Friday, December 21, 2007

The Passing of Mr. Hard Hands

Some great albums by or featuring the great conguero, orchestra leader, composer and producer Ray a photo of my shrine I made for him the day he passed into the beyond.

"Artists should be sent flowers while they can still enjoy the fragrance."
- Ray Barretto, NYC, 1988

Mr. Hard Hands, The Indestructible King of the Conga, Dies at 76

Band leader and conguero Ray Barretto died of complications from a heart attack at the Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J. at 5 a.m. on Friday, February 17th, 2006. He would have been 77 on April 29. Barretto is survived by his wife Annette Rivera, his four children: Chris, Raun, Ray, and Kelly Barretto, and four grandchildren: Jullian Barretto, Aja Peters, Arno Peters and Alex Peters.

Barretto played with a who's who in music, from Charlie Parker to The Average White Band. In interviews, when asked what kind of music he loved to play, jazz or Latin, Ray would answer that he considered himself just a person who played good music, though some say he will be remembered as jazz musician above all else, and others prefer to remember his innumerable contributions to the evolution of what became known as salsa. His bands have been nurturing environments for some very talented musicians, and several very fine vocalists have joined him over the years, including Adalberto Santiago, Tito Allen, Ruben Blades, Tony Vega, and of course Celia Cruz. There are many who enjoy all aspects of Brother Ray's playing, finding a deep bond with the African roots and strength of feeling that always came out in his playing, whether it be a jazz date, pop session, or smoking salsa jam.

At his wake in Riverside Memorial Chapel, NYC, many friends and musicians gathered to pay their respects, as well as fans from all over. Photos of Barretto adorned the chapel, and next to the open casket was a beautiful conga drum made entirely of flowers. I was handed a card that had lines from one of Ray’s songs that read:

I know a beautiful truth and it’s helped me to be free
I know I’m black and I’m white and I’m red,
The blood of mankind flows in me
And so in every face I see
I see a part of you and me TOGETHER.

In the evening, an all-star line-up of former Barretto sidemen (including his son Christopher on sax) and invited drummers performed some great descarga style numbers, with Ray resting peacefully right in front of them in the casket. According to musician and graphic artist Chico Alvarez, “Everyone jammed, and afterwards four Service men in dress uniform (one of them a female) gave Ray full military honors, complete with the unwrapping of the American flag and the displaying of it over his body, then the folding of it back together again, as a trumpeter played taps. Silence fell over the chapel. The flag was then presented to his widow. The soldiers saluted him and marched out, as the crowd cheered. It was a heart-warming scene, and many wept. I see now that he really considered himself an American, above all else. It makes me feel good to know that. I wish more Latinos born in the USA would consider this their real nationality.”

Ray is fondly remembered by many as “a cool guy,” “thoughtful,” and “dedicated.” As his good friend and confidante George Rivera told me, “I will miss Ray dearly. They say that to die is a debt we must all discharge. That is a debt Ray has finally paid, but his legacy will forever continue to flourish. Ray Barretto, Poppa, I'm gonna miss ya, but I'll never forget you...”

©2006 Pablo Ellicott Yglesias

Also, I'd like people to read what Mr. Rivera sent me at Ray's passing. George is a great person, a warm-hearted individual who cares deeply for the Barretto family and Brother Ray's legacy.

From George Rivera:

Ray Barretto Passed Away, Fri Feb 17, 2006

Services to be held:

• LOCATION: Riverside Chapel
• ADDRESS: 180 West 76th Street, Bet Amsterdam & 76th St.
• DATE: Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006
• TIME: 11:00am-5:00pm and 6:00pm -10:00pm

The Loss of Another Great Latin Music Giant...Family spokesperson George Rivera announced that Ray Barretto died at the Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J. at 5 a.m. Wife, Annette Rivera (Brandy) who had been a constant by his side since he was taken to the hospital late last month was taken home to rest. Ray Barretto is survived by his wife Annette Rivera, his four children: Chris, Raun, Ray, & Kelly Barretto and four grandchildren: Jullian Barretto, Aja Peters, Arno Peters and Alex Peters.

