Latin jazz icon Eddie Palmieri performs in Scottsdale next month

Eddie Palmieri will perform in Scottsdale on Nov. 9. (submitted photo)

Jazz is about 100 years old, and Latin jazz is 80. But Latin jazz also has another name: Eddie Palmieri.

Mr. Palmieri, one of jazz’s legendary pianists and band leaders, will appear in concert with his Latin Jazz Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, as part of a tour commemorating his 80th birthday.

Mr. Palmieri, born Dec. 15, 1936, in East Harlem (also known as Spanish Harlem), is credited with combining jazz and the Latin music of his Puerto Rican heritage, according to a press release. He grew up in the Bronx, where his earliest influence was his older brother, Charlie, who led salsa bands.

The younger Mr. Palmieri’s taste expanded to include jazz, especially the bebop that came to typify the genre in the late 1940s and 1950s. He played with various bands in the 1950s, and in 1961 founded the first of three bands he has fronted: Conjunto “La Perfecta.”

The group was credited with creating a new sound that blended salsa with jazz: Latin jazz. The music owed its fundamental identity to the Caribbean rhythms Mr. Palmieri grew up with, adding jazz-inspired improvisation and harmonic innovations borrowed from bebop.

Mr. Palmieri has said that his keyboard influences included modern jazz masters Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner, but that salsa, and especially the salsa played by his brother, has remained just as strong an element.

Another hallmark of Mr. Palmieri’s sound is a large band, fronted by two trombones.

“A trumpet, two trombones, reed, congas, drums, piano and vocalist. That’s what a Latin jazz orchestra should be,” Mr. Palmieri has noted, adding that a large band is integral to Latin jazz.

“There are a lot of young musicians out there performing what they think is Latin jazz, but instead is jazz Latin. And there’s a difference. Those who think they’re playing Latin jazz but aren’t, not in the truest sense of the music, work as a small combo with a piano, drums and maybe a (percussionist), but those bands that are into what is really Latin jazz are much larger groups with reeds, brass and a full rhythm section with several percussionists.”

The importance of percussion in Mr. Palmieri’s music may be traced to his having started in music by playing timbales in an uncle’s salsa band. Polyrhythms – different, contrasting rhythms played at the same time – characterize much of a typical Mr. Palmieri performance. “I’m a frustrated percussionist, so I take it out on the piano,” he has said.

Mr. Palmieri’s first group disbanded in 1968, so he started a new one with brother Charlie, which resulted in the ground-breaking album, “Harlem River Drive,” adding funk and soul to the mix of jazz and salsa. In 1974, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences for the first time established a Latin music category for its Grammy Awards, and Mr. Palmieri won the first one given, for his album, “The Sun of Latin Music.”

Eddie Palmieri (submitted photo)

He went on to win another eight Grammys over the years.

Mr. Palmieri also has been awarded the Eubie Blake Award (1991); Most Exciting Latin Performance, presented by the BBC in London (2002); Yale University’s Chubb Fellowship, usually reserved for international heads of state, given to Palmieri in recognition of his work building communities through music (2002); Harlem Renaissance Award (2005); and the Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award (2008).

In 2009, the Library of Congress added Mr. Palmieri’s composition “Azucar Pa’ Ti” to the National Recording Registry, in recognition that the piece’s eight-and-one-half-minute length had broken the three-minute limit imposed by the recording industry. In 2013, the National Endowment for the Arts named Mr. Palmieri a Jazz Master – its highest award in the field of jazz.

In 2012, Mr. Palmieri celebrated his 75th birthday with new music included in the original score for a documentary, “Doin’ it in the Park,” which examined the cultural influence of playground basketball on sports and music. The songs are part of his album, Sabiduría, released this past April, a fusion of Jazz, funk and Latin mixed with Afro-world rhythms.

At 80, Mr. Palmieri intends to keep touring and recording.

“There will always be Latin jazz,” he said. “My mission is to keep it alive.”

Tickets: $59 (Members $51) / $49 / $39

Free for eligible veterans, students and teachers. Patrons 29 and under, 50 percent off.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is at 7380 E. Second St. in Scottsdale.

The Scottsdale Independent is published monthly and mailed to 75,000 homes and businesses in Scottsdale.

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