Friday, December 28, 2007

¡Viva La Musica! at Exit Art, NYC

Views of The Exhibit "¡Viva La Música!"

The Invitation to "¡Viva La Música!" (front)

The Invitation to "¡Viva La Música!" (back)

Exhibit - Entrance

Exhibit - 60s Wall

Exhibit - 70s Wall

Exhibit - Brazil Wall

Exhibit - Latin Rock & 80s Wall

40s & 50s Wall - Detail

60s Wall - Detail

¡Viva La Musica! 70s Wall - Alternate View

View of Show from Archive Room

¡Viva La Musica! Wall of Albums 1

¡Viva La Musica! Wall of Albums 2

Latin Jazz Wall

The Opening - The People

DJ Andujar (a collector who helped contribute covers to the show)

Angelo Velázquez and Family Looking at Covers

Orquesta Dee Jay Reunion

The second Orchestra Dee Jay album - get the reissue from Latin Soul Records (shout out to Andres Padua)!!!

Radio Personality & DJ/Artist Dred-Scott Keyes with Pablo

"Cocinando" collage by Dred-Scott Keyes

Pablo with the Co-Directors and Founders of Exit Art, Jeanette Ingberman and Papo Colo

DJ Jorge 'The Pink Panther' Irragorri (¡Que viva Colombia!)

DJ Fedito Schmalz (poet) & DJ Knoxito Robinson (writer)

Charlie Rosario, Papo Colo, Angelo Velázquez

Pablo & Angelo Velázquez

Pablo & Charlie Rosario

Pablo & Ernest 'Chico' Alvarez

George 'Dee Jay' De Jesús & Emilio 'Tata' Barreto

Angelo Velázquez, Manny Vega, José 'Jack' Claussell, Pablo & Yogui Rosario

Charlie Rosario Points to One of His Ground-Breaking Covers

Charlie Rosario with Two of His Original Cover Artworks

DJ Fredito Schmalz

DJ Knoxito Robinson

Here is a little information on a show I put together at Exit Art, a wonderful non-profit exhibition space in New York. I wanted to show the actual Latin album covers that I put in my book, but expand on that and fill a whole gallery space with it. The opening was great fun - many friends came, as did fans of Latin music and dance, and several musicians and designers. Chico Alvarez was there - he designed many covers and is a singer, musician, and radio DJ; Yogui Rosario, who designed covers for Fania, Salsoul, and other labels, and Angelo Velázquez who did one of my favorites, the second cover to Brooklyn Sounds, "Libre." In addition, José 'Jack' Claussell, the timbalero for Eddie Palmieri (and brother to internationally respected DJ Joe Claussell) was there - he is a collector of art and owns several original pieces that were used for covers over the years. Manny Vega, an incredible visual artist and a very deep individual, was there - he's done several great covers over the years for the Shanachie and Ryko Latino labels. There was even a reunion of sorts when various members of Orquesta Dee Jay (Jerry Hernandez - trombonist, Emilio 'Tata' Barreto - conguero, and George 'Dee Jay' De Jesús himself - leader, bassist) showed up, as well as Charlie Rosario, the graphic designer who did their second album jacket design - "Forget It" on the Lew Gas label, way back in the early 70s. Orquesta Dee Jay is a cult 'salsa dura' band that I had no idea was so popular among collectors - I just knew the guys in their later lives. I also asked several of my collector friends - Fred 'Fredito' Schmalz, Knox 'Knoxito' Robinson, Brendan 'Andujar' Rule, and The Pink Panther (Jorge Irragori) - to DJ so people could dance or have a chance to hear some of the music represented on the walls. There was another exhibit on at the time in the larger part of the gallery that was great too. Here are some pictures of the opening and the show. I also went back to the gallery mid-way through the show and we did a dance party with some of the same DJs and that was a lot of fun! In the end, the exhibit ended up being on the Latin Grammy program that year, shown briefly during the bit where Milly Quezada was talking about New York being a major center for salsa. That was a nice surprise!

