNine Group. Copyright © 1995, 1996 Joseph O. Holmes. Graphical elements copyright © 1995, 1996 Chris Holmes.