Born Edward Palmieri, December 15, 1936, in East Harlem, NY; raised in the South Bronx; son of an electrician/luncheonette owner and a seamstress; married; wife's name, Iraida; children: five. Addresses: Record company--Elektra/Nonesuch, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Publicity--Maria Echeverria, D. L. Media, 155 E. 23rd St., Suite 607, New York, NY 10010.

Eddie Palmieri, also known as "The Latin Sun King," is a vital force in Latin music's Afro-Caribbean jazz movement and vibrant, drum-anchored improvisational salsa. Palmieri is often credited with creating modern salsa music--a hybrid of rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock `n' roll; his band La Perfecta defined the lively sound of Latin New York in the 1960s. But he told New York Latino contributor Larry Birnbaum: "We have to eliminate the word salsa.... It's Afro-Caribbean music. Musicians have been playing this type of music in America for more than fifty years-- ever since a Cuban drummer named Chano Pozo turned Dizzy Gillespie's whole orchestra around in 1947."

Having garnered five Grammy Awards between 1975 and 1994, Palmieri has fought tirelessly to bring recognition to Latin and Afro-Caribbean music. He was appointed to the board of governors of the New York chapter of the National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) in 1993. In addition, Palmieri has been instrumental in expanding the coverage of Latin music at the Grammy Awards. He helped institute the Latin/African-Caribbean Jazz category, beginning in 1995.

Palmieri was born in New York City's East Harlem section in 1936. He was raised in the South Bronx, where his father, an electrician by trade, ran a luncheonette called El Mambo. Palmieri's mother, a seamstress, believed that music was an important part of a child's education, so Palmieri began taking piano lessons at the age of eight, following in his older brother Charlie's footsteps. But his true love was reserved for percussion.

"I am a percussionist," Palmieri told Columbus Dispatch contributor Bill Eichenberger. "[I] work with complex African rhythmic patterns that are centuries old. The intriguing thing for me is to layer jazz phrasings and harmony on top of those patterns." Percussionist Tito Puente was Palmieri's greatest influence and idol, along with Tito Rodriguez and the Machito Orchestra, who gained popularity in the 1940s.

At the age of thirteen, Palmieri played timbales in Chino y sus Almas Tropicales, a band led by his uncle. New York City was exploding with Afro-Cuban dance music at the time. The blending of mambo and cha-cha rhythms with R&B, jazz, and rock gave birth to what would eventually be called "salsa." In 1951 Palmieri switched from timbales to piano and founded a nine-piece group with singer Joe Quijano. Four years later, Palmieri--not yet 20 years old- -replaced his brother Charlie as a pianist in Johnny Segui's band. Then, in 1958, he joined Tito Rodriguez's mambo orchestra.

Palmieri organized his first band, La Perfecta, in 1961, when he was just 25. Around the same time, he acquired the nickname "Pancho Rompeteclas," meaning "Jack the keyboards-buster." La Perfecta altered the course of Latin dance music by adding trombones to the brass section of the traditional "conjunto" format. Critics were stunned by this new "trombanga" line, which replaced traditional trumpets. Barry Rogers and Jose Rodriguez played trombones in La Perfecta, which came to be known as "the band of the crazy roaring elephants." Their trombone sound was widely imitated within the realm of salsa music, and the distinctive innovation established Palmieri as a serious new artist.

La Perfecta played four sets a night at New York City's Palladium, four nights a week, for $72 per musician in the early 1960s. The engagement lasted for five years, until the club closed in 1966. Palmieri and La Perfecta recorded El Sonido Nuevo in 1966, featuring Latin jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader. Other bandmembers included Manny Oquendo (timbales), Tommy Lopez (congas), Barry Rogers (trombone), George Castro (flute), and Ishmael Quintana (vocals). "Manny is the one I ... learned my Cuban music from. I could never thank him enough for that," Palmieri told Birnbaum.

Palmieri's 1962 album El Molestoso ("The Bothersome One"), was titled in recognition of his reputation as a person willing to butt heads in order to fulfill a vision or retain his creativity. Mambo con Conga es Mozambique, released three years later, was never heard by most Americans because major radio stations deemed it too "communist" in nature and refused to play it. Palmieri recorded the album to pay a homage to Latin music's Afro- Cuban roots and rhythms.

