The greatest Anglo musician in Latin music. Tjader's father was a musical director and producer in vaudeville, and he grew up around the music and the theatre, even studying to be a dancer for a while. He decided to stick with music, though, and began to play drums with different small groups in California in the late 1940s. In 1949, Dave Brubeck hired him for his trio and Tjader recorded several 10" albums with Brubeck. He left Brubeck and worked briefly with guitarist Alvino Rey before joining George Shearing's combo in 1953, where he began performing on the vibes.
In 1954, Fantasy, Brubeck's label, approached Tjader about a recording contract, and the result was a string of over 30 albums, virtually all featuring Latin music, over the next 10 years. Tjader's mid-1950s quintet rode the wave of the popularity of West Coast jazz, giving pianist Vince Guaraldi, among others, major career boosts. In 1963, Creed Taylor signed him for Verve and he worked with Claus Ogermann and other producers to create some of the hippest albums of the 1960s. His single of "Soul Sauce (Guachi Guara)" briefly reached the Top 40 charts. Several of his Verve albums have been reissued on CD and are worth seeking out. Tjader could even take something as square as "The Whiffenpoof Song" ("We are poor little lambs who have lost our way")--theme song of the Yale Glee Club--and make you want to frug to it.
Although Tjader was often slammed by jazz critics for pandering to popular tastes, he was well-respected among Latin musicians and many of the greats played with him over the years, including Candido, Armando Peraza, Eddie Palmieri, and Tito Puente. And in recent years, he's come to be recognized as one of the fathers of acid jazz, with numerous combos imitating the blend of Latin, jazz, and funk he pioneered in the 1960s. His Concord album, La Onda Va Bien won a Grammy award in 1979.