Palmieri will revisit music from the original 1960s La Perfecta, featuring energized new versions of the band's salsa music and fiery new Latin jazz compositions.
Palmieri, who is known for his banging, percussive piano style says, "I'm a frustrated percussionist, so I take it out on the piano." He adds that the great alto saxophonist from New Orleans, Donald Harrison (along with many others), told Palmieri that he was soloing on piano like a drummer. "I love the timbales and the percussion because my brother Charlie was working with Tito Puente when I was a young man," Palmieri explains. "Tito Puente really brought the timbales up front. I played timbales for a couple of years and then I went back to the piano."
Born in Spanish Harlem in 1936, Palmieri began piano studies at an early age, and he saw music was a vehicle out of el barrio. Palmieri became and remains a strong devotee to salsa music, which he labels "the most exciting music for dance." Palmieri has lived to see Latin music become accepted the world over, and is confident that a constant desire exists on the part of young players to learn the congas and timbales and continue the tradition. "In my travels around the world," says Palmieri, "I have seen these orchestras in Japan, Germany and Finland thanks to the influence of Cuban orchestras that have passed through. A lot of South Americans live in Europe now and they're constantly looking for Latin music, so when an orchestra comes there, there is a huge turnout. This is all part of the survival of the genre."
Palmieri had begun playing professionally in 1955 with Johnny Segui and became a bandleader in 1961 with the formation of the original La Perfecta, which became known as "the band with the crazy roaring elephants." La Perfecta made avant-gard use of trombones and a flute in the front line. The sound became very popular in New York City. "I knew that was the sound I was looking for," says Palmieri.. His musical career spans more than five decades, with his most recent Grammy being for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2007 for Simpatico, a collaborative effort with trumpeter Brian Lynch.
Palmieri sees the development of Latin music stemming from the fundamental rhythms of Africa by way of Cuba. There, the music took on dance from the religious aspect of the island as well as an infusion of folk music. In the Cuba of the 1940s, the music embraced additional instruments while developing and crystallizing rhythmic patterns that have excited people for years. "Cuban music provides the fundamental from which I never move," says Palmieri. "Whatever has to be built must be built from there. It's a cross-cultural effect and makes for magnificent music."
The music crossed oceans and transcended racial barriers to find a new home. "New York is the mecca of the world when it comes to the arts," says Palmieri. "Latin music was embraced here." After World War II, the Latin genre migrated to New York from Puerto Rico to popularize the Latin orchestra sound. "Orchestras of the 1950s including Machito, Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, they were the heroes of the Puerto Ricans and the Cubans that were coming in," says Palmieri. "Then there was the dance that took over the whole world, and that was called 'The Mambo'. The Palladium Ballroom was the showcase of it all. La Perfecta got into The Palladium around 1964, by 1965 we already had the hit called 'Azucar' ['Sugar']. When The Palladium closed in 1966, we were the last band to play there."
From the last show at The Palladium to his debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Palmieri brings his power and percussive precision February 6 and 7 to Frederick P. Rose Hall. The show will feature compositions written from 1961 to 1968 by the original La Perfecta.
For tickets and further information, visit Jazz at Lincoln Center.