“Smooth jazz” wasn’t called that until the mid-’80’s, but has been around much longer than that, in some way, shape or form. You might consider it as going back to the early ’60’s, with Vince Guaraldi playing the bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim, or Wes Montgomery covering “Windy,” “Tequila,” and “Eleanor Rigby” on his later albums. A lot of music that wasn’t necessarily considered to be jazz in any form when it was created will receive airplay on “smooth jazz” stations today. I’ve been listening to the Smooth Jazz Pioneers channel on Accuradio.com as I’ve been writing this, and I’ve heard everyone from Miles Davis to Tower of Power to Ramsey Lewis in the last hour. So I thought a good way to start this series would be to examine the work of some of those early players and see how they contributed to the genre.
Argentine saxophonist Leandro “Gato” Barbieri started back in the ’60’s with Lalo Schifrin and was influenced by the “free jazz” movement. Some of his early work was with Carla Bley and Charlie Hayden, and in the late ’60’s he was mixing Latin music with the jazz. He won a Grammy in 1972 for his score for the film Last Tango In Paris.
By the mid-’70’s he had signed with A&M Records, and his first two albums for them, 1976’s Caliente! and 1977’s Ruby Ruby were produced by Herb Alpert. The former is a minor classic, and both of today’s selections come from it. The first is “Fiesta.”
The second, probably more popular, is a cover of Carlos Santana’s “Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile).” Radio station KOAI (“The Oasis”) in Dallas used to play this at 7:00 PM each night as the open to their evening program.
Barbieri continued to perform and record into the ’80’s, but the death of his wife caused him to slow down and withdraw from public appearances. He returned to recording and playing in the late ’90’s, when he composed the soundtrack for 1991’s Manhattan By Numbers and 1996’s Seven Servants. His 1997 album Que Pasa established him as a smooth jazz artist. He died from pneumonia in 2016 at the age of 83.
Trivia: Zoot, the saxophone player with Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem (from The Muppet Show) was based on Gato.
Gato Barbieri, your Two for Tuesday, September 4, 2018.