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“The Sun of Latin Music”

By ThisIsReno
piano keys with watercolor

Submitted by Chuck Reider

A few weeks ago, I introduced you all to Brazilian music and with winter still upon us today is the day to meet the Sun of Latin Music, Eddie Palmieri.

Going to college in San Francisco during the ‘70s, as a musician, the cultural diversity of the city introduced me to a wealth of music styles I would not have experienced otherwise. Back then, I would take my trombone to church to perform at a morning service. In the afternoon, I would play in a marching band in Chinatown for a Chinese funeral where the band performing hymns would lead a parade of mourners in trucks and cars. Then it was off to Mission Street at night to play salsa.

Those, along with performing in rock bands, big bands and orchestras, were all great experiences. It was in 1975 that the salsa band’s conga player invited me over to listen to some of his new records.

When he put on Eddie Palmieri’s “The Sun of Latin Music” I was blown away with what I heard. The first side more traditional salsa, but the second side was a 14-minute journey starting with a reflective solo piano that grows more intense until it meets an explosion of percussion followed by trombones and then all the brass. Next a rhythmic break and then the full band and vocals kick off into a burning mambo. Listening to “Una Dia Bonita” that afternoon opened up a whole new music world to me that lives with me today. 

Born in 1926 of parents who recently immigrated from Puerto Rico, Eddie Palmieri and his older brother Charlie grew up in the South Bronx. Brother Charlie was a pianist and Eddie started on piano but switched to timbales (a Latin drum kit) so he could join his uncle’s band.

Palmieri recalls his mother telling him, “Eduardo, don’t you see how handsome your brother looks when he goes to play and doesn’t have to carry all those instruments?” After that, he said, “I went back to the piano. And I’m so happy my mother was my mother.”

Early on Palmieri earned the nickname “El Molestoso” (the disruptor) for his uncompromising approach to his music. Palmieri organized the band “Conjunto La Perfecta” in 1961. He took the Cuban Charanga ensemble and replaced the violins with trombones to get a stronger sound, which brother Charlie dubbed a trombaranga. This was a start to a recording career that continues to this day.

He disbanded La Perfecta in 1968 after several successful albums. In 1971, he recorded the groundbreaking album “Harlem River Drive” which fully integrated Latin, jazz and funk into one musical expression about social justice. Palmieri was inspired by “Progress Poverty” written by 19th century economist Henry George, who denounced poverty and social injustice in the industrialized world.

Palmieri said he believes the message of “Harlem River Drive” is as relevant today as it was four decades ago.

“That’s because the only problem we have on this planet is called poverty,” he says. “It is the parent of all wars and crime, and you see this all over.”

Palmieri won the first Grammy Award for Best Latin Recording in 1975 for, you guessed it, “The Sun of Latin Music”. That same year he also released “Unfinished Masterpiece,” which included jazz greats bassist Ron Carter and drummer Steve Gadd.

In 1978, he released “Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo,” co-produced with Blood, Sweat, and Tears drummer Bobby Colomby. He was intrigued by the Lucumi religion and the album title is described in the liner notes:

“Ocha in Lucumi which signifies Saint (God). In Haiti, Ocha converts to Loa and is practiced as the religion Voodoo. In Brazil, it is called Macun—the religion, Macumba. In Cuba, Santería derives from the Lucumi religion.”

Each piece on the record is described musically in detail in the liner notes, reflecting his in-depth research of the musicality of these religions.

Ten-time Grammy winner Palmieri has recorded 45 albums, some jazz focused, some Latin focused—all great! His 2017 album “Wisdom” is a true amalgamation of music styles as each song features a different style with soloists such as New Orleans saxophonist Augustine Parrish (and Mardi Gras Indian Chief) Donald Harrison. His tribute to his late wife “Mi Luz Mayor” (My Great Light) released in 2018 is a big band salsa album featuring a Carlos Santana guitar and legendary jazz drummer Roy Haynes.

Don’t delay, get at least one of his albums and enjoy The Sun of Latin Music.

Chuck Reider

Chuck Reider is the Executive Director of the Reno Jazz Orchestra.Chuck has been a professional trombonist for over 45 years.He moved to the Reno-Tahoe area in 1978 where he played his first casino gig at the Cal-Neva and performed as a showroom musician with all the great entertainers from Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. to Diana Ross and Willie Nelson.He performed with the Reno Philharmonic for over 30 years, retiring in 2018. He is a founding member of the Reno Jazz Orchestra and has been the Music Director since 2006.Chuck also worked as an engineer at NDOT for 18 years, has been married to his wife Candy for 33 years and they have two sons, Charlie and Matt.

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