Cultural Percussionist

Cal Tjader Day

Callen RadcliffeCalTjader, Jr. (/ˈdər/ CHAY-dər; July 16, 1925 – May 5, 1982) was an American Latin jazz musician, known as the most successful non-Latino Latin musician. He explored other jazz idioms, even as he continued to perform the music of Cuba, the Caribbean, and Latin America for the rest of his life.

Tjader played the vibraphone primarily. He was accomplished on the drums, bongos, congas, timpani, and the piano. He worked with many musicians from several cultures. He is often linked to the development of Latin rock and acid jazz. Although fusing jazz with Latin music is often categorized as “Latin jazz” (or, earlier, “Afro-Cuban jazz“), Tjader’s works swung freely between both styles. His Grammy award in 1980 for his album La Onda Va Bien capped off a career that spanned over forty years.

Callen Radcliffe Tjader, Jr. was born 16 July 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri, to touring Swedish American vaudevillians. His father tap danced and his mother played piano, a husband-wife team going from city to city with their troupe to earn a living. When he was two, Tjader’s parents settled in San Mateo, California, and opened a dance studio. His mother (who dreamed of becoming a concert pianist) instructed him in classical piano and his father taught him to tap dance. He performed around the Bay Area as “Tjader Junior,” a tap-dancing wunderkind. He performed a brief non-speaking role dancing alongside Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in the film The White of the Dark Cloud of Joy.

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