¡Viva La Música!
The Music Graphics of Latino Identity

¡Viva la Música! explores the evolution of Latin music album cover art over the last 50 years, paying critical attention to issues of identity and aesthetics, with an emphasis on historical context and the unsung artists who helped present Latin music to the world.¡Viva la Música! is an unprecedented exhibition that demands the viewer's full attention. Many album covers have fascinating stories behind their creation. Taking inspiration from Pablo Yglesias’ recent book Cocinando, 50 Years of Latin Album Cover Art, this exhibition aims to tell these stories through the display of over 300 albums. Some well-loved examples of Latin LP jacket design will be sure to inspire feelings of nostalgia, but others will speak to universal concerns as well. In addition to 78 rpm, 10”, 12” and CD covers, the show will present original artwork used as album cover art but never before exhibited. Works by Chico Alvarez, Ely Besalel, Warren Flagler, Ron Levine, Lee Marshall, Charlie Rosario, Yogui Rosario, Izzy Sanabria, Manny Vega, Jorge Vargas, Walter Velez, and others will be seen for the first time. ¡Viva la Música! proposes that the album cover is not only an invitation to dance but is also fine art worthy of serious consideration. The exhibition’s premise is that the record jacket is not just an ephemeral mass-produced object to be relegated to the trash heap of a bygone era, but rather a unique 12 by 12 inch window onto a culture's soul.

My interview with Izzy Sanabria (featured at Exit Art in the library of additional materials):

Interviewer: "So what are your earliest memories of being interested in art & deign?”:

My earliest memory is of my mother telling me that ever since I was a child I would copy the lettering on products like cereal boxes or soap or whatever the hell might be on the kitchen table. And my personal rememberance is comic books. And copying art from comic books. So I was always very visual that way. And then my choice in career came. I taught myself how to read music, and I performed on stage in elementary school. When I was in seventh grade, in junior high school, they put me in a special music class. When I looked at my schedule, there was no art. So I went to the grade advisor, and in the seventh grade is when I made my decision in life, in a sense, because they said you are either in the special music class or the special art class. So rather than have no art, I went to the special art class. So I took the special art class for three years with my neighborhood childhood friend, Walter Velez.

It was in the South Bronx. We did a lot of different projects. We made puppets and all kinds of stuff. And again, my performance was always there because I performed in a puppet show, and Walter and I teamed up then, and at that time, Mad comics had come out, and one of the characters was called The Lone Stranger. And so I made a puppet named Pronto, and Walter was the Lone Stranger, and so we put on a show, and we made sets, and all that kind of crap. And from there, I went to the High School of Art and Design. My other influence then was The Wild One, which came out in ’51 with Marlon Brando. So when I went into high school, Walter and I both dressed that way as well, and we got into a lot of trouble because of it. When I went into school, we took our entrance tests, because you had to pass these tests and all that. I came out reading second year, 2.1 college level. And they thought I’d cheated. I found out a year later that a teacher that really took to me who said “do you remember taking that English test again alone in a classroom?” I said, “yeah” and she goes “that’s because they thought you had cheated.” ‘Cause my reading comprehension was very high, because I was really into reading. We grew up in a shitty neighborhood, you know, in a fucked-up school system, but books and the library saved my ass. I was looking at all the art books and how to draw books, and all that other kind of stuff. I never liked modern art. It wasn’t until many years later that I got into the Impressionists. I never liked Cubism and abstract and everything else. But Surrealism, yes, because it was subjective, it had realism, and of all the surrealists, my favorite was Salvador Dali, because Magritte, who I liked also, his surrealism was a little more crude. Salvador Dali was very photographic, and plus, he’s Spanish, and in those days, I looked to anybody with a Spanish surname. It was very important to me. And Salvador Dali was very flamboyant, and so that’s the other side of Izzy that I combine with the performer, in my flamboyance and which is what I brought on stage as well, as an emcee and as a comedian,and the early radio commercials that I did and all that, I was completely innovative when I got into the business in all these aspects. So being on stage, and doing art work, those are conflicting expressive art forms. Because usually artists and writers are loners who create all by themselves. But I always also wanted instant gratification and art is something that you do alone, and then, later on, somebody will like it or not like it. But when you’re on stage, people will either accept you, or you’re booed.

