Interview with Larry Harlow
What was it about latin music that attracted you and made you want to study and pursue a career?
I went to high school of Music and Art, which was in the middle of Spanish Harlem and kept hearing Latin music coming from the record shops and Bodegas. It was swinging music, with infectious rhythms. In the 50's you could not be accepted in Jazz circles if you were not African American or an intravenous drug user. So the closest form of improvisational music was Latin Music.
What was your best concert/most memorable concert and why?
Probably two. The night at the Cheetah (Our Latin Thing) and the Hommy Concert at Carnagie Hall, both in NYC. Hommy because it was a symphony orch mixed with Salsa and great singers in full formal clothing and that it was the firat time Latin Music was played in an American concert venue, opening the doors to CONCERTS. The Cheetah was just an incerdible night of great "salsa" that only happened once. It was NEVER repeated with such great performance without egos by so many GREAT musicians and singers. Una noche inovidable.......
You've been involved in a number of releases for other artists. What have been the most memorable projects for you, and have there been any musicians that you've worked with that have really stood out for you?
La Raza Latina, a Salsa Suite was a great recording that took many months to complete. Working with my mentor and idol Tito Puente and the Great vocalist Ruben Blades were a blessing and an educational experience. I must mention doing Hommy with Celia Cruz was also a highlight of my career, but I also loved working with new younger salsa musicians and teaching them the secrets of Latin Music.
Did you ever encounter any difficulty or animosity working and living as a non-latin within the Latin-Music industry?
Yes of course. It took many years for the Hispanic promoters to accept this white, non-Latino, Judio to be accepted by not only the promoters but by the Hispanic musicans and public. It was kind of a reverse Uncle Tom syndrome. I was lucky enough to have the same agent (Jose Curbelo) as Tito Puente and came along only when he insisted. In order to buy Puente you had to buy Orq Harlow also.
How did you think the music scene has changed since the original Fania days?
There are so many things different. Firstly there were 150 clubs to perform in in the 70's. Now there is only one in NYC. The Copacabana recently closed. There are many more radio stations across the world but at the same time downloads and piracy is running amock throughout the world and the artists are not making any money for their work. The record business has changed so much. Everyone has a home digital 48track protools in thir homes and even 10 yr olds are recording professional quality recordings. Soon it will be all downloads.
Whats the story behind the sound effects on Un Tipo Liberado?
Pancho Roman was the timbalero on that recording and used what in that time was a drum synth. Creating all those sounds with sticks on drum poads with different electronic pads. I always tried to come up with something new on my recordings. That was in 1980. Also the first Quad recording, first Latin digital recording, first recording on 16mm film, first noise reduction etc etc etc
What are your future musical plans?
I am still working pretty good all over the world with the latin Legends band and adding a few Fania all stars and making it a bigger show. I play Industrials, Colleges, Cruise ships, Festivals and Salsa Congresses, and continue to keep Salsa alive. I am still performing Sofrito, the family show worldwide for childre 5-12 years old, and am writing my life story as well as a book entitled "The day the Clave stopped" a coffee table book about deceased great Latin Artists. They will be done in 2008.
What do you think of the current crop of bands, and are there any upcoming artists that you would recommend?
Are there any new bands??? Have not heard anything that I like. Nothing new to me... Where are the 16-24 yr old Salsa musicians and singers???? I have not seen or heard of them.
I understand that you collect footage of the old concerts, from the 50's, 60's and the Mambo era. Can you tell us a bit more about these gigs, and what inspires you to collect the footage?
I am old school. Coming from the 50's mambo era. I collect audio and video of old Latin Music. There is not too much of it so when I find it I share with collectors from all over the world. It is one of my hobbies and eventually I will pass it to Rasies Museum in NYC when I pass on the that great Salsa band in the sky for all to enjoy.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I hope all my fans and fans of great Salsa turn out at the Roundhouse Nov 17th, to see and hear Adalberto, Yomo, Nicky, Luisito, Emo, Bobby Sananbri, Lewis Kahn and all of these great musicians. We will be doing lots of Fania material plus all of Harlows hits in a great show for listning and dancing. Thanks to Andy Wood and his company for inviting us to the U.K.
Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends of Fania at The Roundhouse
Official website of Larry Harlow
Larry Harlow Biography
Larry Harlow is a true living legend of Afro-Cuban music. Born in Brooklyn, New York, his early influences were his father Buddy, who was a professional bass player and his mother Rose, who sang opera. A graduate of the prestigious N.Y. High School of Music and Art, he excelled on oboe, flute, violin, bass and the instrument that he is most noted for, the piano. Although jazz and the piano styling of Art Tatum were his first love, his growing exposure as a teenager to the music and culture of the New York Latino community fascinated him. This led to him making a trip to Cuba in the late fifties where he began a two year adventure intensely studying Afro-Cuban music in all its manifestations: from West African based liturgical repertoire to popular dance styles. On his return to New York he quickly made a name for himself as a top bandleader and was signed by the new Fania Record Company, the most important label in the history of Latin music.
"El Judio Maravilloso", as he is affectionately called by his colleagues, completely revolutionized what is known today as "SALSA". Harlow developed the explosive, Tumpet/trombone sound of the contemporary salsa bands in the early 70's. He was the first to introduce the sacred bata' drums of the Yoruba religion in Cuba to secular Afro-Cuban dance music in NYC. Known as IFA' or La Regla de Ocha, or commonly called by the lay public as Santeria, Harlow began studying its many secrets and eventually became a full fledged initiate being baptized as the child of Ochun, the Yoruba deity of the river, shekere and love.
For Fania records, he has produced over 260 CD's for various artists and as a leader over 50 cd's including the Masterpiece, "La Raza Latina, a Salsa Suite" in 1978, the first serious treatment of the genre, tracing the music's Diaspora and the evolution from West Africa to Southern Spain through the Caribbean and eventually New York City and the only Latin Opera ever written called "Hommy" which was performed to SRO crowds for 2 shows at Carnegie Hall and 2 shows in Puerto Rico. This opera is being revived in 2003 in San Juan, Puerto Rico's new Coliseo with an updated cast as well as recording an HBO special and new CD. Harlow is also the producer/pianist for the legendary Fania All-Stars. With the All-Stars he recorded over 30 cd's and spread clave Consciousness the world over.
Mr. Harlow also co-produced, and wrote music for and starred in, "Our Latin Thing" and "Salsa", two of the definitive documentaries on Afro-Cuban based music in New York City. He appeared in "Fania in Africa" as well as being the music producer. In 1997 Maestro Harlow composed the music for "SOFRITO", a multimedia, bilingual family musical, which features story teller David Gonzalez. Performed to sold out audiences at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway and across the Americas, the show incorporates ancient Caribbean folk tales with live on-stage performances of Harlow's Latin Legends Band. This CD is available on Laughing Horse records.
Mr. Harlow, as a Governor of the NY chapter of NARAS, was responsible for making the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences take notice of the contributions of Latin musicians, which made them establish the first Latin Grammy Award and now there are 10 different Latin Categories a swell as the Latin Grammys. He himself has been nominated 3 times for a Grammy.
He holds a BA in Music from Brooklyn College and a Masters Degree in Philosophy from the New School of Social Research in New York City.
His classic CD entitled Larry Harlow's Latin Legends Band, on JMM/SONY DISCOS features a who's who of contemporary Latin musicians. The fascinating career and life of this "living Legend" is featured in an exciting new video biography/documentary entitled "The Golden Age of SALSA Through The Eyes Of Larry Harlow", produced by Tropical Visions Entertainment Group" of Puerto Rico. Harlow was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame on April 5, 2000.