By Al Carlos Hernandez
The L.A. Latin Jazz Festival 2008 May 10th produced by one of my oldest friends East Coast Eddie Rodriguez featured Eddie Palmieri plus The Latin Giants of Jazz (former members of Tito Puente Orchestra) with invited guests Dave Valentin, Oreste Vilato, Alfredo De La Fe Plus, The Jazz on the Latin Side All-Stars featuring Conga Master Francisco Aguabella and guest bongo player Actor Andy Garcia. The show was a critical success; the bar has been set high as this gig was the first of the concert season at the Greek in LA.
I knew about the gig for months as Eddie labored in putting the show together, this gig was to be his crème de la crème the first time his name figured first on the poster at the producer. Eddie and I go back to the Spanish radio days, he has moved up the ranks coast to coast working with the who’s who of Salsa and Latin Jazz, he was Tito Puente’s last manager, the cat who took Tito from 10G’s a Night to 40G, putting 15 large in his pocket every time he hit the stage.
For those who don’t know, concerts start months, weeks, days, and hours before the first tune is counted off. Back in the radio days Eddie was one of a group of eclectic radio ritmo pioneers that include, a Pastor, An International TV President and a Professor, we rode three deep to celebrate and or commiserate our Brothers legends event.
I knew things were popping off when Flautist Dave Valentin charged out of the elevator at the Wilshire Grand looking for his card key, Orestes Vilato met Pastor in the elevator, looking like a lost uncle, remembering Pastor from SF when he was El Salsero Mayor. Suffering from coffee deprivation I meandered into the lobby where Eddie was holding court, the band gathered around dressed in street clothes looking like a court appointed field trip.
G’ed Up, that night Pastor and I took a Cab to the Palms, the driver came up short with change, he pleaded, “I will not be having troubles, with gentlemen who own faces like yours”. TV Pres Vito met us at the table, and threw down his black card with a big five whack, like playing dominos on a folding card table in a barrio backyard BBQ, Vito never forgot his roots, we ate 50 dollar steaks and forgot why we came at the first place. Eddie’s blackberry juiced relentlessly, the concert with its many problems now hours away.
The Greek is located in Griffith Park, the way there lined with stilted million dollar homes, but no Homies. Three hours early the staff was making it ready, from the stage looking out and up a typewriter shelf of empty red seats stretched to the tree line.
Standing below two garage door sized blank big screens, amidst huge flat black electronic boxes snakes of thick fiber optic hoses, and band members who wore the first thing they found, did the sound check, testing each mike and monitor and Eddie was the conductor. Tattooed union tech folks mumbled into headsets, as the place was filling up, Eddie didn’t want to look outward. What of you gave a party for 6 thousand and only a few hundred showed up? Rodriguez is a scarred veteran of concert wars passed, he is good at selling out Madison Square Garden in New York, but LA don’t care and local promoters don’t mind a player hate.
…And then it was Show Time. One, two, One- Two Three, Four…The Gon-Bops of the Congas, the deep hummed thumps of the acoustic Bass, the angelic wind curtain of shiny gold saxophones, silver trumpets, and the golden voice of Adonis, Los Latinos changed the atmosphere for the next four hours nonstop, he knew then, the gig was going to work and it did .
What made the experience legendary was its special Guests; Alfredo De La Fe, known as the Jimi Hendrix of the Violin, jamming with Dave Valentin, who found his room card then proceeded to talk through his flute, Master drummer Francisco Aguabella, who did symphonic counter rhythms’ on conga and of course Eddie Palmieri who received a special BMI award that night.
Ladies and Gentlemen as a part of a tribute to the late maestro Cachco, on Bongos Mr. Andy Garcia, the place (read all of- the- women) roared, he smiled didn’t say a word, his playing spoke for him, and the Godfather III could play.
Major respect to Grace the meal lady, actress Wanda De Jesus, Actor Ishmael Coto for making the LA Experience what it is.
Big up to The Pastor who ministered to the minstrels, Vito who still does a cool hang with cats like us, Tania Eddie’s Daughter for believing in Pops, and East Coast Eddie Rodriguez for letting us be a part of the dream, you may not know it but you are a Latin legend of Jazz yourself Homie.
Tu sabes como eh.
Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.