Interviewer: "So where were your influences coming from at that time?”:

In comic books, all the artists from EC comics. Wallace Wood, Jack Davis. Also illustrators for Tales from the Crypt, and Weird Science and Mad. And then there was the comic book ban, which crushed the comic book industry.
Interviewer: “And, I suppose you were probably looking for Latin superheroes, and they weren’t there.”
Right. So, to me it was Gilbert Roland, Ricardo Montalban, Jose Ferrer, Fernando Lamas, Anthony Quinn, when I found out he was Latino, so those were the people I looked up to.

Interviewer: “Did you grow up in a musical household?”

Not really, but my mother used to sing. I wasn’t one of those people who grew up with Cuban music all the time. With me, what I heard was the Trio Los Panchos, that kind of thing, the jibaro music, which I completely ignored, like so many of my contemporaries, that we turned away from our parents’ music, and yet we gravitated to the Cuban sound. But that came through the development of your sexuality. Because I went from country music, I used to love cowboys, Roy Rogers versus Gene Autry. I was listening to the music of Hank Williams, you know, yodeling. Today, I still yodel. (yodels) I used to love that shit!

Interviewer: “Wow - really?”

So, from that, I went into rock and roll, which was “Baby, let me bang your box!” oops! Did you hear that?! Oh, my god? The lyrics that they were sneaking through, you know, and then, as I got into high school, The Platters, and all that stuff, doo wop. I never liked Elvis Presley, like, there were some people that really gravitated to him, but I was just jealous of him, because all the girls liked him. So it wasn’t until years later that I have a collection of Elvis Presley records.

Interviewer: “But how did you get into the whole Latin music scene?”

So, it wasn’t until I was about sixteen or seventeen that some of the older guys that were ahead of me, and their girlfriends who taught us how to dance, because, you know, now you’re interested in girls, then I was taken to a Latin club by one of the older guys. I was under-age, still, and Tito Puente was the one that sucked me into Latin music, because Tito Puente, who I consider to be the father of Latin music, Machito planted the roots, but Tito Puente took that Cuban sound, and completely modernized it. So, that’s how I got into Latin music. And then just to skip down the road a bit, by the time I’d gotten out of high school, I was already emcee-ing at this club, Triton’s, and by then Johnny Pacheco was the hottest thing in town, he had just gotten off on his own band with Orquestra Dubonet, with Charlie Palmieri’s Orquestra Dubonet, they were together, and Pacheco was the flute player, and he was the hottest thing in town. And then I used to hang around with Pacheco, and through the Triton’s connection, I did my first album cover, which was for Pacheco. I got into the latin music, I was an emcee/waiter/bartender at the Triton, and I used to bring on the acts, and then from there, I had gotten out of high school, I had gone to a school of visual art, then I won a scholarship, and at that point, that was when I did the album cover for Pacheco, which is probably ’59 or ’60. It just so happens that Pacheco went to the same junior high school as I did. He was the guy at the top of the pyramid at the tumbling club. And what happened was that the first time I went to the Palladium, he was playing with a group, and I went up to him, and said, “hey, vaya, what’s happening?” and from there, we built a friendship at the Triton’s. It was at the Triton’s where I met all those great cats, Arsenio Rodriguez, Alegre Allstars, Eddie Palmieri. I used to travel around with Pacheco, I even auditioned to be Elliot Romero’s replacement, but I was terrible, I couldn’t hack it. Those were the days of the charanga, and I was a paid professional charanga dancer in the clubs, and the Jewish mountains [Catskills].

Interviewer: “So how did it start with the first LP cover you did?”