La Perfecta disbanded in 1968, and Palmieri went on to record civil rights anthems and "boogaloos" with the group Harlem River Drive, fusing his Afro-Caribbean sound with rhythm and blues. When the salsa movement gained momentum in the early 1970s, Palmieri turned his attention again to Latin tracks and recorded Vamonos Pa'l Monte with his brother Charlie on the organ and Chocolate Armenteros on the trumpet.

In 1973 Palmieri accepted an assignment from Fania Records to record an album with Cheo Feliciano called Champagne. He flew to Puerto Rico to work on the album but still needed to find a vocalist. He eventually discovered a young singer named Lalo Rodriguez, who would appear on other albums as well. Palmieri followed Vamonos Pa'l Monte and Champagne with The Sun of Latin Music, featuring Rodriguez on vocals. In 1975 Palmieri won his first of five Grammy Awards for best Latin album. A year later, he won a Grammy for Unfinished Masterpiece.

Palmieri spent five years in Puerto Rico in the early 1980s. Salsa's popularity was waning in New York City at the time, and Palmieri's brother had suffered a heart attack. Palmieri went to Puerto Rico to take care of his ailing mother. There he formed a band called the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra, recorded Palo Pa' Rumba in 1983, Solito in 1984, and La Verdad in 1987, and won three Grammy awards--one for each album. But working in Puerto Rico was stressful for Palmieri. "I felt completely oppressed over there," he told Birnbaum. "I tried to get a helping hand from the orchestras in Puerto Rico, but I just frightened them away.... It was quite difficult. We were hurting for employment.... [The local musicians] wouldn't allow me in."

After returning to New York City in the late 1980s, Palmieri recorded Sueno in 1989 for Intuition, a German record label, as well as Llego la India for Soho Sounds. Soon after, he signed with Nonesuch Records, a label noted for classical music rather than Latin or jazz recordings. In the mid-1990s Palmieri was at work on a project that sought to weave Afro-Caribbean rhythms into the classical compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. In 1994 he released Palmas. Palmieri told Down Beat contributor Howard Mandel: "Palmas sets a precedent for how to extend jazz into the most incredible rhythmic patterns, the most exciting in the world, 40,000 years old!"

Brian de Palma's 1993 film, Carlito's Way, starring Al Pacino, featured Palmieri's hit single Muneca. The track Puerto Rico was included in Spike Lee's Crooklyn soundtrack the next year. Palmieri also contributed to Breaking the Silence, a 1994 video about HIV and AIDS aimed at women in the Latin community.

In his long, prolific career as a percussionist, pianist, composer, and orchestra leader, Palmieri played with an extensive list of masterful jazz and salsa musicians. Alto saxophonist Donald Harrison told Mandel: "One thing I love about Eddie is his free spirit. He goes for the music and listens to the musicians, the same way Art Blakey did, and of course, Duke Ellington, too."

by B. Kimberly Taylor

Eddie Palmieri's Career

Began playing piano and timbales at age eight; played timbales with Chino y sus Almas Tropicales (a band led by his uncle), 1949; switched to piano, 1951, and founded a nine-piece group with singer Joe Quijano; replaced his brother, Charlie, as a pianist in Johnny Segui's band, 1955; joined Tito Rodriguez's mambo orchestra, 1958; organized first band, La Perfecta, 1961, and recorded self-titled debut album; band played New York City's Palladium for five years; bandmembers included Manny Oquendo (timbales), Tommy Lopez (congas), Barry Rogers (trombone), George Castro (flute), and Ishmael Quintana (vocals). La Perfecta disbanded, 1968; Palmieri recorded civil rights anthems and "boogaloos" with Harlem River Drive; formed Eddie Palmieri Orchestra in Puerto Rico, early 1980s; returned to New York City, late 1980s; recorded Sueno, Intuition, and Llego la India, Soho Sounds, both 1989; signed with Nonesuch Records; released Palmas, 1994; contributed to Breaking the Silence, a video about HIV and AIDS aimed at women in the Latin community, 1994; host of lecture/performance The Evolution of the Afro-Caribbean Rhythm Section, 1994.

Eddie Palmieri's Awards

Grammy Award for best Latin album, 1975, for The Sun of Latin Music; 1976, for Unfinished Masterpiece; 1983, for Palo Pa' Rumba; 1984, for Solito; and 1987, for La Verdad; voted "beyond artist of the year" in a Down Beat critics' poll, 1995.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 8, 2006: Palmieri won the Grammy Award for best Latin jazz album for Listen Here!. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.

Further Reading

Sources

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over 9 years ago

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