Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 15 Dec. '36, East Harlem, NYC) Pianist, bandleader, composer, arranger, producer; a charismatic figure in Latin music, one of salsa's most innovative artists, noted for fiery piano solos. From Puerto Rican family (great-grandfather relocated from Florence, Italy, to PR in early 19th century); family moved to South Bronx '41, where he remained until '56. Began singing at age five or six accompanied by older brother pianist Charlie Palmieri; started playing piano at age eight, commenced piano lessons at age 13, but wanted to be a timbalero ('Tito Puente was my idol,' said Eddie) and drummed with his uncle's band: Chino y sus Almas Tropicales '49--51. Discouraged by having to carry the drums, he permanently returned to the piano at age 15 and organized a nine-piece group incl. vocalist/percussionist Joe Quijano (b 27 Sep. '35, Puerta De Tierra, San Juan PR) and timbalero Orlando Marin (b '34, Bronx, NYC), which became Orlando Marin Conjunto when Eddie turned pro '55.

Following recommendations from his brother, he filled the piano chair vacated by Charlie with bands of Eddie Forestier, Johnny Segui '55 (Segui sacked him '56 for allegedly hitting the piano keys too hard), Vicentico Vald‚s '56--8 (where he met one of his main influences, percussionist Manny Oquendo: 'Manny is the one I learned my Cuban music from'), Tito Rodriguez '58--60; left the security of Rodriguez to form his own Conjunto La Perfecta in late '61. The craze then was violins-and-flute sound of charanga, but Palmieri initially used a four-trumpet conjunto format, one of three different instrumentations featured on his debut LP Eddie Palmieri And His Conjunto La Perfecta '62; because the budget was getting extremely high, Alegre label boss/producer Al Santiago told Eddie to come in with a smaller group, for which he used Barry Rogers (d 19 April '91) on trombone and George Castro on flute. He had met Rogers (who was infl. by Kai Winding, J. J. Johnson) mid-'61 playing with a jam session band at the Tritons social club in the Bronx; together they developed a two-trombone and flute sound (christened 'trombanga' by Charlie), which was used exclusively on Alegre follow-up El Molestoso Vol. II '63; other key members of the band were Oquendo on timbales and bongos and vocalist Ismael Quintana. Palmieri admired Luis 'Lili' Martinez Gri¤ n (pianist with Arsenio Rodriguez and F‚lix Chappottin), Jes£s Lopez (pianist with Arca¤o), Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk; Lo Que Traigo Es Sabroso '64 incl. major hit 'Mu¤eca': his 'modal opening, reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, to a piano solo that developed in classically Cuban patterns; above all the strangely ambiguous brass sound, at once driving and despairing, were all hints of what was to come' (John Storm Roberts). Brazilian trombonist Jose Rodrigues joined '63, stayed with Palmieri into '80s. Band switched from Alegre to Tico for Echando Pa'lante (Straight Ahead) c'64 and Azucar Pa' Ti (Sugar For You) '65 (both with hits written by Palmieri), Mozambique '65 and Molasses '66; these were the last purely trombanga LPs, eight-piece lineup incl. Tommy Lopez on conga, bassist Dave P‚rez (later worked with Ray Barretto, Tipica 73). La Perfecta made two LPs with Cal Tjader: El Sonido Nuevo/The New Soul Sound '66 on Verve, Bamboleate '67 on Tico, the first augmented with two trombones, the second regarded by many as among Tjader's best, La Perfecta lending harder edge to his usual work. La Perfecta disbanded '68: 'I was not taking care of business. It all fell apart ... I went into a complete mental recession there. I was really bananas by '68.' Champagne '68 coincided with boogaloo craze (which he regarded as embarrassing and symptomatic of US Latin music's slump in creativity after the Cuban embargo), incl. 