Eddie Palmieri is a true innovator and virtuoso when it comes to the way he approaches his performances on stage and in the recording studio. Eddie uses the keyboard to express the wisdom that emanates from his creative mind. Many of his recordings begin with Eddie improvising on the piano what his fingers magically depict from his creative mind. When he re-records these opening interludes, he plays them differently as his mind searches for the right notes and chords to lay down. Eddie Pamieri, like so many of the creative masters of Latin music, is a New Yorican. His parents left Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1926, to start a new life in the South Bronx, New York. A year later, his mother gave birth to a person destined to be a first-class pianist in his own right, Charlie Palmieri, one of the most celebrated pianists, arrangers, and performers in the world of Latin music. Eddie was born several years later and by the time he reached his teens, Charlie was already making headways in the mambo scene. Eddie emulated Charlie in many ways. But when it came to musical interpretation there were little similarities. Charlie was a straightforward master of leading, interpreting and playing the piano. Eddie embellished what he had learned from his brother while lending his own personal interpretations to each arrangement.
Eddie, under Charlie’s direction, began his recording career with Alegre Records, in 1962, introducing his band, La Perfecta, to all those who took delight in discovering the trombone sound which was new to their ears. He went on to record two more albums for Alegre, El Molestoso and Lo Que Traigo Es Sabroso, before moving on to the Tico label where he recorded over a dozen albums.
It is easy to conclude that each album Eddie produces shows an innovative freshness to his enormous fanbase. But the one album that stands out among the dozens of his releases is Champagne, in 1968. Eddie was extremely excited upon the completion of this album. So much so that a surprise visit to this writer, by Eddie, under blizzard-like conditions, to show off his creation on a stereo acetate copy of the yet-to-be-released masterpiece, proved that he had reached a new level of competency that would grow exponentially for over six decades.
Champagne begins with Eddie’s rendition of how a boogaloo should be played on, “Ay Que Rico.” From there, he goes directly to a romantic ballad, expertly interpreted by his outstanding vocalist, Ismael Quintana, on the classic “Envidia.” The album features the great Cachao on bass, Barry Rodgers and Jose Rodrigues on trombone, Chocolate Armenteros on trumpet and the elusive Cheo Feliciano, who failed to show up for some of the sessions due to a battle with drug dependency until Eddie had Cheo stay with him on nights before recordings to ensure his presence. In “Busca Lo Tuyo” vocalist Cheo Feliciano shows us why Eddie was so eager to include his participation in Champagne. “Si Las Nenas Me Dejan, Que,” features Barry Rodgers on tres, exhibiting his versatility. You also get to hear Nicky Marrero on congas and Ray Armando on timbales. By good fortune, at 85 years of age, Eddie Palmieri is still recording and performing for those of us who relish the excitement created by this master of fine music. —Bobby Marin