I went up to Johnny, and said, “I have a great concept for your album cover.” And he said, “sorry, man, it’s already been ordered” and normally, like today, you’d just walk away, but I said “well, give me the guy’s name, anyway,” and he gave me Al Santiago’s name, and Al Santiago’s parents had a record shop called “Alegre Records” on Westchester and Prospect Avenue in the Bronx. So, the minute he saw it, he said, “That’s it!” That album cover was a woodcut of Pacheco, and it captures him perfectly, in all his skinny, energetic essence, and to this day, he wears that drawing made in gold, around his neck. It became a symbol of him. And because the woodcut, with all the little imperfections in it, gave the whole thing an electrical movement, which is the way he moved on stage, you had to see him, how he used to play that flute, his gyrations, and everything else. In terms of technique, this was not really a woodcut. This was a technique that I learned in high school, which was that you take white tempera paint, and you paint negative space, stroke by stroke, and then after it was dry, you take black India ink, which is a permanent ink, and then you paint over the whole surface with it, so wherever the white tempera paint wasn’t, then the black India ink would adhere to this illustration board. And then once that was dry, you take the whole board, and put it under the water faucet, and the water would wash away the white tempera paint, and what was left was the black impression.

Interviewer: “What came next?”

After the Pacheco, that’s when I started doing the classic comic book style Alegre Allstars covers. Within those album covers, there’s one that was also another first, in terms of the whole record industry, latin or otherwise. It was the first comic strip, a continuous comic strip, that was because we were doing Volume III, and I said to Al to skip a volume, and he said, “why?” and I said, “because people are already going to the record shop, looking for these Alegre albums, and when they get there, they find out, wait a minute, I don’t have this album, what’s going on?” so Al kind of dismissed me, but Al was very open; he was the most progressive guy until Jerry Masucci, but he was even wilder and crazier than Masucci could ever be. And the next day, he called up and said, “I like the idea!” and so then he came up with the concept that the whole reason that we did this was because Kako had lost the tapes, so then from that idea, then I came up with a comic strip where we show, because Kako was always falling asleep anyway, and Kako was always being goofed on by the other Alegre Allstars because of that, and their recordings in general were always very humorous, and he’s a great timbalero by the way, so the concept there was that he was on the subway, and he fell asleep, and this villain came along and stole the tapes. Well, this leaked out to the media, and before you know it, they were asking us to post a reward for this, it was in the newspapers and all this, that these famous Alegre Allstars tapes had been lost, and it was all bullshit. I was very much into marketing concepts. By the time the ’60’s rolled around, I had already been working in studios and advertising agencies, and I had been in the army, so that I came with all this energy and all this American mentality, and so I was bumping heads with all these people that did not see my vision because this was an industry of very ignorant people. So Jerry Masucci was accepting of a lot of the stuff I came up with, and so that is the reason I started promoting the music with the name “Salsa” and it was all because of my concept of being able to sell something. Not only the graphics, but the concept behind it. When I worked in the anglo advertising studios, they couldn’t figure out what my ethnic background was. “Israel, are you jewish? Sanabria, are you Italian?” and I’d answer, “Puerto Rican!”

Interviewer: “Tell us a bit about why you got into this whole presentation of Latin culture through design and the magazines and stuff?”

One of the reasons that I came into the business was that I believed that I could make a splash. Which is what I did, and it was because what I had seen was so bad. These album covers were put together by printers who were supplied with very often a bad photograph, and they would put the lettering down with their eyes closed. I mean, no real designers or artists, the money wasn’t there, this was not important. None of this had any importance to anyone, it was just some small market. And it’s the same thing with the posters. The posters that were advertising dancers. They were put together by the same people who made boxing posters. This was a letter press, and those big letters were actually wooden letters, put together one at a time, and they would insert blocks with pictures and this awful lettering. And it was all hand set. I revolutionized Latin album cover art because I started designing them by hand, and reproducing them in photo offset lithography.
I was always bumping heads, Masucci wanted complete control most of the time, but sometimes, I was able to turn things around, and be completely accepted. Typical was a Willie Colon album which is a classic today, “Wanted by the FBI”(La Gran Fuga/The Big Break), there’s a lot of interesting aspects about that particular album. Number one, the name of the album was La Gran Fuga, you know, The Great Escape, they handed me a photograph, which was the guys in color, that was pretty washed out. It was the guys in prison outfits, escaping over the fence of a prison in Puerto Rico. So, what I did was that I used that photograph, I turned it into a black and white, and I turned it into a vilox, 80-line screen, to make it look like a newspaper, and I in fact made a replica of the New York Daily News on the back. In the ‘60’s I had seen these posters of Bobby Seals, and other Black Panthers who were wanted by the FBI. The hippies were selling copies of the posters. So, from that idea, I came up with this album cover for Willie Colon for “Wanted by the FBI.” The irony is, the mug shot photos are the cheapest photographs ever taken for an album cover. I took Willie downstairs, I had an office on 52nd and Broadway, went to the corner where there was one of these arcades. Four photos for a quarter. So I took four of them facing front, and four profile shots, because I wanted that bad quality.

