Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Norberto Morales, 4 January 1911, Puerta de Tierra, Puerto Rico; d 14 January 1964, San Juan, PR) Latin pianist and bandleader renowned for his commanding presence; also composer. From a large musical family, he was first taught by his father and a sister; he initially studied trombone and bass, then piano. The Morales family were invited in 1924 to become the official court orchestra for Venezuelan dictator President Juan Vicente Gómez; Noro took over leadership following his father's death. The family orchestra returned to PR in 1930, then disbanded; after freelancing with Ralph Sánchez, the Midnight Serenaders, Carmelo Díaz Soler, Rafael Muñoz and others Noro relocated to NYC in 1935, worked there with Alberto Socarrás, Augusto Coen, Leo Marini, Johnny Rodríguez (Tito Rodríguez's older brother). He organized the successful Hermanos Morales Orchestra in 1937 including his brothers Esy (Ismael Morales, b 1916, San Juan, PR; d 1951, Los Angeles) on flute, drummer Humberto and Pepito (José Morales, aka 'Gandinga') on baritone sax; they recorded for Columbia, the band was renamed Noro Morales and his Orchestra 1938 and soon became the band of choice for East Harlem dance halls and Midtown supper clubs, including a five-year residency at the famous El Morocco.
He formed a big band early in the early 1940s and became one of the top mid-'40s orchestras, rivalling Machito, Miguelito Valdés and Marcelino Guerra. His 'Bim Bam Bum' (recorded '41 on Decca with vocals by Machito) was an early crossover hit, popularized '42 by Xavier Cugat, sung by Tito Rodríguez (included on CD Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra 1940-42 '91 on Tumbao); his '42 hit composition 'Serenata Ritmica' became his theme and clinched his popularity with non-Latinos: beginning that year his band was hired to play many times at the celebrated annual NY Daily News Harvest Moon Ball. Another well-known Morales tune was 'Oye Negra'. Noro developed a hip combo style during the '40s, which copycats diluted; Noro also made commercial concessions, but the quintet for piano and percussion was highly regarded. Some of Noro's most revered piano and rhythm sides for Gabriel Oller's Coda label (formed '45) were collected on CD Rumba Rhapsody '94 on Tumbao.

He took the arrival of the mambo in the 1940s in his stride; fine examples of his big-band work '45-50 (including classic '49 MGM mambo cuts 'Ponce' and '110th Street And 5th Avenue') were compiled on the Tumbao CD Rumbas And Mambo '93. His Piano And Rhythm '60 (reissued '91) on Ansonia includes his captivating 'Maria Cervantes'. He relocated back to PR in 1961 and became one of the island's major attractions as resident band at the Hotel la Concha. He died from chronic diabetes which had made him nearly blind.

Noro employed various arrangers including René Hernández, Joe Loco, Chico O'Farrill, saxist/ arranger Ray Santos, Ben Pickering, Charlie Diamond (aka Carlos Diamante), others; he worked especially closely with the latter two, who transcribed his ideas. Numerous prominent Latin names passed through Noro's bands, including percussionists Tito Puente, Ray Romero ('42), Sabú Martínez, Johnny 'La Vaca' Rodríguez Sr (father of Johnny 'Dandy' Rodríguez), Manny Oquendo and Willie Rosario, singers Machito, Tito Rodríguez, Pellín Rodríguez, Vicentico Valdés, Dioris Valladares and Vitín Avilés, bassist Julio Andino, Santos on sax; jazz trumpeter Doc Severinsen was a sideman '50-1. Noro's unique style was kept alive by pianist and broadcaster Dr Ken 'Leo' Rosa (b NYC; also a chiropractor and '65 Mr Universe runner-up), for whom Noro was a major role model. Other worthwhile reissues included Recordando Los Exitos De Noro Morales, Vol. 1 '92 (recorded '53-6) in RCA Tropical Series, Mr. Babalú '93 ('49-51 tracks) on Tumbao, the latter with Miguelito Valdés; Live Broadcasts And Transcriptions 1942-48 '96 on Harlequin.

Of the rest of the talented family, as well as drumming with Noro, Humberto published a tutor on playing Latin percussion instruments; Rudy played bass with Noro; flautist Esy was also an alto saxist, leader and composer, worked eight years with Xavier Cugat, played flute on Cugat sides '37-43, organized his own band '46 including Pepito, and recorded for Brunswick and Rainbow. Esy was featured playing his own best-seller 'Jungle Fantasy' in a well-known film noir, Criss Cross '49; it was covered by Percy Faith, Charlie Palmieri, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann, many others.