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The Jerusalem Post

Saluting Mr. Salsa

Barry Davis

July 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

With Latin music now at the forefront of popular music it is hard to imagine a time, less than ten years ago, when the pulsating beats of the Spanish speaking world had been largely consigned to the musical archives. But Eddie Palmieri, now the undisputed king of salsa, says he has known quite a few ups and downs over his almost 50 year career.

Born to Puerto Rican parents in New York in 1936, Palmieri turned professional in the mid-Fifties. It was a golden era for purveyors of Latin music as America and the rest of the western world jived to the high energy sounds of the great bandleaders. This week we will have a chance to groove to Palmieri's feel good music when he brings his salsa-jazz-Afro Cuban La Perfecta ensemble to town for the Martini Jazz Festival.

"There have been some hard times when my music wasn't so popular," said Palmieri last week from his Swiss hotel, halfway through his current European tour. "I've had so many ups and downs, I'm better than any elevator you can think of. Like [Sixties rock group] Blood, Sweat and Tears sang: 'What goes up, must come down.' I've been through good and bad but the essence is the quality of your artwork. My recordings have never suffered, even through all the lean years I had."

The latter statement is hardly the stuff of bravado. In the past 35 years Palmieri has released numerous albums, as leader and with other top artists such as Tito Puente and his organist brother Charlie, and he has won no less than seven Grammy Awards in the process. But, while justifiably proud of repeated industry recognition, Latin music is more about seething live renditions rather than polished studio product. "When you see us perform, we are concentrated power. That energy is so difficult to record."

Although culturally rooted in Puerto Rico - he lived there for a few years in the Eighties - Palmieri says much of his inspiration comes from Cuba and he has gained from the spin off from Ry Cooder's forays there in the late Nineties. "I definitely benefited from the success of the Buena Vista guys. I think it is wonderful for them, especially in their latter years, to get so much recognition."

In fact, it isn't just the recent upsurge in the popularity of Latin music that Palmieri owes to those venerable musicians from Havana. "All my music is structured by the Cuban dance orchestras of the Sixties down. After 1960, and the [Cuban] revolution, Cuban music is influenced by jazz. Now, some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world, like [pianist] Chucho Valdes come from Cuba."

Like some of the biggest names in the jazz world, such as legendary drummer Max Roach, Palmieri also got involved in the social side of politics beginning in the Sixties, and became something of a spokesperson on racial issues. "If you look at my discography, you'll notice I was quite a rebel in the Sixties. We had the Vietnam War, and all wars are a point of interest for a very small group of people. Unfortunately it comes down to that." For the next few days, Palmieri and his merry band of Afro Cuban musicians will be making some joyful statements of their own across the country.

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