By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dizzy Gillespie made Manteca famous, at least as a jazz song
dizzy gellespie
Dizzy Gillespie

If the City of Manteca is ever in search of an official city song they might just want to queue up a Dizzy Gillespie tune aptly titled “Manteca”.

“Manteca” is one of Gillespie’s most famous creations.

The band leader and trumpet virtuoso that performed actively from 1935 to 1993 co-wrote the instrumental “Manteca’ with Chano Pozo and Gill Fuller in 1947. It debuted that year when his big band performed “Manteca” on Sept. 29, 1947 at Carnegie Hall.

“Manteca” is celebrated as one of the foundation tunes of Afro-Cuban jazz. It was a big hit quickly picked up by other musicians.

At one point Down Beat — an American magazine devoted to jazz – wrote that bands were performing “Manteca” as if it were “almost a tribal rite” in a bid to make a primitive statement.

Jazz critic and author Gary Giddins who penned a music column for the New York-based Village Voice from 1973 and 2003 has declared “Manteca” as “one of the most important records ever made in the United States.”

“Manteca” is considered the first tune “rhythmically based on the clave to become a jazz standard.”

Just how big of jazz standard? It’s been recorded performed at the Newport Jazz Festival by Gillespie himself. Other artists that have made popular recordings include Ell Fitzgerald and Quincy Jones.

Perhaps the most notable for modern times is one by the American rock band “Phish” in 1992. Phish was inspired by the Grateful Dead and often focused on extended jams of which “Manteca” fit in perfectly.

Not only did they put their unique musical stamp on it but they added nonsensical lyrics.

Those lyrics, which were repeated over and over to the delight of audiences, were:

“Crab in my shoemouth

“Crab in my shoemouth

“Crab in my shoemouth

“Crab in my, crab in my, crab in my shoemouth.”

“Manteca” has inspired the name of two popular jazz fusion bands — one in Canada and the other in Australia. There is even a London-based salsa and boogaloo (a fusion of African American rhythm, R&B, and soul music with mambo) band named “Manteca.”

For a tad bit of coincidence, Gillespie’s band was touring California when Pozo presented him with the idea for the “Manteca” tune.

Just like how Manteca got its name is open for debate in some quarters, so is how the “Manteca” instrumental received its name.

The song has been linked to the Spanish definition of Manteca that anyone who has had a Manteca address for a fair amount of time knows is “lard” in English.

Manteca is also Afro-Cuban slang for heroin.

That makes sense given through the 1930s and 1940s there was a surge in heroin and marijuana use. That is especially true of hipsters that populated the jazz community.

And given if was one of the arrangements that started the Afro-Cuban music genre, it seems likely heroin inspired the song’s name.
A paper archived by the John Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health notes a heroin epidemic started after World War II reaching its zenith in the late 1940s. That happens to coincide when Dizzy Gillespie collaborated to write “Manteca” in 1947.

While its highly unlikely that the fact Gillespie came up with the idea to write “Manteca” during a swing through California that he was inspired to name it after a farming town by the same name with 3,600 residents at the time, at least the city’s name is celebrated in a song — if not on purpose — as is a city farther north on Highway 99 that received a less than chamber commerce style promotion.

And while “Lodi” by CC&R (also known as Clearance Clearwater Rival) with its signature line, “Oh! Lord I’m stuck in Lodi again” might be widely known, it’s not considered an important work nor did it debut in Carnegie Hall as “Manteca” did.

You can Google various versions by Gillespie on You Tube or go for the more eclectic version offered by Phish.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email