Larry Harlow was born Lawrence Ira Kahn in Brooklyn, New York on March 20, 1939, into a musical family of Jewish-American descent. The young Harlow, affectionately known as El Judio Maravilloso (The Marvellous Jew), excelled at an early age at various instruments. The music and culture of New York's Latino community led him to Cuba where he began an intense study of Afro-Cuban music.
Harlow is a noted jazz and salsa bandleader and multi-instrumentalist, although he primarily plays piano. Harlow was among the pioneers in the early days of the Fania label. For Fania records he has produced over 106 CD's for various artists and over 50 CD's as his own. Among his most popular albums were "Abran Paso" and "Tributo a Arsenio Rodriguez" with Ismael Miranda as the lead singer.
Harlow started studying piano at the age of five. He grew up with his younger brother Andy in a mixed Jewish and Puerto Rican neighbourhood.
Harlow attended the Music and Art High School in Manhattan, where he was classically trained in piano, organ, oboe, English horn, flute, bass,
harmony and composition. He converted to jazz and became an accomplished jazz pianist.
Hearing Latin music emanating from record stores in New York's Spanish Harlem captured Harlow's imagination: he started researching the music, seeking-out Latin musicians and performing in young street bands. While majoring in music at Brooklyn College, he spent his first Christmas vacation in Havana, where he began a love affair with Cuban music and culture. He returned to Cuba for nearly three years to study and research the island's music.
Back in New York City, Harlow started working with established Latin bands. He decided to found his own and after an eight-month hunt for the right musicians, his first Orchestra Harlow made its debut at New York's Chez Jos' Club.
Shorty afterwards he became one of the earliest to sign with the new Fania Records label and released Heavy Smokin'. At that time, Orchestra Harlow's two trumpet/two trombone horn section featured acclaimed Cuban trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros and lead trombonist Mark Weinstein, who co-arranged the album with Harlow. Heavy Smokin' lead vocalist Felo Brito was replaced by Monguito on the follow-up album Bajandote - Gettin' Off.
Harlow first saw the young Ismael Miranda perform with his brother Andy's group. In July 1967, Harlow hired Miranda as his new lead singer, marking the starting-point of a highly successful five-year period in the history of his band. Miranda's album debut with Orchestra Harlow was El Exigente with a psychedelic sleeve design befitting the flower power era then at its height. Harlow used a light show in his act at the time. Orchestra Harlow Presenta A Ismael Miranda showcased the 18-year-old vocalist, and included the hit "La Contraria" written, along with two other songs, by Bobby Valentin, who played bass and shared arranger credits.
Harlow's first gold disc winner Me And My Monkey - 'Mi Mono y Yo' featured a Latinized version of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey", though the remainder was typical fare, including the hits "El Malecon" and "Mi Madre", both co-written by Harlow and Miranda. A succession of hit albums followed, including Electric Harlow, the title denoting Harlow's use of electric piano on the record; Abran Paso!, with the hit title track composed by Miranda; the notable Tribute To Arsenio Rodriguez in homage to the great Afro-Cuban musical innovator who died at the end of 1970; and La Oportunidad, featuring Miranda's hit compositions "Señor Sereno" and "Las Mujeres Son".
Eventually, Miranda departed to pursue a solo career while Harlow took time out to score and produce 1973's highly regarded Hommy - A Latin Opera
(based on the Who's Tommy) written by Genaro "Heny" Alvarez. Both the studio album and stage presentation at New York's Carnegie Hall, on 29
March 1973, featured a galaxy of Fania names, including Celia Cruz, Justo Betancourt, Cheo Feliciano, Adalberto Santiago, Pete "El Conde"
Rodriguez and Heny Alvarez as the narrator.
Between 1971 and 1978 Harlow became a prolific producer for the Fania family of labels, working on recordings by Mark "Markolino" Dimond; the brilliant Brujeria, and Beethoven's V, as well as Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound, La Conquistadora, Orchestra Dicup, Justo Betancourt, including his 1972 classic Pa Bravo Yo with the title track written by Ismael Miranda, Frankie Dante And Orquesta Flamboyan, Santos Colon, Latin Tempo, Sonora Ponceña, Lebron Brothers, Wuelfo, La Terrifica, Rafi Val Y La Diferente, Bronco, Junior Gonzalez, Tito Gomez and Latin Fever (an all-female group).