For nearly 40 years, conguero and bandleader Ray Barretto has been one of the leading forces in Latin jazz. His hard, compelling playing style has graced the recordings of saxophonists Gene Ammons, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, and guitarists Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell.

Born April 29, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York, Barretto is one of the most prolific and influential Latin percussionists in the history of modern jazz. With a musical heritage as deeply rooted in the bebop jam sessions held in Harlem during the late-'40s as in his Puerto Rican ancestry, Barretto has spent over four decades refining the integration of Afro-Caribbean rhythms with the improvisational elements of jazz. Coincidentally, it was the tune “Manteca” recorded by Gillespie with Chano Pozo on percussion that drove Barretto to music. And it was a version of that same tune that became Barretto’s first recording with Red Garland.

Few artists have been as successful over the years at fusing these two genres as Barretto, an undisputed master of this style. A pioneer of the salsa movement, Barretto achieved international superstardom and released nearly two dozen albums with the Fania label from the late-'60s until salsa's popularity peaked in the mid-1980's.

More about Ray Barretto, Ray Barretto a.k.a. Hard Hands...
a Puerto Rican jazz musician, widely credited as the godfather of Latin jazz. He is also the first Hispanic to record a Latin song which became a "hit" in the American Billboard Charts.

Barretto's parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico in the early 1920s, looking for a better life. He was raised in Spanish Harlem and at a very young age was influenced by his mother's love of music and by the jazz music of musicians such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

In 1946, when Barretto was 17 years old, he joined the Army. While stationed in Germany, Barretto met Belgian vibist Fats Sadi, who was working there. However, it was when he heard Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca" with Cuban percussionist, Chano Pozo, that he realized his true calling in life. In 1949, when Barretto returned home from the service, he started to visit clubs and participated in jam sessions, where he perfected his conga playing. On one occasion Charlie Parker heard Barretto play and invited him to play in his band. Later, he was asked to play for José Curbelo and Tito Puente, for whom he played for four years. Barretto developed a unique style of playing the conga and soon he was sought by other jazz band leaders. Latin percussionists started to appear in jazz groups with frequency as a consequence of Barretto's musical influence [though some say it was Chano Pozo and Candido that paved the way].

In 1960, Barretto was a house musician for the Prestige, Blue Note, and Riverside labels. New York had become the center of Latin music in the United States and a style called "Charanga" was the Latin music craze of the time. In 1961, Barretto recorded his first hit, "El Watusi", the first Latin song to enter the Billboard charts. In 1967, he joined the Fania record label where he recorded "Acid", an experiment in joining rhythm and blues with Latin music.

Barretto played the conga in recording sessions for the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees. In 1975 he was nominated for a Grammy Award for the song "Barretto". From 1976 to 1978, Barretto recorded three records for Atlantic Records, including "La Cuna", and was nominated for a Grammy for "Barretto Live...Tomorrow". In 1979, he produced a salsa record for Fania, titled "Ricanstruction", which was named 1980 "Best Album" by Latin N.Y. Magazine, with Barretto crowned as Conga Player of the Year.

In 1990, Barretto finally won a Grammy for the song "Ritmo en el Corazon" (Rhythm in the Heart), which featured the vocals of Celia Cruz. In 1999, Barretto was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame. Recently Barretto received the " Jazz Master" honor from The National Endowment of the Arts.

Barretto lived in New York and was an active musical producer, as well as the leader of a touring band which has embarked in tours of the United States, Europe, Israel and Latin America. Barretto passed away 17 February 2006 at the Hackensack University Hospital of multiple health complications.

