Born December 15, 1936, in the South Bronx section of New York City of Puerto Rican parents, Eddie Palmieri grew up to become a highly respected and reknown pianist, composer, arranger, producer and band leader. Palmieri began playing the piano at the age of eight. He also played timbales, and wanted to specialize in the instrument, but changed his mind after several gigs with his uncle’s group. His avant garde style and unorthodox piano technique developed while playing with a number of bands during the 1950’s and such notables such as Tito Rodriquez, while his brother Charlie is considered to be more of a jazz artist.
In 1955 he turned professional as a member of Johnny Segui’s orchestra, and the group became the Orlando Marin Conjunto. However, his over-zealousness on the keyboard resulted in a broken peiano and his dismissal. He then replaced brother Charlie as pianist with the band of ex- Tito Puente lead singer, Vicentico Valdes, before joining Tito Rodriguez’s big band between 1958-60. By the 1960’s he had formed his own band to showcase to his own unique style, and was awarded a Grammy for his efforts and contributions to salsa music.
He left the security of Rodriguez’ band to work on his own; forming his own band “La Perfecta” in 1961. They became one of Latin New York’s busiest bands and signed with Al Santiago’s Alegre label, who produced their debut Eddie Palmieri And His Conjunto La Perfecta album in 1962.
In 1963, Brazilian trombonist Jose Rodrigues joined La Perfecta; he became a regular Palmieri accompanist into the 1980s. Eddie and the band released a further two volumes on Alegre before switching to Tico Records in 1964 for their Echando Pa’lante release. Eddie released a further five albums with La Perfecta, including two with Latin jazz vibraphonist Cal Tjader, before the band fell apart in 1968.
After the break-up of La Perfecta, Palmieri used a variety of front-line instrumentation on his albums. The first, Champagne in 1968, featured the trumpet of Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros and Rogers on trombone, together with bass player Israel “Cachao” Lopez. The recording contained boogaloo material, the R&B/Latin fusion style that was in vogue at the time. Palmieri later described boogaloo as embarrassing, and blamed its emergence on what he perceived as a decline in Latin music’s creativity, caused by the isolation of Cuba from the USA.
Palmieri took up the issue of economic and social injustice in the USA on 1969’s Justicia. Brother Charlie guested on organ on this album and Eddie’s other 1971 recordings, which were issued between 1971 and 1974. These included Eddie’s Latin and R&B fusion experiments with the black group Harlem River Drive, and concerts at Sing Sing prison and the University of Puerto Rico. Palmieri signed with ex-bandleader Harvey Averne’s Coco Records, and debuted on the label with 1973’s Sentido.
He released Sun Of Latin Music in 1974. In 1976, the album won the first ever Grammy Award in the newly created Latin record category. His next Coco release, 1976’s Unfinished Masterpiece, which he did not want issued, took him back to Grammy land. Eddie’s subsequent five new releases between 1978 and 1987 all received Grammy nominations.
After a break from recording, Eddie made Lucumi Macumba Voodoo for the major record company Epic in 1978, which took the African-derived religions of Cuba, Brazil and Haiti as its theme. The record flopped, and Palmieri later expressed disappointment about his experience with the label. He also regretted unwittingly joining the Fania Records empire.
Despite such disappointments, Palmieri produced a wide variety of cutting edge music throughout his career. Skilled at various styles from rumba, guanguancó, to jazz, and salsa, often creative elaborations of folk styles. His skill at the piano and command of his music is eveident in the smooth Para Que Escuchen from his album, El Rumbero del Piano.
La Verdad won him a fifth Grammy Award, and featured late 1880s/early 1990s hit-maker Tony Vega on lead vocals. Eddie relocated to Puerto Rico in 1983, but lack of regular work due to rejection by many promoters and musicians, caused him to return to New York in frustration. He made his only UK appearance to date in 1986.
Palmieri signed with another major company, Capitol Records, for the disappointing Sueño in 1989. It contained four remakes of previous hits and featured jazz-fusion alto-saxophonist David Sanborn. ~ Music of Puerto Rico