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Leandro “Gato” Barbieri: From the “Last Tango in Paris” (1972) to the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2015), he was one talented “Cat” on the sax.

By John P. Walsh

Released in September 2002 on Peak Records, the Latin jazz ballad “Beautiful Walk” is from Argentine-born saxophonist Leandro “Gato” (the “Cat”) Barbieri’s 50th album, Shadow of the Cat.

Shadow of the Cat was Grammy-nominated for Best Latin Jazz. Gato Barbieri looked to two major sources for the album’s inspiration. The first was the 30th anniversary of his Last Tango in Paris (1972) for which Barbieri won a Grammy Award for the film score. The second was his huge-toned, raucous yet smooth jazz-pop sound Barbieri created in five albums he made at A&M Records in the mid-to-late-1970’s.

Following a six decade career as a music original, Gato Barbieri died on April 2, 2016 at 83 years old.

Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement in 2015. “What do you play?”

By 2006 Gato Barbieri was content that in a long musical career he had pursued playing different musical styles—jazz, Latin, film orchestration, etc.—and did not limit himself to a single genre.

In November 2015 Gato Barbieri received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for music that has been described as “mystical yet fiery, passionately romantic yet supremely cool.” Around the same time, Barbieri gave his final concert at the Blue Note club in Greenwich Village. That was the club where the “Cat” first performed in 1985 and—still sporting his trademark black fedora hat—started performing again there in 2013 on a monthly basis until his last concert on November 23, 2015.

“The jazz people they don’t consider me a jazz musician. If I am Latin, they don’t consider me Latin. So I am here in the middle,” Gato said. “It’s a good thing. You know why? Because they say, ‘What do you play?’ I say, ‘I play my music — Gato Barbieri.’”

Mid1960’s- Jammin’ fusion.

Gato Barbieri and Italian-born wife Michelle married in 1960 and moved to Rome in 1962, where Gato began collaborating with American jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (1936-1995). The year is 1966. Tenor saxophonist Gato Barbieri is joined by trumpeter Don Cherry, jazz vibraphonist Karl Berger (German, b. 1935) and bassist Bo Stief (Danish, b. 1946). In 1966 Barbieri and Cherry recorded two albums for Blue Note—Complete Communion and Symphony For Improvisors. Also in that early era Gato recorded with jazz saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy (1934-2004) and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (b. 1934).

Recordings for Flying Dutchman and Impulse!.

In the early 1970’s Barbieri recorded a handful of albums on the Flying Dutchman label and later signed with Impulse! where he recorded his classic “Chapter Series” which included Latin America and Hasta Siempre (both 1973), Viva Emiliano Zapata (1974) and Alive in New York (1975).

Gato Barbieri, “Encuentros” from Chapter One: Latin America, the 1973 album on the Impulse! label.

Barbieri’s free jazz meant he was playing with American jazz double bass player Charlie Haden (1937-2014) and American jazz pianist Carla Bley (b. 1936), among many others. The Cat could also be found jamming with jazz bassist Stanley Clarke (b. 1951), Brazilian jazz drummer and percussionist Airto Moreira (b. 1941), Cuban composer Chico O’Farrill (1921-2001) and American jazz musician Lonnie Liston Smith (b.1940).

Gato Barbieri’s Last Tango in Paris (1972) was an international sensation. The “Cat” won the Grammy Award that year for his musical score in the Bernardo Bertolucci film starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.

Gato Barbieri’s free-jazz playing in the late 1960s and early 1970s along with his audacity to blend the improvised style with a cutting-edge mining of Latin jazz in multi-artist projects attracted Italian film director Bernardo Bertolucci to recruit Barbieri to compose the score for his 1972 film Last Tango in Paris starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. Bertolucci was seeking his own musical blend from the young Argentine musician who could incorporate jazz, strings, and tangos into his score to embody the film’s chaos of spirit and ferocious sexuality with a nod to European intellectualism and Hollywood popularity.

