Larry Harlow, Dr. John
January 1, 1970Not a lot of published writing this week: Friday's column on Larry Harlow and a Calendar blurb of Dr. John. But there was lots of snow to shovel in these parts, and the deadlines for next week are stacked high because of it. Let's hope February is a good deal less snowy than January has been.
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Harlow puts his stamp on Latin jazz
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 28, 2005
Larry Harlow is a legendary figure in Latin music, right there beside such big names as Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. It was Harlow who introduced the now ubiquitous front line of trumpets and trombones to Latin big bands in the mid-1960s, bringing new energy to the music and helping popularize salsa music through the '70s and beyond.
"I had the sound in my head," says Harlow, 65, on the phone from his Manhattan apartment. "Everybody had trumpet bands or trombone bands, and I said, 'Why not put the trumpets and the trombones together?' Nobody had done that before, and now basically every Latin band has the same setup of two trumpets and two trombones."
But Harlow started out wanting to play straight-ahead jazz back in his days at High School of Music & Arts in Manhattan. And over the past couple of years he has been inching away from his customary dance-band stuff toward the more adventurous Latin jazz of his group Latin Jazz Encounter, the sextet he'll be bringing to Scullers this weekend, augmented both nights by the violinist Alfredo de la Fé.
"A marvelous player," Harlow calls de la Fé. "He just adds so much energy and swing."
Harlow hasn't given up leading Latin dance bands. He still fronts his Latin Legends Band and the Larry Harlow Orchestra. But sometime in 2002, Andy Kaufman, owner of the New York club Birdland, issued a challenge.
"'C'mon, put a little Latin jazz thing together,'" Harlow recalls Kaufman saying. "'See what you can do.'"
"Jazz really wasn't my forte," admits Harlow. "I was always into Latin dance music."
Harlow had always wanted to play Birdland, though, so he put together the sextet he is bringing to Scullers — Harlow on keyboards, Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax and flute, Mac Gollehon on trumpet, Eddie "Gua Gua" Rivera on electric bass, Bobby Sanabria on drums and timbales, Chembo Corniel on congas and percussion — and wound up with a sizzling CD on the Latin Cool label, "Live at Birdland."
Not so coincidentally, Harlow used to haunt the club of that name while in high school. It was at Birdland, in fact, that he decided against a career in jazz.
"One day I saw Art Tatum play," Harlow recalls, "and I said, 'If I practice night and day my whole life, without sleeping, I could never play one-tenth as good as this guy plays, and the guy can't even see.' So there went my jazz chops down the drain. I never practiced another day after that."
Never practiced jazz another day, perhaps. But he didn't give up on music, gravitating instead toward Latin dance music. That way, he points out, "I could still play in a group that improvises and creates, yet I was into the Latin rhythms. That's what drew me there. The rhythms drew me."
How did this Jewish kid from Brooklyn come upon Latin rhythms in the first place?
"Well, I was going to school in Spanish Harlem, number one," he says. "Number two, my father was a bandleader at the Latin Quarter, playing continental music. And then I took a trip in 1956, my first college Christmas trip. I went to Havana for $49, and fell into the real deal. I made it my life's work."
It took him a while to make a name for himself.
"Don't forget," says Harlow, "the Hispanic guys had something that I didn't have: They were Hispanic. So it took me a long time to get accepted by the Hispanic musicians, by the Hispanic promoters, by the Hispanic public."
Harlow eventually earned acceptance, and a nickname to boot. By then he was playing a lot of the music of the blind Cuban bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez, whose nickname was "El Ciego Maravilloso" — "the blind marvel."
"One day," recalls Harlow, "I started a solo on the song called 'La Cartera,' and Junior [Gonzalez, the band's singer] yelled out, 'Here comes El Maravilloso.' Here comes the marvel." Another band member yelled a correction: "El Judio Maravilloso" —"the Jewish marvel."
The name stuck. Harlow even titled an album "El Judio Maravilloso."
He went on to record dozens of Latin dance albums over the years, and to produce more than 200 more for other artists. But Latin jazz remains new to him, a chance to stretch out and have some fun.
Cuber, better known for his work with non-Latin groups such as the Mingus Big Band, has been flitting back and forth between jazz and Latin jazz for years, starting with a stint with Eddie Palmieri.
"Back in the '70s, when I started," Cuber says, Latin music "was more or less dance music. Not too much jazz, but a few solos here and there. But nowadays you have the Latin jazz category."
Cuber says Harlow is doing a fine job transitioning into Latin jazz.
"He does his usual Latin piano thing," says Cuber. "I mean, I don't expect him to be McCoy Tyner."
Concerts at the Gardner: Genre-blurring jazzman John Zorn's classical side will get an airing at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum this weekend, when Columbia University's Miller Theatre brings its Composers Portraits series on the road for the first time. The two concerts, at 7 p.m. tomorrow and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, will feature musicians performing some of Zorn's most recent chamber works, including "Necronomicon," a five-movement tour de force for string quartet.
Two more Composer Portraits featuring more strictly classical composers will follow at the Gardner in coming months: Nicolai Roslavets on Feb. 26 and 27 and Steve Reich on March 26 and 27. A "meet-the-artist" reception with wine and hors d'oeuvres will follow all three Saturday night performances.
Tickets for the Saturday performances/ receptions cost $30 for adults, $25 for museum members, and $15 for college students, with discounts available for three-concert subscriptions. Call 617-278-5156.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 10 p.m. Ticket only, $36; dinner/ show, $74. Repeats next Thursday.
Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, won’t be found in the jazz bins at the local record store, since he's not, strictly speaking, a jazz musician. Genres don’t matter much, though, to the sui generis. Besides which, there’s no question that jazz bubbled up from the musical gumbo that is New Orleans, and Dr. John is as New Orleans as they come. The drawling, gravel-voiced piano man’s recent CD, “N’awlinz: Dis, Dat or D’udda,” is up for two Grammy awards next month: Best Contemporary Blues Album and Best Gospel Performance, the latter for his duet with Mavis Staples on the track “Lay My Burden Down.” Other guests range from jazzers Nicholas Payton and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to popsters B.B. King, Randy Newman, and Willie Nelson. The “right place” to catch the man himself live next week is Scullers; avoid arriving at the “wrong time” by checking the showtimes above.
Thur 1/ 27 Dominique Eade Quartet Boston is blessed with several stellar vocalists, and Eade is among the finest. Her group tonight – Jed Wilson, piano; John Lockwood, bass; Richie Barshay, drums – is top-drawer, too. Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 10 p.m. Ticket only, $18; dinner/ show, $56.