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Eddie Palmieri: Latin Jazz Standard-Bearer

By Published: October 8, 2003
AAJ: Your style is different that Poncho Sanchez or Jerry Gonzales and some of the other bands that are out there.

EP: Everybody has their own characteristics of what they want to present and they have all done some wonderful work. I can't opinionate about their work, because I really haven't heard enough of their works to do that. I know Jerry Gonzales. He performed with me and my orchestra when he was a very young man. Poncho Sanchez, I just met him really. He came to say hello at the Catalina jazz supper club in Los Angeles. We said hello. And now we're in the same company, so we're talking about a few things in the future. Like when we record the Concord Picante All-Stars. That should be quite an exciting project to get into.

We said hello, we exchanged and all that. But they have their own form of their Latin jazz. Poncho uses the whole rhythm section and he's done his Latin things. And Jerry certainly knows about his rhythmical patterns because he also sits behind the conga drum. But the work that they do is really more jazz Latin, in the sense of the composition. It's more jazz Latin than what I present, Latin jazz. Because the charts tell it all. When you hear it, you hear the chart. The mambo.

I orchestra it just like if I was orchestrating for a vocal. If I was doing salsa, for example. If I had Herman Olivera singing, I would structure it the same. Background music, then piano solo, conga solo and then a mambo. Very exciting. I use that in the same form. That's why to me, it's instrumental mambos. That's the word we always treasured, from Tito Puente down to myself and all the different orchestras in between. Like Machito and Tito Rodriguez. I recorded in 1959 and album Live at the Palladium with Tito Rodriguez, one of the greatest albums that was ever recorded. You had the hard-core salsa. At that time it wasn't called salsa. But that's the idea. Latin dance music. And then Latin jazz. We had composition like 'It's a Fabulous World,' by Aaron Sachs. 'Double Talk.' 'Satin and Lace,' by Phil Sunkel, the trumpet player. Excellent work. And that was 1959. Those instrumental mambos were very important to have in your repertoire. That's the way for me to go, constantly. And that's what you hear on my CD.

Especially on this one. We do the whole extension. When we go to 'Tema para Rene' with the four strings, two violins, viola and cello, it's absolutely wonderful. It makes the CD, in my opinion, one of tremendous variation that will hold the interest of anyone that really appreciates Latin music, Latin jazz or jazz.

AAJ: Who are some of the people, like Tito Puente, who influenced you?

EP: My brother, Charlie Palmieri, was my main inspiration, and whatever orchestras he brought home on record. At that time they were 78s. I was nine years younger than he. No other brothers or sisters. He would start with the old Glenn Miller Band, Tommy Dorsey. The Big Band era. Then you had the big bands of the Latins. Nora Morales, which was my brother's idol. A pianist. Puerto Rican. He had a big band in New York. Cuban pianist Jose Curbello. You had Miguelito Valdes, who was in 1940 and '41 with Xavier Cugat. And he had his own orchestra also at one time. Going into 1950, then it became all Cuban for me. By 1956, I was already into orchestras coming out of Cuba. They had a run of at least four more years before the doctrine changed.

In the jazz world, you start with Mr. Art Tatum, and then you must go into Bill Evans , with all the great players in between, and end up with a McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock. Keith Jarrett. I could keep mentioning names that were great pianists that I listened to. Thelonious Monk, who I heard and was able to meet. Bobby Timmons. Kenny Kirkland. All great players who were into jazz. I knew some of them. I met them I didn't hang with them, but we knew each other and had respect for each other. And they were always in awe of Latin and my style. And I was always in awe of their style. So it was a wonderful mutual, respectable exchange.

AAJ: You met a lot of these guys in the '50s when you were in New York?

EP: Yeah. Horace Silver. We met and talked. I just talked to Chick Corea, because about 10 days ago he did the Heineken Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico. He told me, 'Listen to my next CD. The Elektric Band. You're going to hear your influence on me.' And I took that as a great compliment. He was listening to a CD of mine for about five days, called Goal that was done in the '70s. I took that as an honor coming from such a great pianist. Chick Corea, his name speaks for himself for the works that he has done and the works that he will do. That kind of association, you can't pay for that.

As a matter of fact, Chick Corea gave me my first Grammy (for Son of Latin Music ). There was only one Grammy ' which is quite absurd—for all the Latin artists and all the Latin categories in 1975. Only one. And I won that. He was the one that presented it to me. I'll never forget, I was quite nervous, and he said to me, 'C'mon Eddie. What's the matter, man? You earned it.' And I accepted that in the name of all the great Latin players, plus in the name of Tito Rodriguez who had died two years earlier of leukemia.

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