'Ay Que Rico', sung by Cheo Feliciano; the band incl. Rogers, Israel 'Cachao' Lopez on bass, Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros on trumpet on some tracks; other vocalists were Quintana and Cynthia Ellis (who also wrote 'The African Twist'). His Justicia '69 reflected the mood of the civil rights era: an instrumental 'Verdict On Judge Street', an ironic vocal on Leonard Bernstein's 'Somewhere' by the late electric guitarist Bob Bianco (who introduced Palmieri to jazz harmonies and the Schillinger system of composition: 'I call him my guru, just a tremendous head'), and a rare vocal from Palmieri himself on 'Everything Is Everything'. Superimposition c'69 had one side of experimental Latin instrumentals, followed by his last studio LP on Tico, Vamonos Pa'l Monte c'71, introducing Ronnie Cuber on sax (a regular until late '70s), Palmieri on electric piano, brother Charlie guested on organ on this and Eddie's other '71 recordings issued '71--4, incl. fusion experiments with black R&B group Harlem River Drive on an eponymous LP and two vols of Live At Sing Sing, Eddie Palmieri And Friends In Concert At The University Of Puerto Rico (made on non-professional equipment, polished in the studio, incl. remakes of many hits); compilations on Tico '74--7 were Lo Mejor de Eddie Palmieri, The History Of Eddie Palmieri, Eddie's Concerto, The Music Man. He switched to Harvey Averne's Coco label for Sentido '73, the last with Quintana in '70s. His idiosyncratic amalgam of raw salsa and experimentalism brought continued success, incl. the first Grammy for a Latin LP for Sun Of Latin Music '74, mixing dance hits arr. by Ren‚ Hern ndez with avant-garde arr. by Rogers; this band had Rogers and Rodrigues on trombone, two trumpets (Victor Paz on lead), baritone sax and flute, young Puerto Rican Lalo Rodriguez singing lead, Alfredo de la F‚ on violin. Grammy winner Unfinished Masterpiece '76 mixed Cuban rhythms, descarga (Latin jam session) and jazz; compilations were Gold 1973--76 and Exploration '78 on Coco, Timeless -- Live Recording '81 (mid-'60s trombanga).

He went to the Epic label for Grammy-nom. but commercially unsuccessful Lucumi Macumba Voodoo '78, theme of African-derived religions of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti mixed with R&B elements and diverse instrumentation. Grammy-nom. Eddie Palmieri '81 on Barbaro (label part of Fania empire, which had purchased his contract from Averne) reunited Palmieri, Feliciano, Quintana, was dedicated to arr. Hern ndez, who had died recently. He relocated to PR '83--7, formed a band and made three Grammy-winning albums there: Palo Pa' Rumba '84 with three trumpets, three trombones, Charlie on percussion; Solito '85 incl. older hits reworked; La Verdad/The Truth '87 featuring vocalist Tony Vega (instrumentals on side two): he prod. the latter himself to buy out his Fania contract. Suspicious bandleaders and promoters prevented him from entering the island's gig circuit, so he moved back to NYC: 'the more I told them that I was really there sincerely to help, the more they thought the opposite ... whatever the reason ... I personally couldn't give a shit. My only problem was that my family suffered economically.' Made Sue¤o '89 for Intuition with four reworkings of earlier hits incl. Grammy- nom. track 'Azucar'. Llego La India ... Via Eddie Palmieri '92 on RMM's Soho Latino label was a misguided collaboration with ex-hip hop singing star La India: the band cooked but her vocals stank. Appointed to NY chapter of NARAS board of governors '93, promised to crusade for greater awareness of Latin music and expansion of Grammy categories in the genre; a Latin jazz Grammy category was finally added '95 and Eddie's Palmas '94 on Electra Nonesuch received a nomination: it was his first foray into a purely instrumental form, described as 'a dynamic fusion of tropical, jazz and Bronx salsero sensibilities' by Ed Morales. Debut on RMM's Tropijazz label Arete '95 (also nom. for a Grammy) followed by Vortex '96. Palmieri also recorded with Tico All Stars '66, Fania All Stars '68, TropiJazz All-Stars '96; played on debut The Latin Side Of John Coltrane '96 on Astor Place by trombonist/arr. Conrad Herwig (a sideman on Palmieri's '92--6 albums) and Nu Yorican Soul '96 on Talkin' Loud.