The prison numbers under his mug shot are his previous LP catalogue numbers. The fingerprints were taken from a post office Wanted poster. I pasted them into position, and this friend of mine who I grew up with, Vinny Alonso, he and I wrote the copy…”wanted for exciting riots with his trombone…” and FBI part had something to do with the “Freaks Bureau of Investigation” so then, what made that album cover so controversial, was that the FBI stopped the album because there was also a poster on the inside of the album, which was pasted around the city, and in Puerto Rico, advertising the album, which asked people to turn Willie Colon in to the FBI. So Willie Colon’s grandmother was hysterical, they were telling her “oh, they want your grandson…” so the FBI became aware of it, and what we found out was that it’s against the law to put anything on the market that will in any way give the impression that the FBI is behind this. You can’t do this kind of parody, you see. Whereas that posters these hippies were putting out, were exact replicas, and were just helping the FBI’s propaganda. So what they had them do was they had them turn the album covers around for display in the stores, so that you were looking at the back, and all subsequent printings could only say “Wanted” without the FBI part. So the albums that have the “Wanted by the FBI” are the collectors’ items. That was only the first five thousand.

Interviewer: “Thanks Izzy for shedding some light on this little discussed aspect of our culture.”

Walter Velez & Izzy Sanabria

Mr. Salsa

Some designs by Izzy Sanabria & Walter Velez

CHICO ALVAREZ, Cultural Warrior

By Enrique Peraza
© 2000 Mafimba Productions

Ernesto Álvarez Peraza was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 4, 1947, and as a youngster was drawn to music. In 1950 his parents returned to Cuba, where he was raised in the Luyano district of Havana. At the age of 10, he was sent to live with his paternal grandmother in the picturesque seaport of Antilla, in Oriente province. It was there that he first heard the music that would someday fulfil his dreams.

During the period from 1957 through 1959, Chico would spend his summer vacations in New York City, where he first came under the influence of rock and roll. He returned to Cuba in September of 1959 and began his initial venture into the realm of popular music. Along with a group of young musicians from Antilla, he sought to breathe new life into the music which he had heard while living in New York. The group consisted mainly of a vocal group with some rhythm accompaniment, specializing in ‘cubanized’ renditions of popular American tunes, such as “Only You", "Blue Suede Shoes” and “Rock Around The Clock”. By 1961 Chico had fallen totally in love with the Cuban bolero, via the recordings of such artists as Vicentico Valdés y Lucho Gatica, even as he continued to lean more toward the pop sound that was coming out of "el Norte". At this time in his life he was the stereotypical Cuban teenager who wanted more than anything else to be a rock and roll singer. He dreamed of someday being on American Bandstand.

During the summer of 1961 he once again spent some time in New York, where he first encountered the cross-fertilization of Cuban music with the pop sound of rock and roll, with its underlying clave, as well as the phenomenal success of the mambo, the pachanga and of course the cha-cha-chá. It was during this visit that he experienced a newly-awakened interest in Cuban music, via the 78 rpm recordings of his parents and by way of Spanish language radio. By September he was back in Cuba, but not for very long. His parents made the final move to New York in late 1962. From that point on, his life would revolve around popular American culture, and it was in that most difficult of places, New York, that he would develop as an artist.

New York at this time was still full of great Cuban music, and he soon discovered the innovative vocal stylings of Miguelito Valdes, Carlos Embale, Roberto Faz, Beny Moré, Tito Gomez and the ever popular Vicentico Valdés, with whom he nurtured a personal friendship. His first instrument was the conga drum, which he picked up while still in High School, emulating the sounds which he heard on records by Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente and Joe Cuba. He was like a diamond in the rough, and listening to these masters helped him to polish that diamond. At the tail end of the Sixties he began to perform with as many groups as he possibly could, in order to gain the experience he needed. He often sat in on the conga drum with the likes of Errol Garner, Ted Reed and Babs Gonzalez.

