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Steve Berrios: Latin Jazz Innovator

By Published: October 30, 2007
SB: Right. Yeah, it's weird.

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On Hip-Hop and the Music Biz

AAJ: So what do you think of current state of the music biz? Is it just as corrupt as it's always been?

SB: Yeah, it's still corrupt. It's even gone up a couple of notches since I first started out. But getting beat is getting beat. For instance all the hip-hoppers now get tons of money, deliberately, to keep the music ignorant.

AAJ: Do you think they even realize that?

SB: No, they have no idea. They're so confused they call themselves musicians. That's a joke; that shows you how confused they are. All they got is all this bling and diamonds, but their not saying anything, and they give them all this money to keep the masses ignorant. Because at first when hip-hop came out there were a couple of groups that were saying things that were relevant but they wiped them out. So all you see is this little nonsense now and there's no music happening. And also when they wiped music programs out of the public schools that's how hip-hop came about, because the kids had no instruments, so music has gone backwards thirty or forty years.

I think it's a drag, they should have more music in the schools. But can you imagine those hip-hoppers singing or reciting those same songs, if you want to call them songs, thirty years from now? It's crazy. And not to pat myself on the back, but I think any of the tunes I recorded on my two records, you could play them thirty years from now and they would still be valid. So that makes a difference. I mean, Duke Ellington and all that stuff, it still sounds great today.

Steve Berrios AAJ: Well he was a consummate musician, as you well know.

SB: Exactly, he was a musician not a rapper. And I'm not against rappers because that's an old tradition too, you know the African griots, the oral tradition, I respect that. But it has to mean something, you gotta say something. You know James Baldwin, Langston Hughes those were some bad cats. Even in our stuff, the bata, that's a language we're not just making stuff up, it's already set. It's an oral tradition that's been passed down over hundreds of years.

AAJ: And that's a testament to people who came over here through the Middle Passage and were able to hold on to that. Maybe the rappers should take that into consideration.

SB: Yeah, but they can't they're blindfolded. They're pawns, they're being used.

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AAJ: If you were able to have a dream session and put together any group of cats for a recording who would get?

SB: It depends on what kind of music. On my second album I was gonna do a duet piece with Max. He agreed and we were gonna do a drum set duet, but it never materialized. Another thing, I've always had a dream of Elvin Jones and Los Munequitos playing together. I know it would've worked. To have the Munequitos play a rumba and then Elvin play on top, I know that would've been hip. Not that Elvin would have to play authentic rumba beats, but just the way he played, along with what they did, that would've been a motherfucker.

AAJ: What kind of music do you like to listen to for inspiration?

SB: Anything old, like old Blue Note stuff. Sometimes I get in the mood where I don't even listen to any music for awhile. When I want to put something on I either put on something new like Cuban Timba or old Blue Notes or Impulse records for the jazz stuff. I like a lot of Miles, Miles and Gil Evans, that kind of stuff. I don't listen to too much percussion stuff, I like more quiet stuff. I like Brazilian music. Sometimes I put some drum oriented stuff on but usually I like more lyrical stuff just to cool me out.

Selected Discography

Jerry Gonzalez/The Fort Apache Band, Rumba Buhaina (Random Chance, 2005)
Larry Willis, Sanctuary (Mapleshade, 2003)
Bill O'Connell Latin Jazz Project, Black Sand (Random Chance, 2001)
Mongo Santamaria, Skin On Skin: The Mongo Santamaria Anthology (Rhino, 1999)
Sonny Fortune, In The Spirit Of John Coltrane (Shanachie, 1999)
Mingus Big Band, Que Viva Mingus (Dreyfus, 1997)
Steve Berrios/Son Bacheche, And Then Some (Milestone, 1996)
Jerry Gonzalez/The Fort Apache Band, Fire Dance: Live At Blues Alley (Milestone, 1996)
Steve Berrios/Son Bacheche, First World (Milestone, 1995)
Chico O'Farrill, Pure Emotion (Milestone, 1995)
Eddie Henderson, Dark Shadows (Milestone, 1995)
Various Artists, Calle 54 (Miramax Entertainment, 1993) (DVD)
Steve Berrios, Latin Rhythms Applied To The Drum Set (Alchemy Pictures, 1992) (Instructional DVD)
Hilton Ruiz, Manhattan Mambo (Telarc, 1992)
Papo Vazquez, Breakout (Timeless, 1992)
Jerry Gonzalez/The Fort Apache Band, Moliendo Café (Sunnyside, 1991)
Charles Fambrough, The Proper Angle (CTI, 1991)
Jerry Gonzalez/The Fort Apache Band, Earthdance (Sunnyside, 1990)
Michael Brecker, Now You See it...Now You Don't (GRP, 1990)
Milton Cardona, Bembe (American Clave, 1987)
Ray Mantilla, Synergy (Red Records, 1986)
Jerry Gonzalez/The Fort Apache Band, The River Is Deep (Enja, 1982)
Mongo Santamaria/Dizzy Gillespie/Toots Thielemans, Summertime (Pablo, 1981)
Randy Weston, Carnival (Arista, 1975)
Mongo Santamaria, Mongo At Montreux (Atlantic, 1971)

Photo Credits
Bottom Photo: Michael Wilderman
All Other Photos: Courtesy of Steve Berrios at MySpace

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