Ismael Quintana

Chris Coyne

Ismael Quintana

Ismael ‘Pat’ Quintana, born in Ponce, a town rich with culture in the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, relocated to New York when he was very young. It was in the South Bronx that he became infatuated with Latin music. During these early years, he played percussion with a variety of bands throughout New York City. He persevered and eventually joined the orchestra of Angel Natel as a teenage bongosero.

During one memorable night in 1959, the band was asked to play a particular number for one of the club’s dancers. Natel’s singer was not familiar with the song, but Ismael was. He stepped up to the microphone, performed the song and in the process electrified the crowd with his gifted voice. A magnificent career was launched that evening – a career that would ultimately position Quintana as one of the foremost vocalists in Latin music.

In 1961, visionary keyboardist Eddie Palmieri decided to leave the sanctuary of the eminent Tito Rodríguez orchestra in order to pursue the dream of forming his own band. Eddie happened to be present when Quintana auditioned for the popular orchestra of Orlando Marín. The pianist would eventually track him down and offer him the opportunity to become the lead singer in his new orchestra, La Perfecta. This proved to be a vital move in Eddie’s quest to become one of Latin music’s premier bandleaders. Their alliance would last 12 years.

Together, Quintana and Palmieri stretched the limits of progressive salsa, creating dissonant jams that fused the raw tradition of Afro-Caribbean music (exemplified by the singer’s hardcore soneos) with a relentless desire to experiment (illustrated by Palmieri’s choice of electronic keyboards, the use of structures borrowed from other musical formats, as well as meandering solos that had their own idiosyncratic logic to them).

The 1965 album Azúcar Pa’Tí is probably the aesthetic pinnacle of their collaboration. It boasted classic salsa anthems like “Oyelo Que Te Conviene,” included here for your listening pleasure. Yet another unforgettable moment was Eddie’s decision to record a double LP set at the Sing Sing penitentiary. Quintana’s voice sounds appropriately passionate on that socially significant concert recording from 1972.

By 1973, Quintana had decided to embark on a solo career. He signed a contract with UA Latino Records, and recorded two albums of excellent quality. The second of these two releases afforded him the opportunity to sing tangos and ballads, backed by a spectacular orchestra conducted by South American arrangers Héctor Garrido and Jorge Calandrelli. Surprisingly, the singer has stated in interviews that he prefers crooning ballads and boleros over singing more up-tempo material.

Quintana’s first effort for Vaya Records was recorded in 1974. It included the hit “La Blusita Colorá,” which is featured in this collection. The singer also collaborated with La Sonora Ponceña’s keyboardist and bandleader Papo Lucca, as well as with Ricardo Marrero.

In 1975, Quintana was invited to join the legendary Fania All-Stars orchestra as one of its main vocalists. He appeared in the motion picture Salsa, and participated in many of the combo’s historic performances, delivering a fiery version of the self-penned “Mi Debilidad” at the Yankee Stadium. When not traveling all over the world with the All-Stars, Quintana could be found in the recording studio, working on the material that appeared in his albums for Vaya.

The name of Ismael Quintana appears in many classic albums from the salsa explosion of the ’70s, both as a background singer and percussionist. His phenomenal vocal skills have obscured the fact that he is one of the genre’s most exciting maracas player. He is also an innovative composer, having written many of the songs that make up Eddie Palmieri’s seminal albums from that era.

Quintana is also known as one of the nicest guys in the Latin music business. A true professional who is never late to his concert engagements – and a devoted family man who does not smoke or drink. Ponce in Puerto Rico has given birth to a number of legendary Latin singers, from Héctor Lavoé and Cheo Feliciano to Ednita Nazario and Pete ‘El Conde’ Rodríguez. Ismael Quintana is yet another luminary from that region. This Latin Heritage compilation is a well deserved tribute to one of salsa’s best.

Written by Bobby Marín.

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