Dec. 22, 2003 – The season's second Jazz in the Moonlight concert — on both St. John and St. Croix — will showcase the talents of "the Cat in the hat," legendary tenor saxophonist Gato (Spanish for "cat") Barbieri.
He'll appear on Jan. 9 at Island Center for the Performing Arts and on Jan. 10 on the beach at the Westin St. John Resort. (
Editor's note: These are corrected dates to the previously posted information.)
The artist's Web site clues jazz fans in on what to expect: "Mystical, yet fiery; passionately romantic, yet supremely cool. You hear those first few notes from that instantly recognizable tenor and know you're in the unique musical world of Gato Barbieri."
His main page online also plays up the fact that Barbieri's most recent CD, "Shadow of the Cat," won Billboard Magazine's 2003 award for Best Latin Jazz Album and was nominated in the same category for the 2003 Latin Grammys.
The album is the 50th for Barbieri, who crossed the threshold of his 70th year on Nov. 28.
Jazz in the Moonlight producer Steve Simon says: "What a thrill it is for all of us to be able to see and hear the magic of this jazz legend."
Barbieri's quintet will take the spotlight after local opening acts for both concerts — Sally Smith and Friends from St. Thomas for the St. Croix program, and The Steve Katz Band from St. Croix for the St. John event.
Barbieri's five-decade career has spanned a broad jazz spectrum, from free jazz with trumpeter Don Cherry in the mid '60s and avante garde excursions to his embracing of Latin music throughout the '70s and '80s.
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the composition that catapulted him into the realm of international celebrity — the Grammy-winning score for the motion picture "Last Tango in Paris." Today, at a time when many people are enjoying retirement, he is reveling in a new lease on life both professionally and personally.
He was missing from the music scene for much of the 1990s following the death of his first wife, Michelle, who had been his manager and closest musical confidant, and triple-bypass heart surgery that he underwent six weeks later. But he returned stronger than ever in 1997 with the release of "Que Pasa," which became the fourth-highest selling contemporary jazz album of that year.
Today, to quote from an online biography, he "is still bursting with a passionate joie de vivre, excited about his new family, wife Laura and 4-year-old son Christian."
Born Leandro J. Barbieri in Rosario, Argentina, he grew up in a family of musicians. He started studying clarinet after hearing an icon of American jazz, Charlie "Bird" Parker, playing "Now's the Time." After his family moved to Buenos Aires, he took up the alto saxophone. While he was still in his teens, he joined countryman Lalo Schifrin's orchestra, where he switched to tenor sax.
He soon formed his own quartet, often supporting visiting top-name jazz artists including Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie, Brazil's João Gilberto and Cuba's mambo king Perez Prado.
"During that time, Juan Peron was in power," Barbieri recalls. "We weren't allowed to play all jazz; we had to include some traditional music, too. So we played tango and other things like carnavalito."
He moved to Rome in 1962 with his wife Michelle, who was Italian, and there he began collaborating with Cherry. They recorded two albums for Blue Note, "Complete Communion" and "Symphony For Improvisors," which are considered classics of free group improvisations.
In the '60s in Europe he also recorded with South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand, and worked with Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira and Lonnie Liston Smith.
It was the physical distancing from his homeland that gave Barbieri more appreciation of the jazz potential of Latin music, and from the mid-'60s he began incorporating "the many dance rhythms of South America into a rich and ever-changing backcloth for his driving tenor playing," a biography states. In 1969, he launched his career as a band leader with the Latin-flavored "The Third World."
In the '70s he recorded his classic "Chapter Series Latin America," "Haste Siempre" and "Alive in New York" By the mid-'70s his tone began to mellow with ballads such as "What a Difference a Day Makes" — which he knew as the vintage bolero "Cuando Vuelva a tu Lado" — and Carlos Santana's "Europa." His 1976 hit "Caliente!" featured this softer jazz approach, but by the early '80s his music — notably the live-concert album "Gato … Para Los Amigos"– had a more intense, rock-influenced South American sound.
He also parlayed his "Last Tango" success into a career as a film composer, scoring a dozen films over the years in Europe, South America and the United States.
"It's the melody," Barbieri continually says of the music he makes. "The melody is the most important thing, and something I very much love. When I play the saxophone, I play life, I play love, I play anger, I play confusion, I play when people scream; all of these aspects of the world I inhabit become naturally important to me. It's exciting that people are still moved when I play, and I consider myself blessed to have had fans that have listened to me for such a long time.
"They still do, and I'm still having fun. When I start recording, I am playing for me, but when I play a concert, I play for me and them. It is not a 'show,' but it is a musical message. They understand where I am coming from."
Both concerts are to begin at 8 p.m.
For the Island Center performance, tickets for those 18 years of age and older are $20 in advance and $25 the night of the performance. Anyone under 18 will be admitted free. Outlets for advance sales are the Island Center box office, Morning Glory Coffee & Tea, Pier 69, Victor Mencho and IB Designs.
For the Westin concert, admission for those 18 and older is $20, and there are no advance ticket sales. Those under 18 will be admitted free. Full bar service and light food will be available at the beach bar. For commuters from St. Thomas, round-trip ferry service from Red Hook to the Westin dock and back will be available for $5 each way. The ferry will leave Red Hook at 7:15 p.m. and will return immediately after the concert.
For more information, call Amy Dixon on St. Croix at 719-1288 or Steve Simon on St. John at 693-8120.
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