Vocalist Joe Quijano’s career took flight in 1950 at Junior High School PS 52 in the Bronx when he joined a group of amateur musicians featuring Orlando Marin (Timbales), Eddie Palmieri (Piano), Larry Acevedo (Congas) and Albert Ramirez (Bongos).
When the group played their first gig at the Hunt’s Point Palace in the Bronx, the repertoire consisted of three tunes, Abaniquito, La Toalla, and Rafael Hernandez’s El Cumbanchero, which they played ad nauseam. One year later the group added three trumpets and it evolved into the Orlando Marin Conjunto. When Marin was inducted into the Army, Quijano inherited the band.
While attending Manhattan’s High School of Industrial Arts and studying commercial art, Quijano worked part-time for the Translux Corporation, a stone’s throw from the original Palladium Ballroom, the Home of the Mambo. “My boss and dear friend, Douglas Sterling Paddock let me take lunch hour whenever there was an orchestra rehearsing around the corner,” says Quijano.
In 1956, Quijano visited Cuba on a working vacation. He made a few sales, but mostly he listened to his favorite bands and met Beny More, Roberto Faz, Miguelito Cuni, Jose Fajardo and Celia Cruz and became enamored with the sound of The Senen Suarez Group. He returned to New York with stock arrangements, instruments, and a concept that combined two trumpets, a flute and rhythm section and a Charanga feel. After a few months, Charlie Palmieri came up with an instrumental version of the tune, Amor and the Conjunto Cachana was born.
After a stint with Tico Records, Quijano went to work for Good One Stop, a wholesaler distributor, servicing retail stores and jukeboxes. He convinced his bosses, Al Deutsch, and Artie Schrift, to finance two (45 RPM) tunes on the AQA label titled Rumba En Navidad and Descarga Charanga. Thanks to Paramount Vending, the records were in every jukebox in New York.
Afterward, Quijano was approached by Jack Goodman of Spanoramic Records and the LP’s A Catano, and Volvi a Catano were recorded. Both were huge hits in South America. Not one to rest on his laurels, Quijano roamed the halls of CBS seeking “someone” to listen to his recordings and a recording contract.
The “someone” was Ernie Altshuler, who interviewed Quijano, Johnny Mathis, and Tony Bennett the same day. In the summer of 1960, Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto performed at the Spring Rock Country Club with Altshuler and his wife in attendance and Quijano was offered a contract.
Afterward, he recorded three LPs with Columbia: La Pachanga Se Baila Asi, whose lyrics according to Max Salazar, “cleared up the confusion between Charanga vs. Pachanga.” Also, Everything Latin, Yeah Yeah and Latin Jo. Also, three LP’s featuring his rhythm section backing Eydie Gorme and Trio Los Ponchos, which were international hits.
In the early 60s Quijano started his own record company. Being an amateur Jai-Alai player, he called the company Cesta Records (a Cesta is a basket used in the game) and recorded The Fiddler On The Roof Goes Latin.
From the 60s to the 80s Quijano released a string of albums on Cesta including Joe Quijano y Su Fantástico Conjunto Cachana, Swings Uptown And Downtown, Joe Quijano Shingalings, The Joe Quijano Party Album, Joe Quijano With Strings, Joe Quijano y Su Conjunto Cachana Do Their Own Thing, Joe Quijano Christmas Album, El Nuevo Joe Quijano, Joe Quijano En Puerto Rico, Joe Quijano Christmas LP ‘Para Las Parejas’, Cositas Sueltas Joe Quijano: Nosotros 2, Joe Quijano: El Conjunto Cachana, The World’s Most Exciting Latin Orchestra & Review.
Two notable albums by the Cesta All-Stars titled Live Jam Session (the 1960s), and Salsa Festival (the 1970s) was actually a 1967 recording of the Alegre All-Stars under the direction of Charlie Palmieri made while Santiago was working as a staff producer at Musicor. Al Santiago (founder of the Alegre All-Stars) couldn’t afford to release the material so he sold the tapes to Quijano.
Quijano has the distinction of being the first artist to record a composition by the great Puerto Rican composer, Tite Curet Alonso titled Efectivamente.
Over the years he quietly organized tributes and fundraisers for musicians in need. Also, in 1979 he produced and promoted The Tito Puente Roast, which exposed the Mambo King to a broader audience.
According to Max Salazar, “Despite all his individual accomplishments, the thing that has made him proudest is his Puerto Rican heritage. Quijano, like his hero Noro Morales, recorded tunes whose titles are a tribute to the Puerto Rican culture such as Mayaguez, Catano, Barrio Obrero, Bayamon, En Mi Viejo San Juan, Puerta de Tierra as well as a Christmas album, which contains the tune, Un Jibaro en Nueva York.”
Quijano credits much of his success to the late, great Charlie Palmieri, whose melodic arrangements “sold his recordings.”
Quijano has recorded and shared the stage with Alex Israel, Benny Bonilla, Doc Severinsen, Eddie Rivera, Mel Davis, Charlie Palmieri, Hector Rivera, Artie Arzenser, Macuchito, Jimmy Loro, Dave Tucker, Louis Goicoechea, Chicky Perez, Mike Collazo, Ray Mantilla, Joe Grajales, Charlie Fox, Manny Oquendo, Bobby Valentin, Herman Gonzales, Rod Sanchez, Bobby Nelson, Willie Pastrana, Benjamin Rosario, Joe Rosa and Manny Corchado, with singers that included Chaguito Montalvo Jr., Paquito Guzman, Willie Torres, Chivirico Davila, Adalberto Santiago, Yayo El Indio, Ray Cruz among others.
In 2018 Joe Quijano and Conjunto Cachana performed at Damrosch Park as part of Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing.
Joe Quijano, a. k. a. El Rey de La Pachanga (The King of La Pachanga) died in San Juan on April 4, 2019.
Quijano, Joe – Joe Quijano’s Cesta Records, Inc., http://www.recordmerchants.com
Salazar, Max – Mambo Kingdom, Latin Music in New York (Schirmer Trade Books, 2002)
Serrano, Basilio – Puerto Rican Pioneers in Jazz, 1900-1939, Bomba Beats to Latin Jazz (iUniverse 2015)