During the early part of the Seventies Chico played with various small groups, mostly in small clubs and bars, totally unsatisfied, as deep down inside he longed to play with larger ensembles, such as those led by Machito, Puente and Rodriguez. These three were the last of the big bands whose popularity was waning at the time. Midway through the decade, as a new era in Cuban music was being ushered in he once again contemplated singing, and it was through a quirk of fate that he finally made the switch. It happened in the following manner. While opening up for vocalist Tito Rodriguez's band at a ballroom in Newark, Chico's vocalist failed to show up and he wound up singing lead and playing the conga drum, a task which he found overwhelming. Noticing his potential, Tito approached him at the end of the set and suggested that he pursue a career as a vocalist. Although he felt honoured that such a renowned artist would take notice of him, he continued to play the congas, which he loved. Although they remained in the back of his mind, Tito's advice went unheeded for a couple of more years, until around 1974.

As fate would have it, there occurred a second boom with the "charanga" style bands, and another quirk of fate led Chico to a club called La Mancha, which was located on 14th Street, near Union Square. He had just come out of a German restaurant known as Luchow’s, where he had been playing a private party with some jazz musicians. As he passed La Mancha, he noticed a lot of "Latin" looking people going upstairs, so he asked someone what this place was. They told him it was a Latin music dance club. Seeking work for his Latin jazz sextet, he decided to go upstairs and check out the ambience. Boldly, he approached the bandleader and asked to sit in on congas. The leader said no, but asked Chico if he could sing, to which he replied "Yes". That is how he wound up sitting in on coro with an up and coming charanga band, Tipica New York, led by violinist Miguel Pérez. On the bandstand that night was the legendary bassist Israel Lopez (Cachao), who later on spoke to Chico and matter-of-factly echoed Tito Rodriguez's words, even suggesting to him that he had the chops to be a lead singer. This time he heeded the elder's advice, and decided right then and there that this was what he wanted to do. At the end of the night he asked Pérez for the job, and much to his surprise, he got it. With this band he was initially a "corista", but he quickly picked up the art of playing the guiro, an instrument that he had never paid much attention to, but which was essential to the charanga sound. He learned to play it from one of the masters of that instrument, Osvaldo "Chihuahua" Martinez. Today Chico Álvarez is considered one of New York's best guiro players. He is also an excellent maraca player, a task that is very much underestimated these days. For years he listened to the artful playing of Felipe Neli Cabrera, from the Sexteto Habanero, considered the man who put the instrument on the musical map.

Subsequently Álvarez would outgrow the charanga format, and his voice would be heard with the bands of Lou Pérez, Roberto Torres, Jose Fajardo, Hector Rivera, Charanga America, Chico Mendoza's Ocho, Chihuahua Martinez, Charlie Rodriguez, Fernando Mulens, Las Hermanas Cano, Baby Gonzalez, Julio Gutierrez, Facundo Rivero, Monguito El Unico, Orquesta Habana Brass and Gonzalo Fernandez, among others. During this period he also composed many original numbers, which have been recorded by artists from Mexico to Sweden.

With a thoroughly tested musical apprenticeship, Chico launched his own ten piece group in 1976, Mayómbe. He also worked for a brief time with publisher and artist Izzy Sanabria, designing the popular magazine Latin New York. Disillusioned by the music scene, he dissolved his band in 1978, leaving behind only one recording, on vinyl, which was titled “Con El Ritmo Del Tambó”. With this recording, he presented a colorful album of Afro-Cuban music, revolving around the theme of the drum, with skilful and sophisticated arrangements, exciting and romantic moods, which transported the listener to a faraway and forbidden land, just ninety miles from Key West. Featured on this album is his own composition “Piñeiro”, which he also arranged. It is a fitting tribute to one of the masters of the Cuban son, Ignacio Piñeiro.

