Abel Zarate's story

Abel Zarate

Abel grew up in San Francisco's Mission District and embarked on a musical journey that started from the streets and ended up on the pop and jazz radio charts. He picked up the guitar at age 13, and at 14 he auditioned for an R&B band called the Righteous Ones, in which childhood friend Richard Bean was the singer. Shortly thereafter, Abel was struck with the blues bug after hearing Michael Bloomfield play at Golden Gate Park. He essentially turned pro at that point, playing at local blues clubs and standing outside during breaks because he was too young to hang out in the places he played.

Abel, a self-taught musician, continued to hone his craft by expanding his influences, listening to Gabor Szabo (with Chico Hamilton) and Kenny Burrell. "I spent many weeks at the Fillmore West watching bands up close, and picking up licks from all the Guitar players," he recalls. Abel started a Blues/Latin Rock band called Naked Lunch, which did shows with Boz Skaggs, Tower of Power, and many local acts in SF at the time. Naked Lunch was picked to open a show for Creedence Clearwater at that very same club, and Naked Lunch literally stole that show, with the SF Chronicle and local radio stations documenting it. The band was hot.

Shortly thereafter, Chris Wong manager of the soon-to-be Malo) approached Abel about an upcoming recording project. For this project, Abel took his drummer (Rich Spremich) and trumpet player (Roy Murray), and, with three members from the Malibus (including Richard Bean and Jorge Santana), the group Malo was formed. With Malo, Abel had a hand in writing and arranging much of the material off the group's first two albums, and, along with Richard Bean and bassist Pablo Tellez, Abel co-wrote that band's only hit, "Suavecito. This song can still be heard on the radio worldwide today."

After Abel left Malo, he briefly played in Sapo with Richard Bean and then formed The Force, an eclectic band melding R&B, fusion, funk, and latin sounds. The Force became Coke Escovedo's backup band and Abel toured and recorded with Coke, and, later,recorded with Mingo Lewis and toured and recorded with Willie Bobo (and consequently shared the stage with Dizzie Gillespie and Cal Tjader while on tour with Bobo). With Willie Bobo, once again Abel put a song on the charts -- this time in the jazz genre, the song "Latin Lady." Hitting in 1979, Abel's song is considered by many to be among those pioneering the "smooth jazz" genre.

After working with Willie Bobo for a few years, and playing many notable venues -- the Montreux, Newport, and Playboy (Hollywood Bowl) jazz festivals and Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in NYC among them -- Abel returned to San Francisco. In 1991, after having been in the business since he was 14, Abel decided to take a hiatus from it, "to regain my sanity," he says. That hiatus lasted 12 years.

During that time, "Suavecito" met with rekindled success when Sugar Ray used a sample of it in their hit "Every Morning." As a result, Abel was awarded a BMI Pop Awards Citation of Achievement for having co-written one of the most-played pop songs of 1999, and the public's renewed interest in this song planted a seed. In 2002, Malo reunited for one gig at Mission High School, a benefit show. There have been many, many members in Malo since its inception, but this was the first time in decades that the original members would share the stage with newer members. In spite of not having touched his guitar in years, Abel agreed to do the show. Through this event, Abel and Richard Spremich (the drummer from Naked Lunch that Abel brought along in the formation of Malo) reacquainted, and Rich introduced Abel to Michelle. The way things worked out, Richard went on to focus on his own project, and Abel and Michelle embarked on creating ZPP.

While ZPP may no longer be an active writing and performing group, the duo's music is still available for downloading and streaming. Check it out here.

Zarate Pollace main archive page

"Your guitar playing is so fun to listen to. There are only a small handful of guitarists that evoke the emotion and fire in their playing that you do, Abel.... You are not in any man's shadow. You stand tall among the greats, and you always will. Viva Zarate!" -- Bill Keenom, co-author, Michael Bloomfield: If You Love These Blues

"Abel Zarate displays his guitar artistry and songwriting ability ... one can hear shades of ... Carlos Antonio Jobim, Gabor Szabo, and Wes Montgomery. Michelle's keyboard and writing style is a great stylistic match for [Abel's] talents." -- Mark Guerrero, Latin-music reviewer/historian, markguerrero.net

"Abel has travelled a long way from his Malo days. If you enjoy Metheny, Ritenour, Scofield, Carlton, and Benson, then you'll love what he's up to ... His solo lines are silky and fluid with purpose. Michelle Pollace is a dream keyboardist ... Lovely chord voicings, pulsating montunos, along with superb fusion chops ... what a treat she is to hear." -- Oscar Moreno, Moonflower Cafe gig review