Grammy winner Eddie Palmieri retells his singular career: striving for perfection across Latin music, jazz, funk and soul.
Born in Spanish Harlem in 1936 to Puerto Rican parents, Eddie Palmieri is one of the most celebrated pianists in American history, particularly within the realm of Latin music. Getting his start at an early age, his initial training largely took place in New York City’s public school system, where was exposed to the works of Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner and other jazz greats that would eventually become some of his most important influences. At the age of 13, Palmieri joined his uncle’s band as a timbales player, but this interest in percussion was short-lived, as he quickly switched back to piano and saw his career take off while performing in groups with Eddie Forrester, Johnny Segui and Tito Rodriguez. Despite this success, Palmieri ultimately wanted to front a band of his own, and in 1961 he formed La Perfecta. Employing a front line of trombones – as opposed to the trumpets that were more customary in Latin ensembles of the era – La Perfecta’s combination of American jazz with Afro-Caribbean rhythms quickly found an audience, and although Palmieri eventually disbanded the group in 1968, its impact is still felt today. In the years that followed, he continued to experiment, weaving together elements of jazz, funk, soul, Latin music and more. In 1971, he teamed up with his brother Charlie (who played the organ) to record the seminal Vamonos Pa’l Monte, and in 1975, Palmieri’s The Sun of Latin Music was awarded the first ever Grammy Award for Best Latin Recording. Plenty more Grammys and accolades followed over the next several decades, as Palmieri continued to record, both with his own ensemble and with the likes of Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock, La India and even “Little” Louie Vega, who tapped Palmieri to contribute to the Nuyorican Soul project. At this point, he’s logged more than 60 years in the music industry, and though his legendary status as a pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer is already assured, he remains active, periodically performing and releasing new music.