Apr 4, 2016
Leandro (Gato) Barbieri, a Grammy-winning Latin jazz saxophonist known as much for his wildly evolving styles as his trademark black fedora, died this weekend at the age of 83.
While Barbieri will likely be known by most music fans for his wildly instrumental score for the film "Last Tango in Paris,” or for his definitive version of Carlos Santana’s “Europa”, jazz fans may remember a more adventurous and avant-garde saxophonist.
While he recorded 35 albums, many that defied easy categorization, for me it was the incredibly fruitful period from 1965-1972 that made him special. Barbieri was a key performer and contributor to seminal work by Don Cherry, Carla Bley (Escalator Over the Hill), Charlie Haden (Liberation Music Orchestra), Gary Burton (A Genuine Tong Funeral) and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. That work, along with Last Tango in Paris, lead to his record deal with Impulse! Records in 1973, leading to his four “Chapter” recordings. Some of my favorite albums, these allowed him to deeply explore his Latin Roots, reimagining and reinterpreting the music and sounds through his modern saxophone.
While much of his remaining recorded output veered closer to smooth jazz, it was always deeply felt and had his trademark fiery solos. I had the pleasure of booking Gato in 2002 at the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, just as he had begun a return from recording exile and health issues. Having difficulty with his sight and braving a rain-soaked stage, I took him by the elbow to the center of the stage, where he received rapturous applause. And then he played, and age, health, and time all fell away. It was a memorable performance by a memorable jazz man.
Click here to listen to Gato Barbieri circa November 5, 1972, courtesy of an unreleased ROIO on Big O World Wide It is a show from Berliner Jazztage in Berlin with a band lead by Gato on sax, Lonnie Liston Smith on keyboards, JF Jenny Clarke on bass, Mandrake on percussions, and Han Bennick on drums.