Gato’s musical score became an instant international sensation and professional triumph for the 41-year-old musician winning a Grammy Award for best instrumental composition in 1973.

Fireflies is the lead track from Gato’s bestselling Caliente! album for A&M in 1976. It was produced by Herb Alpert.

Gato Barbieri performed benefit concerts, one for the Friends of Chile benefit concert in Madison Square Garden on May 6, 1974. Gato Barbieri’s five albums on A&M Records in the mid-to-late 1970s featured a more soothing jazz-pop sound.

Caliente! (1976) on A&M Records was released at the beginning of the peak of the jazz-fusion and disco eras. Produced by Herb Alpert, Gato Barbieri plays with sizzling heat relying on tango-infused Argentine fluency as well as the influence of Sonny Rollins (b.1930), John Coltrane (1926-1967) and Pharoah Sanders (b. 1940).

Caliente! is beautifully arranged and executed which makes for enjoyable listening. The concept of strings combined with rhythmic danceable funk anted up Barbieri’s raucous sound and made Caliente! a successful primogeniture to Herb Alpert’s instrumental Rise in 1979 which became a huge international hit.

Tango is tragedy.”

“Always in the tango is tragedy,” said Barbieri in 1997. “She leaves him, she kills him. It’s like an opera—but it’s called tango.” 

In the 1980s the “Cat” kicked it up a notch for Para Los Amigos (1984), an album which spotlighted the rock-influenced South American sound. 

Mystica is from Gato Barbieri’s Qué Pasa. After working nonstop for nearly 30 year, the 1997 album was the Argentine jazz tenor saxophonist’s first of the 1990’s. Gato would produce over 50 albums in his career. (5.20 minutes).

“Music is a mystery.”

By the early 1990’s Gato had taken time off from creating in order to evaluate his musical style and identity going forward. Suddenly, in 1995, Michelle Barbieri, his wife of 36 years, as well as manager and confidant, died. In deep bereavment, Gato took up his saxophone and began to record again. This effort soon produced the 1997 album, Qué Pasa, Gato Barbieri’s first album of the decade.

In 1996 Gato Barbieri married his wife Laura and they soon had Christian, their son. After Gato’s death on April 2, 2016 at 83 years old, Laura Barbieri told The Associated Press: “Music was a mystery to Gato, and each time he played was a new experience for him, and he wanted it to be that way for his audience.”

SOURCES:
Barbieri’s 50th album, “Shadow of the Cat” released in September 2002 on Peak Records – http://www.allmusic.com/album/the-shadow-of-the-cat-mw0000225929

two sources for its inspiration… – http://www.allmusic.com/album/the-shadow-of-the-cat-mw0000225929

won a Grammy Award for his film score – http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/7318824/gato-barbieri-dead

five albums at A&M Records in mid-to-late-1970’s. – http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/gato-barbieri/

in 2015 Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award  – http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/latin/7318824/gato-barbieri-dead

“Mystical yet fiery…” quotation – http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/artists/gato-barbieri/

First performed at Blue Note – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/arts/music/gato-barbieri-latin-jazz-trailblazer-dies-at-83.html

Perform monthly since 2013 – http://highlighthollywood.com/2016/04/latin-jazz-saxophonist-gato-barbieri-dies-at-age-83-highlight-hollywood-news/

gives his final concert – http://www.tff.gr/nea/arthro/to_teleutaio_tangko_tou_leantro_gkato_mparmpieri_vds-130329325/

“‘I play my music — Gato Barbieri’” quotation – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/03/arts/music/gato-barbieri-latin-jazz-trailblazer-dies-at-83.html

Evaluate his musical style and identity-https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/barbieri-gato

PHOTO CREDITS:

“File:Pellicciotti con Gato Barbieri.jpg” by Giuseppe Pino is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

“Gato Barbieri” by ognid is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Tuxedo cat 1” by RahelSharon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0