Juan García Esquivel
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|Juan García Esquivel|
|Also known as||Esquivel!|
January 20, 1918|
Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico
|Died||January 3, 2002
Jiutepec, Morelos, Mexico
Juan García Esquivel (January 20, 1918 – January 3, 2002), often simply known as Esquivel!, was a Mexican band leader, pianist, and composer for television and films. He is recognized today as one of the foremost exponents of a sophisticated style of largely instrumental music that combines elements of lounge music and jazz with Latin flavors. Esquivel is sometimes called "The King of Space Age Pop" and "The Busby Berkeley of Cocktail Music." Esquivel is considered one of the foremost exponents of a style of late 1950s-early 1960s quirky instrumental pop that became known (in retrospect) as "Space Age Bachelor Pad Music".
He was born in Tampico, Tamaulipas, and his family moved to Mexico City in 1928 where he became a self-taught musician from an early age. In interviews, Esquivel's family members have stated that the young boy started playing piano when he was around 6 years old, to the amazement of older musicians who would gather around him in disbelief and to his own delight exhibiting his musical gifts. They have also stated that Esquivel continued to eschew formal musical training as he grew older, preferring to learn from books and by listening to and playing music instead.
Esquivel is considered the king of a style of late 1950s-early 1960s quirky instrumental pop known today as lounge music. Esquivel's musical style was highly idiosyncratic, and although elements sound like his contemporaries, many stylistic traits distinguished his music and made it instantly recognizable, including exotic percussion, wordless vocals, virtuoso piano runs, and exaggerated dynamic shifts. He used many jazz-like elements; however, other than his piano solos, there is no improvisation, and the works are tightly, meticulously arranged by Esquivel himself, who considered himself a perfectionist as a composer, performer, and recording artist.
His orchestration tended toward the very lush, employing novel instrumental combinations, such as Chinese bells, mariachi bands, whistling, and numerous percussion instruments, blended with orchestra, mixed chorus, and his own heavily-ornamented piano style. The chorus was often called upon to sing only nonsense syllables, most famously "zu-zu" and "pow!" A survey of Esquivel's recordings reveals a fondness for glissandi, sometimes on a half-valved trumpet, sometimes on a kettle drum, but most frequently on pitched percussion instruments and slide guitars.
Esquivel's use of stereo recording was legendary, occasionally featuring two bands recording simultaneously in separate studios, such as on his album Latin-Esque (1962). The song "Mucha Muchacha" makes particularly mind-bending use of the separation, with the chorus and brass rapidly alternating stereo sides.
He arranged many traditional Mexican songs like "Bésame Mucho", "La Bamba", "El Manisero" (Cuban/Mexican) and "La Bikina"; covered Brazilian songs like "Aquarela do Brasil" (also known simply as "Brazil") by Ary Barroso, "Surfboard" and "Agua de Beber" by Tom Jobim, and composed spicy lounge-like novelties such as "Mini Skirt", "Yeyo", "Latin-Esque", "Mucha Muchacha" and "Whatchamacallit". He was commissioned to compose the music of a Mexican children's TV show Odisea Burbujas.
His concerts featured elaborate light shows years before such effects became popular in live music. He performed in Las Vegas on several occasions, often as the opening act for Frank Sinatra. He frequently performed at the STARDUST casino lounge during ca. 1964.
Several compilations of Esquivel's music were issued starting with Space Age Bachelor Pad Music in 1994. The apparent success of these releases led to reissues of several of Esquivel's albums. The first reissues were compiled by Irwin Chusid, who also produced the first CD reissues of Raymond Scott and The Langley Schools Music Project.
The last recording on which Esquivel worked was Merry Christmas from the Space-Age Bachelor Pad in 1996, for which he did a voiceover on a track by the band Combustible Edison. This album also included several obscure tracks from his past sessions. The last CD released during his lifetime, See It In Sound, was actually recorded in 1960, but was not released at the time because the record company believed it would not be commercially successful. When released in 1998, it exhibited very unusual and introspective stylings absent from his other works, including a version of "Brazil", played as a musical soundscape of a man bar-hopping where the band plays different renditions of "Brazil" at each bar.
Esquivel also worked as composer for Revue Productions/Universal Television. There he scored the TV western series "The Tall Man," and co-wrote, with Stanley Wilson, the familiar Revue/Universal TV logo fanfare.
Music in recent TV and films
His recording of his composition "Mucha Muchacha" was used in the films Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Big Lebowski, The Notorious Bettie Page, Stuart Saves His Family, Nacho Libre and Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.
His recording of his composition "Whatchamacallit" was used in the 2002 film Secretary.
(12" LP releases, US and Mexico)
- Las Tandas de Juan Garcia Esquivel (1957, RCA Victor Mexico)
- To Love Again (1957, RCA Victor)
- Cabaret Tragico (April 1958, RCA Victor Mexico)
- Other Worlds Other Sounds (October 1958, RCA Victor)
- Four Corners of the World (December 1958, RCA Victor)
- Exploring New Sounds in Hi-Fi/Stereo (May 1959, RCA Victor)
- The Ames Brothers: Hello Amigos (1959, RCA Victor)
- Strings Aflame (August 1959, RCA Victor)
- The Merriest of Christmas Pops (1959, RCA Victor)
- Infinity in Sound, Vol. 1 (August 1960, RCA Victor)
- Infinity in Sound, Vol. 2 (April 1961, RCA Victor)
- Latin-Esque (1962, RCA Victor)
- More of Other Worlds Other Sounds (1962, Reprise Records)
- The Living Strings: In a Mellow Mood (1962, RCA Camden)
- The Genius of Esquivel (1967, RCA Victor)
- 1968 Esquivel!! (1968, RCA Mexico)
- Burbujas (1979)
- Odisea Burbujas (1980)
- Vamos al Circo (1981)
- Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music (1994, Bar/None Records)
- Music From a Sparkling Planet (1995, Bar/None Records)
- Cabaret Mañana (1996, BMG Entertainment)
- Merry Christmas from the Space-Age Bachelor Pad (1996, Bar/None Records)
- See It in Sound (1998, House of Hits Records), recorded 1960, previously unreleased
- The Sights and Sounds of Esquivel (2005, Bar/None Records)
- Esquivel! Remixed (2006, SonyBMG Mexico)
(Related releases featuring Esquivel's music)
- "The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel" (Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica, 2010)
- "Perfect Vision: The Esquivel Sound" - Metropole Orkest (June 2013, Basta Music)