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Eddie Palmieri: Tiny Desk Concert

Suraya Mohamed | NPR

Different Tiny Desk performers pop up in NPR Music's workspace just about every week, and frequently more often than that. While every artist is special, it's rare to have a true legend come through.

Eddie Palmieri is that once-in-a-lifetime musician, bandleader, composer and arranger. An icon for both modern and Latin jazz, he continues to break tradition and innovate within many musical styles, including salsa, fusion, Latin funk and more.

His parents were born in Puerto Rico and later moved to New York City; Eddie Palmieri was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in the Bronx with a large family that nurtured his musical talent. He studied classical piano when he was young and gave a piano recital at Carnegie Hall when he was just 11. But all he wanted to do at that time was play the drums. When he was 13, he joined his uncle's orchestra to play timbales. He later gave up the drums and started playing piano in the early 1950s in various Latin dance bands, working with Eddie Forrester, Johnny Segui and the popular Tito Rodriguez Orchestra. You can hear his continued passion for the sticks in the percussive vamps that pervade his discography.

Recorded in 1962, Perfecta was the first of nearly 50 albums Eddie Palmieri has released. The Sun Of Latin Music, a groundbreaking album released in 1975, won him the first-ever Grammy for Best Latin Recording. He later went on to win nine more Grammys, along with a host of other prestigious honors.

It was an honor to have Eddie Palmieri perform at the Tiny Desk in a special, intimate setting — without his usual big-band accompaniment. We get close enough to hear him growl; you can check out the iconic sound he's been making since his early recordings. He's said it's his inner spirit coming out to help him play. The first composition here, "Iraida," was written for his wife, who died several years ago. The second, "The Persian Scale," is a rare treat — a tune you won't find on any of his recordings. The set closes with "La Libertad," a statement on social justice and poverty from the classic Vamonos Pa'l Monte album, released in the early '70s. Even without the band, the audience clapped and danced as the musician played his freeform dance music, deeply rooted in beautiful yet simple chord changes and his signature Afro-Cuban rhythmic style.

The Sun Of Latin Music is available now (iTunes) (Amazon).

Set List

  • "Iraida"
  • "The Persian Scale"
  • "La Libertad"


Producers: Suraya Mohamed, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Claire Hannah Collins; Production Assistant: Sophie Kemp; Photo: Ruby Wallau/NPR.

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