After his initial recording, Chico continued recording for various labels, putting out the classic “Montuneando” in 1981, on the SAR label. This album has been re-issued on CD under the title “Los Soneros De Cuba y Nueva York”. It is probably his most typically Cuban album. Also worthy of mention is an album he did in 1981 with the Bronx-based band Nosotros, aptly titled "Los Bárbaros Del Ritmo", as well as his various recordings with Cuban pianist Papo Loco.

His latest endeavour is the formidable Orquesta Palomonte, an all-star big band that features five saxes, four trumpets, two trombones, three singers and a full Afro-Cuban percussion section. The repertoire is varied, and showcases classic arrangements by Richard Egués, Niño Rivera, Louie Ramirez, Manolo Albo, Bebo Valdés, Jose Urfe, Rene Hernández, Michael Phillip Mossman, Chico Mendoza, Paquito Pastor, Alfredo Valdés Jr. and Rafael Solano, to name just a few.

His presentations are not limited exclusively to big band dance music, and feature many colorful and diverse types of aggregations, such as a rumba group, a son sextet and a Latin jazz quintet. Álvarez began fronting son groups in the 1970s, but the bridge between that rootsy music of his youth in Cuba and the urbanized music he embraced in New York is still where Alvarez as a bandleader walks. He has released seven albums, both as a solo artist and with various bands, including the Bronx-based group Nosotros and the Afro-Caribe Band, which he broke up in 2001. He has since formed Chico Álvarez and the Palomonte Cuban Big Band, which recently appeared at Lincoln Center's MIDSUMMER NIGHT SWING on Friday June 17, 2005, Josie Robertson Plaza. This concert-dance came on the heels of the successful NOCHES CUBANAS, the two night concert-revue that was presented by the World Music Institute at the Skirball Center at NYU last April. On that night, Chico delighted dancers and listeners alike with his powerful voice and his formidable 18 piece orchestra, breathing new life into the classic arrangements of those arrangers whom I have mentioned previously.

In July of 2004 Chico Alvarez and his merry band of rhythm makers delighted everyone at The International Nuits D'Afrique Festival in Montreal. As a vocalist he has recently been featured on albums by Joe Quijano, Andrea Brachfeld, Pucho and The Latin Soul Brothers, Sliced Bread, Los Soneros, Rafael Cruz (Grammy winner), Antonia Bennet, Conjunto Homenaje a Arsenio (Finland), David Oquendo, and Ron Warwell's Jazz Project. He has performed recently with Charanga Soleil and is featured with Junior Rivera's Cuarteto Son at the favorite Greenwich Village restaurant "Cuba", as both vocalist and percussionist. He is also the official conga player and Latin vocalist for the Ken Gross Orchestra.

Both as vocalist and bandleader he has performed in Europe, West Africa, South America and the Caribbean, and locally he has graced the stages at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, NJPAC, Skirball Center, Symphony Space, The Apollo Theatre, Aaron Davis Hall, Leeman Center, Hostos Performing Arts Center, Madison Sq. Garden, The Count Basie Theatre, John Harms Center, The Queens African Museum, Queens Theatre In the Park, Flushing Town Hall, The Museum of Natural History, Tishman Auditorium, and at legendary Jazz clubs such as Birdland and The Village Gate, as well as aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid. Chico is presently associated with the renowned pianist and arranger Edy Martinez, alumnus of the bands of Mongo Santamaria, Ray Barretto and Gato Barbieri, with whom he often performs as a special guest.

Much to his credit, this multi-faceted musician, vocalist and bandleader was once one of the most sought-after graphic artists in New York City, designing over five thousand album covers during the ten year period between 1969 and 1979. He gave up a lucrative career in that field in order to pursue a career in music, and has never regretted it.

At present Chico Alvarez is the producer, host and moderator of the weekly music program “The New World Gallery”, heard weekly over listener-supported WBAI, since 1989. He was also heard for a number of years on WADO 1280 AM, Sunday evenings from 11 pm to 5 am Sundays. “Latino Con Jazz” was a radical departure for WADO, a traditionally ethnic radio station. Although the program aired in Spanish, the type of music that Chico featured attracted a wide cross-section of New Yorkers and urbanites. He conducted his shows in much the same manner that he conducted his band, in that each performance was a unique learning experience, rather than just mere entertainment. He considers himself a bi-cultural and bi-lingual person, who loves all types of music and who doesn’t believe in mixing politics with art. Prior to his programs most Latin Jazz shows were done in English. To this day he continues to promote the bi-lingual format while stressing the importance of using correct Spanish on the air.

