"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."
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
Juan Esquivel, July 1995
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
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
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,
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
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
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."
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
(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
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
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."
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
Esquivel was a genius arranger who created a beautiful
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
Fred Schneider of the B-52s
A lengthy and recent interview with Esquivel appears in the
book "Incredibly Strange Music," Vol. II, edited by V. Vale
and Andrea Juno. RE/Search Publications, 1994. Highly
Irwin Chusid's liner notes to the two Bar/None releases are a
terrific introduction to the man and his music. In the second
disc, Chusid and associates interview Esquivel and many of the
people who worked with him in the 50s and 60s. Both CDs are a
Lengthy article on Esquivel in the October 13, 1995, issue of
Goldmine, the Record Collector magazine (the Jackson 5 is
on the cover).
Rolling Stone, October 19, 1995, page 30, devotes a
full page to a hilarious interview with Juan, flirting with the
Spin magazine, June 1994; full page on Esquivel.
Teen Looch Magazine, issue number 8 (27 Hill Street,
Hudson, PA 18705) has an Esquivel interview.
Newsweek, August 22, 1994; two-page article on the
revival of lounge music contains a short Esquivel discussion.
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
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
(Both titles were simultaneously released on 12" vinyl, now sold out
and discontinued.) Cabaret Manana 1995 CD RCA/BMG
(Info courtesy of Jack Diamond and Brother Cleve.)
While Esquivel never won a Grammy, he was
nominated several times:
1958 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.
Worlds Other Sounds nominated for Best Engineered Nonclassical
Record. Winner was "The Chipmunk Song."
1959 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."
1960 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."
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.