Edmund Velasco’s wife, Wendy, calls her husband, “The luckiest man in the world.” This has been proven time and again, she says, because when he enters a raffle, he always wins something. Or, because he always seems to be in the right place at the right time for something good to happen for him. Modest man that he is, he doesn’t dispute that, however, when talking with him about his upcoming CD release party this coming Monday night in Long Beach, I learned two things: (1) he IS lucky, and (2) he works hard for that luck to happen!
Edmund was a saxophone student at CSULB when John Prince had only recently begun the Jazz Studies and Commercial Music Program. John, says Edmund, is one of his favorite topics of conversation. He credits John with being the chief reason Edmund is a successful working musician today. He said John was one of the only teachers he has ever had who was completely honest with him about his playing. (He is also quick to praise Leo Potts, who taught him in the Jazz Studies Program, as well.)
Edmund wanted to be in the Jazz Studies Program and John said, “That would be fine, but your time really sucks. You really gotta work on that.” Painful to hear, but Edmund says he knew John was right. So he spent hours doing metronome work and improved his time. When he graduated, John told him that he admired Edmund’s work ethic, and that Edmund was one of the hardest-working people he’d ever met. He said he wouldn’t have supposed so when Edmund joined the program, but upon graduating, Edmund was one of the best players to have gone through the program. That’s the result of hard work!
And yet, luck did come into play…at least, in so far as being in the right place and the right time to get in on the ground floor of an opportunity. One of his fellow CSULB jazz bandmates, trombonist Woody Kane, was an intern in the Disneyland Entertainment Department. He told Edmund that Disneyland had decided to form its own big band and that auditions were coming up. Edmund thought there’d be hundreds of people trying out and that he would be thought too young and inexperienced for consideration. So he didn’t go. The next day, Woody asked him why he hadn’t shown up, that they’d been waiting for him! They wanted him in the band! And so began his over 25-years-and-counting at Disneyland.
Edmund and Terence Love. Photo courtesy of Edmund Velasco.
Another instance of being in the right place at the right time is Edmund’s association with Terence Love at Steamers Café in Fullerton. Terence was a champion of young talent and regularly booked Edmund’s Quintet. One fateful night, Edmund had stopped in to Steamers on his way home from Disneyland, but the scheduled band hadn’t started yet and Edmund had to go home to pick up his kids from the babysitters (his parents). On his way home, he got a frantic call from Terence, asking him if he could come and sit in with the Estrada Brothers whose saxophonist was unable to make the show. He had never played Latin jazz before, but they were in need, so he called his folks and arranged to have them keep the kids, turned around, and went back to Steamers. Ruben Estrada enjoyed his playing and still calls Edmund to play and record with the band!
Edmund in a solo with the Estrada Brothers. Cougar Estrada pictured at lower right. Photo courtesy of Chris Garcia.
In recognition of what he has learned from working with the Estrada Brothers, Edmund has written a tune, “Cha-Cha para Mi Padres,” for his new disc, A Sign of Our Times. “The Cha-Cha has become something very familiar to me from playing with The Estrada Brothers. I've learned to love that style of music and wanted to try my hand at composing in it. I wrote this one specifically for my parents, Del and Fred, because they especially loved 'Cuidado,' a tune I had recorded on a previous disc.”
“Cha-Cha para Mi Padres,” featuring Edmund on saxophone, Tony Guerrero on trumpet, Llew Matthews on piano, Jimmy Ford on drums, Chris Williams on percussion, and Ernie Nunez on bass.
In fact, A Sign of Our Times is a kind of tribute to the years he spent at Steamers. All the tunes are originals and were composed by Edmund, who had challenged himself to always have at least one original tune for each gig he played at Terence’s club.
The new disc is another case and point of luck being in Edmund’s corner. Edmund had booked the studio and rallied his band for the session: Jimmy Ford on drums, Chris Williams on percussion, Ernie Nunez and Steve Venz sharing the bass duty, Kye Palmer and Tony Guerrero on trumpet, and Mark Massey on piano. He also planned to feature his son, Julian Velasco, on saxophone on some tracks. Word had gotten around that they were going to record, and Nancy Wilson’s long-time accompanist, Llew Matthews, called Edmund and asked if he might stop by while they were recording to check out the studio.
The day came, and there was no sign of Mark Massey! But, as luck would have it, Llew was there and, as he had subbed for Mark in the band before, he knew most of the material, and could sight read anything else, so he sat in on the first session!
Mark, who got his Masters in Jazz Studies at CSULB while Edmund was an undergraduate, has been friends with Edmund all these years. He is another of the CSULB Jazz Studies success stories, and is a first-call pianist in LA. However, he had written down the right date in the wrong month on his calendar for that session. The result? Edmund gets two first-class pianists to play on his new disc! Talk about lucky!
And YOU’RE in luck, too, because you will have a chance to hear these original tunes, played by the Edmund Velasco Quintet, on Monday, February 29th, at 7pm at 730 E. Broadway in Long Beach. It’s the CD Release Party for A Sign of Our Times. I’ll be there, not only celebrating Edmund’s new release, but also basking in the glory of another great musician, nurtured by KJazz and the CSULB Jazz Studies Program.
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