Courtesy of Gato Barbieri
FIRESIDE CHAT WITH GATO BARBIERI
of years ago, I was turned onto a Don Cherry record, Symphony for Improvisers.
The energy was palpable. Playing alongside avant heroes Cherry and Pharoah
Sanders, to me a little known Gato Barbieri outshined both. Subsequently,
releases on ESP (In Search of the Mystery) and Flying Dutchman (The Third
World, Fenix) have allowed me to gain further appreciation for the Argentinean
tenor. Held responsible for more recent commercial sessions, people forget
the sheer aggressiveness of Barbieri's days of old. Never forget folks.
There are reasons and I asked Barbieri for them. Barbieri spoke with me
from his home in New York and as we talked about his childhood, his road
most taken away from free jazz, and his love for his late wife, I began
to gain an even greater appreciation for the man behind the music. Even
with the language challenges, Barbieri spoke eloquently about his life,
as always, unedited and in his own words.
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
BARBIERI: In Argentina, we played jazz in 1950 very good. My uncle, he
played tenor. My brother, he played trumpet. We played bebop when I was
seventeen. I played classic music. I played Stravinsky. I go to the city
and I have knowledge of almost everything about the music. I play jazz.
It was being a little rebellion, no? Rebel.
FJ: You were a rebel.
BARBIERI: In some way, yeah. But I like jazz. Few records we have because
in those days, never come anything. But when I was twelve, I buy a record
of Charlie Parker and for me, it was, it opened something. I understand
immediately. Some people, it takes years and years to understand. For
me, it was very right on the button.
FJ: What was it about Bird?
BARBIERI: Everything. I liked Benny Goodman. I liked more Harry James.
In fact, Miles Davis said one day that Harry James was incredible trumpet
player, but he don't have the courage to go ahead because he was in Hollywood.
But Parker, we have one record every one year. We don't have instruments.
We don't have anything. You have to imagine the things. For me, when this
record comes, one was with Dizzy called Anthropology. It was incredible.
For me, it was something so natural. This is what I like in those days.
FJ: When did you make the switch from alto to tenor?
BARBIERI: When I listened to John Coltrane. I had to go to Uruguay because
Uruguay in those days, after the war was a little rich because a lot of
people from Europe with money there. So we have record, everything, instruments,
and I listen to Round About Midnight and this for me, he was the successor
of Charlie Parker because he had the same feeling. Obviously, he play
different, but he had the same something you can have. You can't learn.
You have it or you don't have it. So for me, Coltrane, he helped a lot
Miles Davis because until Miles, never have, he switched so many things.
He played cool with Lee Konitz. He played West Coast and this and that,
but when he played with John Coltrane, he said John Coltrane was the key
to grow with this group and after, Miles did all the things. Parker, he
did so many things, but he died early, thirty-six years old. For me, Jaco
Pastorious at twenty, he already had his style and he died thirty-six
like Charlie Parker. So what I say, for me, music is a very mysterious
thing, especially, in our music. Some people, they don't know anything,
but they have incredible mentality or feeling. Some people, they study
technically and move his finger, but this was not before. Before a musician
was more natural. Now people want to have technique and I don't know.
It changed. The music for Charlie Parker and all these people, even Ornette
Coleman, they was natural. They blow. Now, they want to experiment.
FJ: You recorded some blowing albums of your own in the Sixties.
BARBIERI: Yeah, well, I played, I got to say, I played classic. I play
with Don Cherry, free jazz for two years. After I did with ESP, I played
with Jazz Composer Orchestra, Michael Mantler, who was the cousin of Carla
Bley. I did so many things, but at one point I understand free jazz not
was my style.
FJ: You were damn good at it.
BARBIERI: Well, it doesn't fit. I follow the other people. When I did
The Third World (Flying Dutchman reissued on BMG International), that
was Gato Barbieri. I did something incredible and the same for instance,
here, it doesn't have much impact, but in France, they was considered
the best album of the year, 1969. Slowly, free jazz is starting to disappear
here. I don't see connection, so I met Glauber Rocha, a filmmaker from
Brazil. He died. He made incredible films (Deus e o Diabo na Terra do
Sol) and even Bernardo (Bernardo Bertolucci, Barbieri scored Bertolucci's
Last Tango in Paris) and he said, "You are Latin," so in 1969,
I go to Buenos Aires and I did a show. It is the first time I made money
where I played tangos, Brazilian music, Cuban music, everything. It was
like a cocktail of fruit, no salsa. I don't play salsa. I play what I
call salsa of fruit, who have color, who have smell, who have different
things, different kind of fruit you can put. I don't play straight Latin.
In fact, the jazz musicians, they don't want to consider me a jazz musician.
They don't consider me Latin because Latin is "boom, boom, boom,
boom," this kind of thing and I always go against something natural
because my mother was very intelligent woman and we do so many things
together. She inspired me to have fantasy and this I remember. The cinema
is almost violent so I don't like it, so I have this channel 82, who put
all these films 1930-1950.
FJ: Classic channel.
BARBIERI: Movie classics, yeah, and I tell you I have incredible time.
