Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, KNKX and Jazz24 celebrate highly regarded jazz creators who continue to inspire.

Pete Escovedo fills the stage with big bands and a big musical family

Recording artists Sheila E. and her father Pete Escovedo receive a lifetime achievement award at the 22nd annual Latin Grammy Special Merit Awards at Four Seasons Hotel & Resort on Wednesday Nov. 17, 2021, in Las Vegas.
Eric Jamison
Recording artists Sheila E. and her father Pete Escovedo receive a lifetime achievement award at the 22nd annual Latin Grammy Special Merit Awards at Four Seasons Hotel & Resort on Wednesday Nov. 17, 2021, in Las Vegas.

Pete Escovedo’s name is synonymous with Latin jazz.

A key figure in the genre, the percussionist’s musical roots are also based in R&B, funk, salsa and contemporary styles. With many accolades to his name, his legacy in music may rank second to his family of musicians who are also carrying the legacy of Escovedo percussionists.

Born into a large musical family himself, Escovedo's father sang with Latin big bands and his mother also sang. His brothers — Alejandro, Javier, Phil, and Thomas "Coke" Escovedo — all became musicians.

 Escovedo took up saxophone but realized that was not his calling and soon switched to the vibraphone. Closer to his destined instrument, Escovedo and his younger brother Coke, quickly developed as percussionists and found themselves in demand for gigs in Northern California.

They were hired by Carlos Santana, touring with him on and off during the '70s. That was a fruitful decade for Escovedo. He performed with other notable names like Herbie Hancock, Cal Tjader, and Tito Puente who, in particular, had a big impact on Escovedo and his family. 

Due to the fruits of his labor, Escovedo’s name became a mainstay in Latin jazz. Meanwhile, the tree of Escovedo was growing.

Escovedo employed his first-born child, Sheila, while still a teenager, and well before her days as Prince protégé Sheila E. The father-daughter duo would go on to release two albums: Solo Two in 1977 and Happy Together in 1978. It became a family affair for Escovedo as his two sons Juan and Peter Michael would later joined his orchestra.

No stranger to big bands, Escovedo led a 16-piece group on 1988's Mister E. A crossover between Latin jazz and R&B, the mix was successful. earning him a Grammy Award nomination for Best Tropical Latin Performance. A smooth jazz album by all accounts, the hard Afro/Latin rhythms on the album are apparent on the final track "Dawn - The Beginning," which stands out among the rest.


The '80s and '90s marked a new beginning for Escovedo, inside and out of recording studios. He spent most of the next two decades leading a Latin jazz orchestra, playing in his own clubs throughout California and serving as an educator in his San Francisco Bay Area community.

His current large band is still going strong, featuring his two sons, Juan and Peter Michael, with occasional appearances from his daughter Sheila and other Bay Area musicians like Ray Obiedo and Arturo Sandoval. Escovedo frequently performs at the Stern Grove Festival, one of San Francisco's longest running festivals, and released a live album of his band's 2011 performance.

In September 2021, Escovedo issued the studio set Rhythm of the Night. Produced and arranged by his son Peter Michael, the album features Latin arranged versions of vintage soul and R&B hits, including a remake of Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life.”


I had the chance to watch Escovedo perform songs from this album at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley. With Juan and Peter Michael flanking their dad on the left and right, each solo he passed to them seemed like a passing of the torch, or drum stick.

Escovedo couldn't contain his joy, smiling ear to ear. He seemed to know the Escovedo name will stay in good hands, and rhythm. His youngest daughter, Zina was there as well. She led the merch table, offering rare hand paintings that Escovedo drew as a teenager.

In 2021, Escovedo and Shelia — a truly unique dad and daughter drumming duo — received the Latin Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing their contributions to Latin music. His legacy also continues beyond music, with a street in the neighborhood where he raised his family recently renamed Escovedo Way.

Music and art proved to be main outlets for Pete Escovedo’s life and career. But what seems to sustain him throughout is the love and togetherness of his family.
Copyright 2024 KNKX Public Radio. To see more, visit KNKX Public Radio.

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Terae Stefon looks to make his mark on an ever changing city. A Graduate of Franklin High School, he then attended Saint Martin’s University, majoring in English and Journalism. Terae found his way into radio by volunteering at local community radio stations HollowEarth and RainierAvenue Radio in Seattle and then at Total Traffic, keeping the region moving as a traffic reporter and producer.