Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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(b 21 June 1920s, Harlem, NYC, of Cuban and Puerto Rican parentage) Charanga bandleader, flautist, prolific composer (over 200 songs on file with ASCAP), arranger, producer; also plays piano, sax, percussion. Exposed to Cuban music from age three when his family relocated to Cuba; returned to NYC at age nine; during his teens he regularly attended dances in Spanish Harlem featuring bands of Machito, Noro Morales, Rafael Muñoz, Alberto Iznaga's Orquesta Siboney, others. While serving for three years in USAF during WWII, he acquired a degree in aeronautical engineering; concurrently he studied with musicians serving as pilots. After discharge he studied at City College of NY under the GI Bill, and studied music theory, harmony and composition '54-74. He organized his first group the Mamboleros '55, a quintet including Johnny Pacheco on conga, Johnny Grasso on reeds (Pérez started flute tuition with him '58). He signed with Columbia '57 while leading the Belmonte Orchestra; recorded 'Fire Island Mambo' and 'Monte Carlo' with his own orchestra '59.

During the height of the '60-4 charanga/pachanga craze he led his own flute, strings, rhythm section and voices charanga band on two best-selling LPs on Ajay: Para La Fiesta Voy '61 and the significant African hit Bon Bon de Chocolate!, both reissued on Montuno '92; classically trained Spanish-born Joe Canoura played flute on the first, Bobby Nelson on the latter; Pérez played piano, composed, arranged and conducted; Rudy Calzado provided co-lead vocals on both. He gigged at the Palladium and Roseland Ballrooms, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Grossingers resort hotel in the Catskills. The highly rated album Pa' Fricase Los Pollos '64 on Sabena (reissued on Corredor Inc. '94) was released as the charanga/pachanga fad was beginning to wane, Eddy Zervigón featured on flute (see Orquesta Broadway) and Osvaldo 'Chi Hua Hua' Martinez on güiro. Pérez is credited with discovering the gifted African-American violinist Eddie Drennon in Washington DC in the early '60s; Pérez persuaded Drennon to relocate to NYC where, besides Pérez, he worked with various charangas including Pupi Legarreta, Orquesta Novel, Don Gonzalo Fernández's Super Tipica de Estrellas, Tipica Ideal, Charanga America.

While serving as a musicians' union official for two years, Pérez succeeded in raising weekend pay rates; as a result he encountered difficulty in obtaining gigs at some top clubs when he returned to bandleading. Pérez's fortunes improved with the success of Of Latin Extraction '68 (retitled Desde El 'Chateau Madrid' De Nueva York on the Senegal-based Zartos label) recorded by the owner of the Chateau Madrid club, where his band had a popular residency. He continued with Lou Pérez y su Orquesta 'Barrio' '72 on Parnaso and Lou Pérez y su Conjunto Tipico '74 on Seeco, swapping strings for two trumpets on the latter, which also featured Roberto Torres singing lead on two tracks. The title track of his next LP, the acclaimed Fantasia Africana/African Fantasy '75 on All-Art, was an experimental short suite: he would have liked to do it longer, he explained in a radio interview, but the record companies only want dance music. Another mini-suite became the title track of Our Heritage -- Nuestra Herencia '76 on Tico, produced by Louie Ramirez; a remake of the title track of his Tico followup De Todo Un Poco/A Little Bit Of Everything '77 was used prominently in the hit movie Dirty Dancing '87, Mexican singer Angel Luis Silva 'Melon' sang lead vocals on both versions.