Eddie Palmieri coming for Joy of JazzPeter Feldman
Peter Feldman: Eddie Palmieri, one of music’s elder statesmen, will be one of the star attractions at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz in Newtown from August 23 to 25.
With more than 50 years in the industry, 40 albums under his belt and heaps of awards (including Grammys), Palmieri shows no signs of letting up.
He won his first Grammy in 1975, the first year they ever gave a Grammy in the Latin category, one of the many highlights of an incredible music career. He has since won another nine, which prompted his nephew to remark that he needed one more for his other thumb.
He joins a star-studded line-up that include Grammy-Award winner Kurt Elling who has been hailed as the jazz male vocalist of his generation; trombone master Wycliffe Gordon; Grammy-winning guitarist Earl Klugh as well as an appearance by the world famous Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Palmieri laughs off any suggestion of retirement: “It really is a love for what I do,” he says. “When I am up on the bandstand and seeing the people either dancing or listening attentively in their seats, and working with these great musicians who I am honoured to travel with, you add it all up and it’s this that makes it possible for me to keep that inner drive going. We just keep going wherever we’re needed.”
This will be Palmieri’s first visit to the country. “The nearest I’ve been is when I played in Algiers in 1984,” he recalls in a telephone interview from New York, “There’s been nothing else on the continent of Africa.”
The reason he is so excited to be coming to South Africa isn’t only from a spiritual perspective. His music is closely aligned with African rhythms and he feels a closeness with the continent.
The concert he will be giving in Johannesburg is his Latin Jazz presentation which will feature trumpet (with long-time member Brian Lynch), alto sax, bass, congos, bongos, timpani, two horns and Palmieri on his beloved piano.
“When I do the Latin Jazz it’s very danceable,” he tells me. “It’s structured in a form we use to call instrumental mambos, popular in the 50s, which was either a jazz composition, a standard composition of standard music and Broadway hits, but without vocals.
“The compositions are structured to excite and are danceable.”
Palmieri's parents migrated to New York from Ponce, Puerto Rica, in 1926, and settled down in the South Bronx, a largely Hispanic neighbourhood. Both he and his older brother, the late Charlie Palmieri, were born in New York. When he was only eight years old, he would musically accompany Charlie and together they entered and participated in many talent contests.
During his schooling Palmieri was constantly exposed to music, specifically jazz, and began piano lessons at the age of 11, later performing at the same tender age at Carnegie Hall. His biggest piano influences at the time were Thelonious Monk and McCoy Tyner.
He was inspired by his older brother and was determined to someday form his own band - something he achieved in 1950, when he was just 14.
During the 1950s, Palmieri played in various bands, including Tito Rodríguez's and formed his another band, Conjunto La Perfect, in 1961.
At the time he concentrated on a Latin dance craze called Charanga, which required an orchestra with a flute and violins, but Palmieri added a mixture of trumpets and trombones to the format. He included a touch of jazz in his recordings in the ‘60s and also applied his own interpretations to a Cuban rhythm known as Mozambique.
Over the decades Palmieri perfected his sound and is today a revered figure in the industry.
His advice to budding musicians is that they must be fully conversant with their chosen instrument and work towards technical perfection. They must study some of the masters in the genre and listen to their musical compositions which will help them eventually develop their own signature.
Eddie Palmieri performs at Standard Bank Joy of Jazz on Thursday, August 23 and Saturday, August 25.
Feldman has been a journalist and arts critic for over 45 years and served on The Star in various capacities for 35 years, ending up as a specialist writer on films, music and theatre. During that time he travelled extensively on assignments and interviewed many international film and pop stars, both in South Africa and overseas. He also covered some of South Africa's biggest film and musical events. He is active in the freelance field and his work over the past 12 years has appeared in a variety of South African newspapers and magazines. He writes regularly for Artslink.co.za, The Citizen, South African Jewish Report, The Sunday Independent and is a contributor to "Eat Out" Magazine. He also contributes movie reviews on Mondays to The Gordon Hoffman Easy Morning Show on 1485 Radio Today (www.1485.org.za) and has worked on TV in his specialist capacity. Over the years Feldman has been the recipient of several awards for his contribution to music journalism and the SA record industry. He wrote lyrics for some top artists, including Sipho Mabuse, and had a hit disco single, "Video Games," which was released in 1988. After retiring from The Star in April, 1999, Feldman joined the PR and events management company, Dlamini Weil Communications, where he currently works as an entertainment and media consultant.
Newtown Precinct, Newtown Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa