Two For Tuesday: Gato Barbieri (Smooth Jazz)

“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 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.

8 thoughts on “Two For Tuesday: Gato Barbieri (Smooth Jazz)

  1. Good choices, JOHN! I always dug that ‘Caliente!’ album, and over the years I toyed with the idea of using Gato’s ‘Europa’ against the Santana original in BOTB. I’ve always shied away from it, though, figuring it would be a landslide victory for Carlos.

    I didn’t know the saxophone-playing Muppet was based on Gato. Now THAT’S a Fun Fact!

    ~ D-FensDogG


    1. There are a few videos of Carlos and Gato playing “Europa” together. It’s pretty amazing. Actually, I think you’d be surprised in a BotB between the two of them. But that’s up to you.

      I had no idea that Zoot was based on Gato, either. The things you learn in this job…


      1. JOHN, I didn’t know Carlos and Gato had ever done the song together. I’ll definitely go to YouTube and listen to that.

        In BOTB, guys like us who are really into Jazz are certainly in the minority. It’s definitely a Rock and guitar-centric crowd, so I think Carlos and his guitar would pretty well clobber Gato and his saxophone. But, hey, if you like the idea of that match-up, consider it all yours. My gift to you to use whenever you want. Me, I’m too a-skeered to try and pull that one off.

        ~ D-FensDogG
        STMcC Presents ‘BATTLE OF THE BANDS’


  2. I love listening to both pieces of music and love the mix of jazz and folk music. I had no idea about the man and that he was the inspiration for one of the muppets. Very cool


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