He also worked on his own, producing four albums on the Fania stablemate Vaya Records: 1972's gold disc winner Sorpresa La Flauta, which included the smash hit "La Loteria", and the less successful La Musica Brava, El Campesino and Latin Fever.
Harlow continued with 1974's Salsa, regarded by some as a key album of the burgeoning 1970's salsa boom, which featured elements presaging the
charanga revival of the latter half of the 70s. The two-disc Live In Quad was the first and possibly the only salsa album recorded in
quadraphonic stereo, with Justo Betancourt guesting as co-lead vocalist. The recording was not only brilliant technically but provided equally
brilliant music, as this track, entitled Tumba y Bongo shows.
Gonzalez made two more albums with Harlow: El Judio Maravilloso (1974), with charanga touches provided by Felix "Pupi" Legarreta's violin, and El Jardinero Del Amor, with the 1976 Harlow/Miranda reunion Con Mi Viejo Amigo sandwiched in-between. Revered veteran Cuban singer/former big band leader Marcelino Guerra contributed chorus vocals to Harlow's albums between 1971, starting with Tribute To Arsenio Rodriguez, and 1974, with the exception of Live In Quad.
Gonzalez departed and released a string of solo albums, including: Tiempos Buenos/Good Times (1977), Mi Estilio/My Style and Naturalmente Jr. Gonzalez on Fania; Gracias on 7th Galaxy; Sabor Y Sentimiento on Caballo; M as Romantico Que Nadie on Mercury; Lo Pasado Pasado on EMI/Capitol; En Su Tiempo ... Siempre on Sony; Mis Raices on J&N/EMI. Additionally, Gonzalez was amongst various prominent vocalists on Tito Puente's first two tribute albums to Beny Moré, (1978 and 1979); and he was one of the lead singers in the Jose Mangual Jr. produced Salsa Ritmo Caliente and Salsa Ritmo Caliente, Vol. 2, backed by the cream of New York's salsa session musicians.
Meanwhile Harlow's 1977 salsa suite La Raza Latina, an ambitious "history of Latin music in musical genre" with Rubén Blades, was nominated for a Grammy Award. He replaced Gonzalez with the magnificent voice of albino sonero Nestor Sanchez, which was showcased in 1978's El Albino Divino (Sanchez's nickname), with Legarreta again guesting on violin, and Rumbambola. "If Nestor Sanchez takes a chord progression his voice would be his instrument and he improvises. He'd play jazz," said Harlow in New York Latino, 1993.
In 1979, Harlow teamed-up with Dominican Fausto Rey for the lacklustre La Responsabilidad with Sanchez in the chorus; Sanchez returned to lead vocals on El Dulce Aroma Del Exito in 1980. That year, Harlow reunited with Gonzalez for Our Latin Feeling/Nuestro Sentimiento Latino. Harlow's one-off release on Coco Records in 1981, Asi Soy Yo, featured Gary Carrion on lead vocals with Sanchez on background vocals. His final album on Fania, Yo Soy Latino was also Sanchez's last with the bandleader.
Thereafter, reflecting the wane of New York salsa during the 80s, Harlow's output became sparse. Señor Salsa, with lead singer Ray Perez, was an undistinguished album on Tropical Budda. In 1984 he produced La Verdad, the United States solo debut of vocalist/composer Israel "Kantor" Sardinas. Salsa Brothers/The Miami Sessions (1988), the first on Songo Records, was made in Miami with Andy, who had relocated there in 1977. The album marked the re-emergence on record of piano wizard Mark "Markolino" Dimond, who soloed on one track and co-arranged with Andy. Mi Tiempo Llego/My Time Is Now, again with Ray Perez, on Cache was a misjudged comeback attempt.
Harlow was a founder member of the Fania All Stars and performed on all their albums up to 1976 (plus 1979's Habana Jam, recorded in Cuba), he also appeared with them in the movies Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa), Live In Africa and Salsa. In 1994, he teamed up with Ray Barretto, Adalberto Santiago and cuatro guitar virtuoso Yomo Toro to found the Latin Legend Band, with the aim of both educating Latino and American youth about Latin music heritage and pioneering new ideas in the music, resulting in Larry Harlow's Latin Legends Band 1998 and songs like Palo Duro.
Harlow holds a BA degree in music from Brooklyn College and has an Master's degree in philosophy from the New School of Social Research in New York City. ~ Music of Puerto Rico