In 2002 Chico Álvarez was nominated by the Latin Jazz USA Awards Committee to receive the Chico O’Farrill Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition for his outstanding contribution to the musical art form known as Latin Jazz. Along with musician Ray Santos and journalist Max Salazar, Chico joined the ranks of such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Paquito D’Rivera, Gato Barbieri, Tito Puente, Marco Rizo, Mario Bauzá, Mongo Santamaria, Stanley Turrentine, Astor Piazzola, Ray Barretto, Astrud Gilberto, Nestor Torres, Rene Touzet, China Valles, Eddie Palmieri and of course Chico O’Farrill, in whose name the award is now given.

Recently, Chico was also awarded a Special Recognition Award from the International Latin Music Hall of Fame at Hostos Center for the Arts and Culture, at a concert-ceremony on April 4, 2001. He is featured on Rafel Cruz' Grammy award winning Latin jazz album "Bebop Timba", as vocalist and percussionist.

He was also awarded the First Place Award for Excellence in Radio Arts and Entertainment from the New York Association of Black Journalists (NYABJ). He received his award at the annual Scholarship and Awards Dinner on December 2, 1999 at the Sheraton Hotel in New York City. NYABJ bestowed him the award specifically for his special two hour radio documentary “Jazz Meets Latin / Dizzy Gillespie & Chano Pozo”.

This was the second time that Chico received recognition for his weekly program “The New World Gallery”, which has been airing for sixteen years on member-supported WBAI in New York City. Chico, who helped pioneer the concept of a multi-mixed-genre on radio, received the Silver Reel Local Entertainment Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) during their 50th annual conference, held in San Francisco. The documentary “Jazz Meets Latin / Dizzy Gillespie & Chano Pozo” was originally broadcast on WBAI in December of 1998.
In addition, he received a special letter of recognition from the government of Peru for his show entitled “The Soul of Black Peru”, which aired in 1998.

“Jazz Meets Latin” was part of a series that Chico developed, which explored the rich and prodigious musical exchange that took place between Afro-American and Latin-American musicians throughout this century not only in New York, but in other urban centers of this country as well. The series examined the synthesis of two musical traditions that shared common origins; American jazz, developed by Afro-Americans at the turn of the twentieth century in the port city of New Orleans and the son, developed by Cubans in the port city of Havana during approximately the same period. It is a long and complicated story, and the end result has been the marriage of these two forms. In practically all of his presentations, Chico manages to convey this very important aspect of the music to his audience, publicly acknowledging the masters and their contributions. He never forgets where the roots are, and he lets his public know it. In this manner, he can also be considered an educator, although he doesn’t like to use the term. The award winning “Jazz Meets Latin” special focused primarily upon the music composed and performed by the legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and the master Cuban percussionist, singer and dancer Luciano Pozo Gonzalez, known as “Chano Pozo”. Chico's contention is that their collaboration was as key moment in the evolution of jazz and their brief relationship changed forever the musical landscape and the popular culture of North America. He vehemently emphasizes this, especially to those who would rather re-write history.

Chico has also produced various other programs of special interest that are noteworthy, such as “Montuno Meets The Blues”, “The Guitar: A Legacy Of Two Worlds” and “Color It Mambo”. All three programs focus on the transculturation process as it was experienced in New York City and other major urban centers throughout the country. Apart from the great music, Chico also concerns himself with putting forth much valuable information about the recordings themselves, both from historical as well as sociological perspectives. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he replied “As a communicator and a cultural warrior!”

Album Artwork By Chico Alvarez

Latin Album Designers - Clockwise from top left: Walter Velez, Izzy Sanabria, Rogerio Duarte, Izzy Sanabbria, Chico Alvarez, Helio Oiticica, Steve Quintana, Charlie Rosario & Yogui Rosario, Yogui Rosario, Jorge Vargas, Ron Levine, Eli Besalel, Charlie Rosario