Juan Garcia Esquivel

It's fitting that Esquivel's name was usually printed with an exclamation point: his trademark is the musical exclamation point, whether it's a "Pow!" sung by the chorus or a "zing" from a harpsichord.   Esquivel's orchestrations were like an exploding musical piñata with arrangements that were strikingly futuristic: scattered among the pianos and trombones were slide guitar, echo, dissonance, beatnik percussion and weird juxtapositions of mood and volume. His "kitchen sink" approach incorporated Chinese bells, organ, jew's harp, gourd, and timbales.   Esquivel recorded for RCA Victor from 1957 to 1968. His arrangements took full advantage of the stereo phenomenon (happening at that time). Being a musical visionary as well as a talented technician he composed music specifically for the two-channel stereo future. In doing so he drove his recording engineers, top studio musicians and RCA execs a little zany… He was a perfectionist with passion, a sonic inventor, a dashing genius.   Born in Tampico, Tamaulipas in Mexico on January 20, 1918, Juan Garcia Esquivel taught himself piano and arranging, by age 14 he was a featured soloist appearing on Mexico City's most popular radio station XEW. Three years later the ambitious prodigy organized his first orchestra, a 15-piece ensemble. By age 18 he was composing, arranging, and conducting his own 22-piece band, augmented by five vocalists. In 25 years of hard work he attained immense popularity in his native country on radio and TV, and in nightclubs and theaters.   Esquivel came to the United States in 1957. From his first US release, To Love Again, to his last, The Genius of Esquivel, the man created a unique musical legacy that deserves more attention than it has received in the intervening decades. Variety dubbed him the "Mexican Duke Ellington," while affirming, "Esquivel is to pop music approximately what Aaron Copeland is to serious music or what a John Coltrane is to jazz."   The liner notes on To Love Again (l957) describe Esquivel's "dashing appearance," and the "tasteful elegance of his clothes." As for Esquivel's romantic life, "fortune has amply blessed this good-looking young Latin American -- there has been a long and uninterrupted succession of names of beautiful and famous women mentioned in connection with him."   Yvonne DeBourbon Rodriguez (a former Esquivel singer, dancer, manager and this third wife) has this to say about her friend. "He was absolutely ambidextrous on the piano. The runs you’d normally play with the right hand he’d practice with his left. He loved all kinds of music. Juan wanted to bring every element of music into his show, to have something for everybody."   Esquivel kicked off the Sixties with Infinity in Sound (l960) and one of his finest achievements -- Infinity in Sound Vol. 2 (l96l). Fans of pioneering TV visionary Ernie Kovacs will note that "Jalousie" and "Sentimental Journey" were used in a famous video sketch, in which Kovacs synchronized the music to remote-controlled office furniture and secretarial equipment.   Latinesque (l962) -- in the opinion of many, his wildest and most ambitious effort -- was released as part of RCA's Stereo Action series ("movement so real your eyes will follow the sound"). This tour-de-force featured "raindrop" pianos, Maruichi trumpets, "steel guitar zings," cross channel echoes, along with an array of French Horns, tympani, flutes, and tuned bongos.   To ensure the purest stereo separation the album was recorded with half the orchestra ensconced in RCA's Hollywood Studio 1 under the baton of Esquivel, with the other half at Studio 2 -- a block away -- under the direction of Stanley Wilson. Esquivel counted the bands in via the telephone. The album mix included a then-startling array of stereophonic panning, as pianos and percussion sailed from speaker to speaker, with generous brush strokes of "infinite tape reverberation."   "My approach (to arranging his music) was as if I were a painter: I can see the canvas, and music is colors. For instance, F-sharp is like bright red; a flat might be deep purple, or yellow. Van Gogh had a lot of influence on me, because for his time–even now–his paintings had an extraordinary blend of colors." Juan Garcia Esquivel   In 1963 Esquivel switched from studio work to live performance, creating a stage show featuring four svelte female singers, flashing lights, and choreographed routines.   In addition to his orchestral recordings for RCA, Esquivel composed and recorded short mood pieces for Universal Studios in the 60’s. These themes have been used in hundreds of TV soundtracks ever since. (Here’s a tiny taste; Adam 12, Bionic Woman, Emergency, Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island, Incredible Hulk, Magnum, P.I.). For Disney Esquivel arranged and orchestrated the music for the burial scene in the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.   In 1979 Juan Garcia Esquivel returned to Mexico and composed for a children’s series called "Burbujas". An album of songs and instrumentals from the series went "Platinum" selling over a million copies. Now retired, Esquivel lives in Mexico City, preferring privacy to celebrity.   Esquivel's world renown earned through his RCA albums coincided with a period when rock groups eclipsed orchestras as the popular standard-bearers of pop music. Consequently, Esquivel was the last great big band leader. He certainly deserves credit as the visionary whose musical rocket fuel propelled the pop orchestra into the 21st century.   Big Thanks to Irwin Chusid, our friend at Bar-None Music and spaceagepop.com for the kindness and help with this genius!   An Esquivel-ography:
  • To Love Again, RCA Victor LPM-1345
  • Other Worlds, Other Sounds, RCA Victor LSP-1753
  • Four Corners of the World, RCA VictorLSP-1749
  • Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi, RCA Victor LPM-1978 ("In Stereo" on LSP-1978
  • Strings Aflame, RCA Victor LSP-1988
  • (with the Ames Brothers) Hello Amigos, RCA Victor LSP-2100
  • Infinity in Sound, RCA Victor LSP-2225
  • Infinity in Sound, Vol. 2, RCA Victor LSP-2296
  • Latin-esque, RCA Victor LSA-2418
  • as Living Strings, In A Mellow Mood, RCA Camden CAL/CAS-709
  • More of Other Worlds and Other Sounds, Reprise RS-6046
  • The Best of Esquivel, RCA Victor LSP-3502
  • The Genius of Esquivel, RCA Victor LSP-3697
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