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Eddie Palmieri: Latin Jazz Standard-Bearer

By Published: October 8, 2003
AAJ: Tito Puente was also a big influence?

EP: For Tito, the Palmieris were like bookends for him. My brother started his orchestra when they were called the Piccadilly Boys coming into the Palladium. Then when Rueben Lopez, the pianist for Tito Puente, went to the Korean War, my brother came into the orchestra and stood a few years with Tito. They did tremendous recordings with small groups and big bands. And then my brother left and started his own quartets and trios, traveling from city to city. But he always had an enduring friendship and recorded throughout the years with Tito. They had an office together. And when my brother passed away, Tito never moved from that chair for two days, that kind of a thing.

Then, he and I were able to get together on the CD Masterpiece. I closed his career with one of the most interesting and excellent CDs that I have ever recorded. And he certainly rose to the occasion. And two weeks later he passed away. Which was the most saddening thing. We never had a chance to tour together. We never had a chance to do anything. The CD also got clobbered because the record company [RMM Records] had to claim bankruptcy, because they were being sued for something else. That made the CD suffer in its sales, but yet it sold a respectable number. I would say that we'll have to deal with that CD for the rest of this century.

The sadness in my heart was not only that the maestro passed away, but that we were never able to tour together. We were looking forward to tour a year or two years. We would have blown everybody away, in my opinion.

AAJ: Do you feel like you're carrying on that legacy?

EP: Yeah. I didn't choose it. But it was certainly handed to me by Tito as we collaborated together. As a matter of fact, I was doing an arrangement, finishing it off in the studio before the recording in the studio. It was called 'Paris Mambo.' I used a lot of dissonance, which I love. And he told me, 'You know, Eddie. It's true. You're the Latin Monk.' That was a name that Willie Bobo had superimposed on me when he was with the Tito Puente Orchestra.

AAJ: What other styles of music influence you? What else do you listen to?

EP: I listen constantly to classical. Not anything else anymore, really. Naturally, I listen to my recordings when I finish them for a while. I listen to it until we get it mixed, then get the mastering, which is an art in itself.

AAJ: What do you think of the current state of Latin music in general.

EP: The removal of that tension and resistance has led to a disaster in our presentation. There's no essence of an orchestra anymore. At one time, on the radio, you knew that was the Machito Orchestra, you knew that was Tito Rodriguez, you knew that was Tito Puente, you knew that was Pacheco, you knew that was my brother, you see? The signature of the artist. That, you can't tell anymore. The orchestrations are all bland. Even the top vocalists have to succumb. Because once you sign with a major [record label] it's how many units you sell. And that's where you're going to get criticized by the same company. And that's unfortunate, because then it becomes a numbers situation and not the product for art's sake.

They tell you, you gotta be commercial. And it takes anyone away from someone who might want to take a certain direction in recording. I could never be compromised that way. But certain artists have done it. It's not exciting. You hear it, and they all sound the same. There are no orchestras. There are only musicians that go into the studio to record. The artists are young artists, vocalists. They don't have the seasoned honor of knowing all the great singers before them. Little by little, our art form, and even the dance art form, has been hurt. It's damaging, Because at this time, there's so many different tastes and variations of music.

At one time, it was everybody for Latin. When I was a young man, everybody wanted to play timbales like Tito Puente and myself. It was that kind of a thing. That doesn't exist anymore. Either they want to play basketball, baseball. There's hip-hop. Rock. There's such variation of taste all over now that it makes it very difficult to get the young players.

And then the players that are coming up, like the horn players, they're more interested in Latin jazz. And the Latin jazz that they play is more jazz Latin. Then you can see how damaging that is to the hard-core salsa. Those structures have been completely altered. If you don't follow them sacredly, they just fall apart and then nobody really knows about it and it becomes extinct.

A lot of jazz players have been released by major companies. The major companies say 'Let's take a good look at this and see who's selling and who is not.' It makes no difference what your name is, you're out. And the problem with finding another company is, there's only a few majors and if one major drops you, you haven't got that chance to negotiate with another. So that leaves you with an independent company, and there's not that many either.

That's why Concord Picante is such a unique company for me. It's the best record company I have ever, ever signed with. We certainly want to sell all the units in the world, but they certainly appreciate and have made me feel the appreciation of the musical work that I have presented to the company. That makes it work.

We're going on an extensive tour of Europe again. We're going as far as St. Petersburg in Russia. We have never had the honor of going into Russia. We're like the ambassadors of the international bandstand. Wherever we have gone, from the time we signed to do LaPerfecta II, the CD before, that CD was in Finland and Denmark and England and France. Wherever we went, the record had already been there and we had representatives of the company come to say hello at our concerts. You can't pay for that, you know?

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