You pick up movie and all these pornographic and sometimes they put good
movie, but I made music for movie. I have a thousand cassettes of the
best cinema because my ex-wife, who died, she was incredible and learn
a lot of things from her. I have a good background. At this point, I am
happy to play whatever comes to my mind and I have to say, Jaco, in this
sense was incredible. He didn't care about what happened. He come from
the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, but he did something completely different.
So I like to listen free jazz when they're good. Ornette Coleman have
sense of what he do. Don Cherry, he know what he is doing. Cecil Taylor,
so many other people. I can play some tunes, they are free because at
this point, why can't I do that, play different kinds of music, free jazz,
tangos, but make in different way. All this stuff, I did fifty records.
I made fifty records. I stayed fourteen years without recording because
I go to a big whole. Even I see Charlie Haden. Charlie Haden was with
Ornette Coleman, but now he play tunes with a piano player and him. They
play straight tunes the way everybody knows.
BARBIERI: Yes, standards, exactly. And I saw at the Blue Note and I can't
say anything because Charlie Haden is a good bass player. He played one
week with a woman, one week with a man. Intellectually, it was very good.
FJ: Then the recordings ceased. For the better part of a decade, you disappeared
from radar all together.
BARBIERI: I started to record in '96. I stayed from '82 to '96 without
recordings from problems with drugs, from alcohol. My wife, she was sick
and I loved her very much and I don't know what I am supposed to do when
she died. I have triple bypass. The only thing that made my life alive
was contentment to play music. It is strange. My wife, she have with another
man, a daughter and he have a son. His name is Emiliano and in fact, I
put Emiliano for my record, Emiliano Zapata (Chapter 3: Viva Emiliano
Zapata), because after she died, I already, the doctor told me, "You
are close to heart attack." But I was so confused because I know
she will be dying and I never think about it until I play at Blues Alley
in Washington and the pain was so big. I go to the hospital and they do
it. The first month was terrible. The second month was a little better.
The third, we're starting to do something because we're starting with
the French producer, Philippe Saisse, we're starting to make Que Pasa
(Sony). I owe three years of taxes and I had to play fifty thousand dollar
to have the surgery and so many things. What I'm thinking is if I don't
do something, I die, so I starting to think about it and play and play
and play and play, do concerts and continue to make records. This is the
only way I survive because if I stay, I die. Because I am strange, my
life is like, if I am alone, I don't like. If I am with people, I like,
but sometimes I would like to be alone. It is very problematic mind I
have. I had to be. It is the way I am. I was good friends with Marvin
Gaye, Santana. I see one time Coltrane. I never see Miles. I see Miles
play, but I never talk to him. I talked a lot with Ornette and Don Cherry.
For a lot of people, they left because these days to make a record, it
is very difficult. They make a lot of problems. Sometimes I don't like
to make anymore records. I just like to play concerts.
FJ: Did that hold true when you went into the studio to record your new
album, The Shadow of the Cat?
BARBIERI: Every producer has his own system. You know what I mean? And
you have to learn. The only who don't have system was Che Corazon. I give
the idea and he made some kind of arrangement, but the other ones, they
was computer. They worked sometimes alone. They live two hours from New
York and I can't be everyday there. So he showed me what he do and I say,
"Yes." For me, the best producer was Herb Alpert when I did
Caliente! because all my other records, I produced because I write the
music and we play. After 1976, the music changed. You have to have a producer
and Herb Alpert, he was great because he know as a friend. He know what
I am, what I like. In fact, Caliente!, if you listen, is very beautiful,
very beautiful. It is so natural. I like very much The Third World, the
first record, but there was many like Fenix, El Pampero, Under Fire, Bolivia,
Viva Emiliano Zapata, who was beautiful, a record I made in Buenos Aires.
My memory is not so fast. I am seventy. After I made four record to Impulse!
and after I did four records and the best was Caliente!. Caliente! was
one of my favorite. There I go to big hole, when I stay fourteen years
without recording. I was very thankful like so many musicians, for instance,
Monk, sixty, he don't want to play anymore. He live ten more years and
he died. He was very particular because even when he played he used so
much his mind. He was tired. Sometimes I am tired.
FJ: How are you feeling?
BARBIERI: My health is very good. I have to say, very good. I don't have
to take any pills for my heart. The only I take pills for is the cholesterol.
I did blood test, but everything was perfect. Maybe my family is very
FJ: Do you believe in second chances?
BARBIERI: No, no, because second chance is like for instance, my son,
he's forty and the son of John Coltrane, he played very good. I don't
know. My son, he like everything so I can't say anything. My mom say one
day, "What do you want to be?" He play very good soccer. "Do
you want to be a soccer player? Do you want to be a musician?" He
said, "I want to be musician." I don't like to push. I was very
happy when I was young. I played soccer and I helped my mom and I was
starting to play clarinet and we moved to Buenos Aires, who is a completely
different city, very beautiful city. So my life is "tango."
The tango is one thing of walking on the life. I think that every music,
even jazz, is the same thing. I like Piazzolla, Astor Piazzolla, but he
died. He was one of the best composers of the Fifties. Unfortunately,
he died in '91, the same year who died Miles, the same year who died my
mom. I live more thinking in my past, when I was young. It is not real.
It is a fantasy. I go to when I was young and this maybe make me young
Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and give JLo and the Good Will Hunting
guy till the end of the year. Comments? Email