Palmieri at SOB's, regardless, jazz or not, he sings

Ron Scott | 5/23/2013, 2:52 p.m.

Eddie Palmieri, a native of East Harlem, recently celebrated his 75th birthday at a River to River concert in June. Rockefeller Park on the East Side was packed, and the salsa dancers of New York were out swinging and turning. Palmieri was jamming so hard he went through two keyboards. As he once noted, he is a frustrated percussionist who takes it out on his keyboards or piano.

On Aug. 3, the pianist remains in birthday mode with a performance at New York's SOB's (204 Varick St.) in lower Manhattan. The Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra will perform at 9 and 11 p.m. Palmieri is currently on his "EP75: Extended Play" tour, a worldwide celebration of his 75 years on this planet, with over half of them being devoted to producing a remarkable musical legacy.

Some of his new compositions can be heard on the soundtrack of the soon-to-be released basketball documentary from director Bobbito Garcia, "Doin' It in the Park: Pick-Up Basketball, NYC."

For over 50 years, Palmieri has kept the rhythms of Puerto Rico in touch with his jazz influences. Most recently, the National Endowment for the Arts announced Palmieri as one of its 2013 NEA Jazz Masters, along with pianist-vocalist Mose Allison, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson and Lorraine Gordon, owner of New York City's Village Vanguard, who is being honored for her advocacy. The awards ceremony will take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Jan. 14, 2013.

If you grew up in the Bronx or were a salsa dance fanatic or even lived in Brooklyn, you would know Palmieri and would have visited the Corso, Manhattan Center or the Palladium.

In the 1960s, salsa was king and Palmieri was burning those piano keys with albums like "Azucar Pa' Ti," which remains a salsa anthem, and "Eddie Palmieri Conjunto La Perfecta" (heavy on Latin vocals).

Always looking for new excursions, Palmieri collaborated with Cal Tjader on an album entitled "El Sonido Nuevo" (Verve, 1966). The album proved to be a new turn in Latin jazz, blending Tjader's cool jazz (vibraphone) with Palmieri's hot Latin sound. As a point of reference, the collaboration was very danceable. This is a collector's item--if you don't have it, get it.

The nine-time Grammy winner started piano lessons with his older brother, the late salsa legend Charlie Palmieri. For Latin New Yorkers of his generation, music was a way out of the ghetto, or El Barrio. He has never forgotten his roots and plays wherever the gig may take him and is always happy to return to his humble music start to share with the youngsters of the neighborhood.

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Okay, Cuba Gooding Sr. is not a jazz singer, but who cares? The man can still take singers to school with his mid- to high-range vocals. R&B came from the roots of jazz. During the 1970s, R&B groups recorded and performed with live bands that were jamming with no drum machines or artificial sounds. The point remains: Any good musician can play jazz, funk, blues or whatever music is required for the gig.