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Eddie Palmieri: Latin Jazz Standard-Bearer

By Published: October 8, 2003
AAJ: Bryan's been with you for quite a while.

EP: He's really a genius, you know? He's really something. A great jazz player. A great trumpet player. Works very hard to have his trumpet happening all the time. And now he is extending himself as an arranger. We collaborated on the 'Bach Goes Bata,' but the 'Tema para Rene,' which I wrote for my oldest daughter Rene, he brought that chart in. There we did the bolero, then we go into the trio and jazz, and back to bolero. It's really like the words Dr. Joseph Schillinger used in his theory of music, which is really 'a readjuster of music.' A readjuster is he who can hear from another epic, another time, another genre, and then be able to readjust it into your genre or whatever you're looking to do with it. I enjoy doing that.

AAJ: The concept of the CD was to put out that kind of danceable feeling that you think is missing from some of the other groups.

EP: Yeah. What happened, in general, and specifically in our genre, is the compositions themselves and the arrangements of the compositions, have really been altered to remove the tension and resistance. And when you do that, you have a dull or very minimal climax. The structure that I religiously ' obligated through my soul ' constantly present are the structures that are Cuban before the doctrine changed in 1960 in Cuba.

The orchestras that existed in the '20s and '30s, and particularly the '40s, '50s and early '60s were the maximum, ever, in generating the maximum climax and most excitement in less than three minutes. Because you were only allowed to record from two minutes and 45 seconds to about two minutes and 50 seconds.

We recorded 'Azucar' in the dance genre and that went for 8:30. There had been other orchestras, like Machito, who did the Afro-jazz suites, and they were in the time intervals of jazz. But never in dance music. They always kept it at 3 minutes. That was the law, more or less. When I recorded 'Azucar' we broke that whole precedent. We extended on this CD that same structure of my Latin dance—I'm really, essentially, a bandleader for dance orchestra. That was my forte always. Except that I love variations and extensions. And that has led to different variations of recordings that I have utilized.

On this one, I believe the genre needs what they call a rhythmical, lyrical and harmonic musical oxygen cocktail. It's needed. At a time that the record industry is at its low ebb. Unfortunately, with everything that's happening, we have to present the highest degree of a product. That product comes from the preparation within the orchestra leader, whoever he may be, and whom he has associated himself with. And I make sure I associate myself with tremendous talents. Like Bryan Lynch, (trombonists) Conrad Herwig and Doug Beavers. I mentioned that to a friend of mine and he said, 'I'll tell you. It makes things easier.' [laughs].

What really comes out of there is the quality of each section, the quality that comes out of the preparation of each musician. Like in the rhythm section, we have Mr. Johnny Rodriguez on conga and George Delgado. Jose Santiago on bass, who is the forerunner, in my opinion, of the bass players in my genre— and lookout in any genre. He truly is extending on his preparation, and on top of that he never left his ABCs of how to accompany the music of the early Cuban structure.

Because after 1960, Cuba went jazz. Really jazz, the majority of the orchestras and the small groups. Iakere, for example, and then Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdez. The two of them, I always tell them they not only frighten the piano, they frighten me. These guys can PLAY, man. But their structures and what they present, the orientation of it, is jazz. Rubalcaba hasn't really extended beyond his trio since he arrived in the United States. Their feeling is more jazz and they have certainly excelled and put their names in the annals of jazz. I'm not a jazz pianist, but I certainly comprehend the jazz harmonics and jazz feeling, from my listening to my favorite straight jazz pianists. That hasn't harmed me. That's always in me. But my structures of dance, of the hard-core salsa, I could never compromise. I just couldn't do it. I wouldn't record. If I was told, 'You know, Eddie, you'll have to'' I would say, 'Thank you very much. It's been nice.' I would say, like Sammy Davis Jr. wanted on his tombstone: 'It's been a gas.' But I wouldn't alter the structure that I know. I have never heard any structure as powerful and as exciting and as complicated, by holding that tension and resistance.

Like professor Schillinger writes. It's like sex and danger. The reaction of sex in the human organism is love. And danger brings fear. And these extremes are what you need in tension and resistance to reach that maximum climax. When we have what we call the mambo. That's when that guy is riding high. You maintain it there until you have to surrender to the gravitational pull of the earth and go to the coda. I always try to resist that, even in the codas. That's by getting what we call a balancing axis ' not to surrender. I know I have to surrender at the end, but not to surrender so meekly, so to speak. So you make the codas so exciting, which you have heard in tremendous jazz bands as well. I certainly insist in having that in all my compositions, if I'm able to insert it. It all depends on which composition, how the coda's going to end.

For example, in the first cut 'La Voz del Caribe,' the bass and I we're moving up in four harmonies, actually in minor thirds. We're moving [sings the upward line]. I try to make the coda as exciting as I possibly can. I enjoy doing that.

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