Poli Chavez R.I.P.

by Steve, December 7th, 2007
Jugo de Piña

Before I had kids and became obsessive about school politics and hockey, I used to play music. The last group I played with before laying down my saxophone was Poli Chavez y Sus Coronados. The Coronados were an innovator of the “Tex Mex” sound in San Diego, and Poli brought the band’s cumbia, ranchera and conjunto rhythms with him to Portland in 1978.

I met Poli through his son in 1996 or 1997, and played a few Quinceañeras, weddings and anniversary parties with the band. Poli’s book was thick; there were probably a hundred or more well-worn charts in the alto sax book he handed me at my first rehearsal. Most of the songs were standards, but I’d never played any of them. After one rehearsal and one gig basically sight reading, I begged him to let me take the alto book out of his sight and photocopy some of the songs I really needed to practice, like the classic Rico Mambo. He grudgingly let me take it, and I still have my copies.

The Portland version of the Coronados was a family band. I replaced his son on alto sax. Another son played tenor sax, and his son-in-law played trumpet.

Though Poli was something of a legend in the world of Tex Mex music, few in the Portland Anglo community knew about him. Their best chance to have heard him was the annual Cinco de Mayo festival at Waterfront Park, where he was a mainstay. The last time I worked with him was on the main stage there in 1997.

Napoleon “Poli” Chavez passed away in 2003. I missed it at the time, and only found out when searching for some of his recordings online the other day. My sincerest condolences go out to his large extended family, especially the guys I worked with. Poli was a larger-than-life figure, and touched the lives of many people, myself included.

After the break, there’s a photo montage tribute, featuring songs from his 1976 LP “Mi Nueva Ilucion.”
Read the rest of this entry »