Discography, (may not be 100% accurate) :

• Time Was - Time Is (2005), Ray Barretto 50th Anniversary: Live in Puerto Rico (2004), Homage Art (2003) Bomba Bomba (2002), Trancedance (2001), Portraits In Jazz & Clave (2000)
• Contact! (1998), My Summertime (1996), La Cuna (1995), Latin Gold Collection (1995), Taboo (1994), Latino Con Soul (1994), Ancestral Messages (1993), Descarga Criolla (1992), Live in New York (1992), Handprints (1991), Ray Barretto (1990), Irresistible (1989),Hard Hands (1988), Aqui Se Puede (1987), Todo Se Va Poder (1984), Tremendo Trio: Celia Cruz, Adalberto Santiago & Ray Barretto (1983), Que Viva La Musica (1982), Rhythm Of Life (1982), Soy Dichoso (1981), Giant Force (1980)
• ), La Cuna (1979), Rican/Struction (1979), Can You Feel It? (1978), Gracias (1978), Energy to Burn (1977), Eye of the Beholder (1977), Tomorrow: Barreto Live (1976), Barretto (1975), Carnaval (1973), Indestructible (1972), The Other Road (1973), Cocinando (1972), Head Sounds (1972), Message (1972), Barretto Power (1972), Acid (1972), From The Beginning (1971), Together (1970)
• Hard Hands (1968), Fiesta En El Barrio (1968), Alma Alegre (1967), Soul Drummer (1967), El Ray Criollo (1966), Senos 007 (1966), Viva Watusi (1965), Mysterious Instinct (Akannaginnagi) Featuring Brock Peters (1965), Guajira y Guaganco (1964), Moderna De Siempre (1964), Swing La Moderna (1964), On Fire Again “Encendido Otra Vez” (1963), The Big Hits Latin Style (1963), Latino! (1963), La Moderna & El Watusi (1962), Pachanga (1962), Charanga La Moderna (1962), Cocinando Suave (1962), Barretto Para Bailar (1961)

Ray Barretto can also be found on basically all the legendary recordings of "The Fania All Stars"

When I was on my way in to the funeral, a reporter from NY1 News stopped me to ask a few questions. Here is the article:

February 22, 2006
Fans gathered Wednesday on the Upper West Side to pay their final respects to a musical legend. NY1's Rebecca Spitz filed the following report on how jazz lovers remembered Ray Barretto.

Surrounded by 3 of their 4 children, Ray Barretto's widow remembered her husband of 28 years. The Grammy winning Salsero died after heart bypass surgery last week.
"He is - and was - an extraordinary husband, provider, lover, friend and leader," said his widow Annette.

Born in Brooklyn in 1929, Ray Barretto was a New Yorker to the core, honing his jazz and salsa skills over a decades long career. Barretto played with some of the greatest names in Latin jazz like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.

In the 1940's he was a part of Harlem's legendary jazz sessions and went on to become a bandleader, playing with Fania All-Stars, a world-renowned salsa group.

His youngest son remembers Barretto as a giant among giants.

"My father was almost like a mythical figure. He, in my eyes, could almost be one of the Roman gods, the Greek gods. He was a giant – a big man with big bear hands – and he had the touch of an angel," said Christopher Barretto.

Barretto's family aren't the only ones mourning his death. Dozens of fans waited out in the cold to say a final farewell to a musical giant.

"He really helped to form the Nuyorican sound, which is taking Cuban music and making it much more urban and harder," said fan Pablo Yglesias. "Everybody here on this line is here to pay tribute to him because his music has moved them in some way."

Ricky Gonzales spent time with Barretto in and out of the studio.

"He was more than a bandleader to a lot of us. He was a father figure, a person who never stopped wanting to teach us more," he said.

And promoters say those lessons will continue long into the future.

"I consider Ray at the same level as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. So, the jam sessions going to be pretty good in heaven," said promoter Ralph Mercado.

The Barretto family is creating a foundation in his name for musicians without health insurance. They're also planning a major celebration of Barretto's life this spring on what would've been his 77th birthday.

- Rebecca Spitz