Sheila E. Finds a Rhythm in Diverse Projects Ahead of Tri-C JazzFest Performance
June 16, 2015
Sheila E. grew up surrounded by musicians — not just musicians, but musicians like percussionist Pete Escovedo (her father), Tito Puente and Carlos Santana. The Escovedo home hosted a parade of musical royalty on a daily basis.
“It was crazy good. There were people in the house every single day. Sometimes, dad’s band would practice in the house,” said Sheila E., probably most famous for her collaborations with Purple Rain-era Prince.
That feel-good family vibe will be on full display when the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra featuring Sheila E. and Juan Escovedo performs July 11 as part of Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland.
Sheila E. gets the chance to recreate that “crazy-good” atmosphere when she performs with her father and brother as part of the band. The group will perform music drawn mostly from Pete Escovedo’s recordings. There will be drums, lots of drums. Think sultry, polyrhythmic beats, brash brass and booty-moving bass lines.
“We’re the only family that does what we do. There’s a lot of the show that’s unexpected,” she said.
With so much shared blood on stage, there is a special chemistry at play. Sheila E. said cues between band members are almost intuitive, a glance being all that’s required to change the direction of a song.
“Playing with my family is the foundation of who I am, and it’s why I am who I am,” she said.
Is there sibling rivalry?
“Of course!” Sheila E. said. “But you know I always win.”
As if to complete the we-are-family theme, kids from the audience will likely find their way to the stage, too. Sheila E. said the band has a habit of letting kids in the audience on stage to play around.
Sheila E. began her winning streak with the release of Prince’s soundtrack to Purple Rain. The two met after a Pete Escovedo show in 1978; Sheila E. was playing percussion. Legend has it that Prince told her he was betting his bassist as to who would marry her first.
The two did have a romantic relationship, but the relationship that bore fruit was their musical one. She performed vocals on “Erotic City,” the B-side to Prince’s hit “Let’s Go Crazy.” Performing with Prince gave her industry clout and name recognition. In 1984, the year Purple Rain was released, she scored a hit on her own with “The Glamorous Life.”
As a solo artist, she would release other hits, too, like “A Love Bizarre,” “The Belle of St. Mark” and “Hold Me.”
In 1989, she decided to leave Prince’s band. While that period of her career was probably the highest profile (“It was a great time in my life”), she would go on to work with artists like Kanye West, Lionel Richie, Ringo Starr, Beyoncé and more.
With so much music around Sheila E., both as a child and as a young adult, it seems as though she were destined to become a musician. As it turns out, that’s not true.
As a kid, “I never thought of being a musician,” she said. “I didn’t read [music] very well . . . I really wanted to be in the Olympics. That’s what I wanted to do.”
Yep. Sheila E. in the Olympics.
Even today, at 59, she keeps herself in good shape. (“That’s my number one thing,” she said.) But back when she was younger, she played soccer for five years and competed in track and field events.
Sheila E. these days is practically a corporation. In addition to performing with the Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra and the artists mentioned above, she works with Elevate Oakland, a group that aims to keep and expand music and arts programming in public schools. That effort may soon be expanding to other cities as well.
“I have not rehearsed with my band in three years. I spend 90 percent of the time in meetings,” she said.
“The hard work that goes into being a performer or a hardcore musician and touring and getting no sleep, we go home exhausted,” she said. “It’s not easy at all.”
Pete Escovedo Latin Jazz Orchestra featuring Sheila E. and Juan Escovedo, 7:30 p.m. July 11 at Connor Place, Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. $40-$65. 216-241-6000 or click here for tickets.