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Oscar Hernández
Doing it From The Heart

John Child spoke to Oscar Hernández, musical director and co-producer of the Grammy Award winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra, on the eve of the band's sellout concert featuring Rubén Blades at London's Royal Festival Hall on July 26th 2004. Oscar gave generously of his time to discuss his milestone studded career, which has included stints with Ismael Miranda, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, Libre, Ray Barretto, Rubén Blades and Seis del Solar, Luis "Perico" Ortiz, Johnny Pacheco and Paul Simon, among others. He talks frankly about the fulfillment and challenges of leading the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and sets those critics who have put down the band for sounding dated and playing unoriginal material straight on his vision. He also shares his heartfelt views about the pitfalls of producing music for the wrong reasons...

John Ian Child (JIC): I understand that you were born in Manhattan on March 22nd 1954 and grew up in the South Bronx. Please tell me about your early years and how music impacted on your life?

Oscar Hernández (OH): At about 12 years old I started in a local boys club in the South Bronx. At that time I started playing bugle and graduated to trumpet. They had a really good trumpet teacher. I remember him saying: "This kid's going to be talented," because I was picking up on the stuff pretty quick. But after about a year I didn't have the physical embouchure to deal with it. And he said: "Maybe you should switch to piano." So it was maybe meant to be. My oldest brother was the superintendent of the big building where we lived. They gave him a piano and he had a basement room fixed up to make a clubhouse for us. So I started messing with the piano and, before you knew it, somebody taught me something else. I just started picking up stuff, and was very influenced by my older brothers and sisters who were part of the scene that was happening at the time. I was about 14 years old, and they were going out dancing and partying. I just started on my own playing with local neighbourhood bands.

JIC: What scene were they part of?

OH: Part of the '60s New York salsa revolution. The whole boogaloo era through, obviously, Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Machito, that stuff. And all the musicians of the day, which were Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto…

JIC: So they were doing all that?

OH: Right.

JIC: They weren't just following the young boogaloo bands?

OH: They would follow the music of that day.

JIC: Who have been your piano playing influences over the years?

OH: The big influence at that time was Eddie Palmieri. I remember "Azucar" blasting in every party and social club, and out of every window. And Charlie Palmieri, of course.

JIC: Wasn't "Azucar" also a big crossover hit with the African-American community?

OH: Huge. African-Americans were going: "' Azucar,' I love that Latin thing." Some even got into Latin music via that song. One person that was happening that I forgot to mention was Joe Cuba, who was an extremely important part of that time with his crossover stuff.

JIC: You glossed over your early gigging experiences; did they involve any future major names?

OH: There were a couple of neighbourhood bands, and one of the guys playing in one of these bands was Joey Pastrana. He was kinda my first experience of playing professionally, getting involved in the scene, because he was out there playing and somewhat had a name and was making money. I was about 16 or 17 at the time. I remember going to play, and screwing up pretty badly. And he says: "Take the music home."

JIC: Were you playing with Joey Pastrana before La Conquistadora?

OH: They coincided. La Conquistadora was really a neighbourhood band that got to record. They were young kids in the band, like me. Maybe one or two years older. There might have been one or two guys like five years older. Because of La Conquistadora, I got the call from Joey Pastrana, because one of the guys was playing with Joey.

JIC: How early during your time with the band did you get the opportunity to make the album La Conquistadora (on Vaya) with them?

OH: It might have been recorded 1970/71. I'd say I was 17.

JIC: Even at that stage you composed and arranged material for the album.

OH: It was my first little bit of experience. You would network with different musicians who knew more than you and find out how they did things.

JIC: You were picking this up by trial and error?

OH: Kind of, yes. Totally, actually.

JIC: Do you remember admiring any particular arrangers at that stage?

OH: I don't think I got caught up that much until a bit later. A guy who was the biggest influence on me, that I got to play with in my early 20s, was José Febles, who, to this day, remains one of the most talented musicians I've ever met. It's like God said to him: "You're going to be a musician," because he had perfect pitch and was an amazing talent. He was one of the best arrangers. He could literally arrange a song in an hour for a whole band. So listening to his stuff had a big influence on me. I remember Louie Cruz, who was playing with Ray Barretto at the time, and he was really nice and generously gave me some pointers. I'd like to use Louie Cruz for the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, but he's moved out of the city and we've lost contact.

JIC: The only Joey Pastrana album I could find you that you worked on was Don Pastrana (1972 on Parnaso Records). Do you remember that at all?

OH: No, the first record I did was called El Pulpo. I don't remember recording anything else with Joey Pastrana. [See Postscript at the end of this interview — Ed.]

JIC: Your name appears on Don Pastrana.

OH: Was it Don Pastrana? I thought it was called El Pulpo. Maybe I recorded another one.

JIC: Tell me how you moved on from La Conquistadora and Joey Pastrana to Ismael Miranda in 1973?

OH: La Conquistadora was short-lived. It didn't go too far and I was already playing with Joey, who was performing on a more consistent basis. After about a year with Joey, I got the call from Ismael Miranda, who at that time had left Larry Harlow and become the hot thing. So I was fortunate to fall into that situation, because he was the popular guy of the day. He was young, 23 years old, good looking, and he could sing. So we would have all the women coming to the gigs, and we were working a lot. It was a fun time.

JIC: And he was being promoted as…

OH: A niño bonito, which is a pretty boy.

JIC: Tell me more about your time with Miranda?

OH: He became the hottest thing. We were working all the time, and then we made this record, Así Se Compone Un Son (1973 on Fania), which became a big hit. We were working a lot, a lot. The band featured some of the top young talent. People like Nicky Marrero, Frankie Rodríguez, Joe Santiago, Nelson González. Those guys were a great rhythm section. I was really fortunate to fall into that situation.

JIC: Are you able to say how it fell apart?

OH: Well, yeah. Don't forget, we were coming from a very revolutionary time, the 1960s, when people were anti-establishment and somewhat anti-capitalist. Ismael made promises that it would be a cooperative band, and this and that. He departed from that and a bunch of people got dissatisfied. I was one of them, because I got caught up in that whole mentality and mindset of: "Wow, this is not fair." So a bunch of us left.

JIC: By all accounts, Ismael went on to become a very successful businessman.

OH: Yes, to this day.

JIC: Practicing early?

OH: Yeah, to this day. He owns a lot of real estate in Puerto Rico. We're good friends, actually, when I see him.

JIC: Different times, things move on.

OH: Yeah, exactly.

JIC: And then, you did some work with a band called La Unica.

OH: La Unica was a band where, like, four or five members moved from Puerto Rico. They were excellent musicians and they called me at the time; so it was kind of timing. That project was short-lived, but it was a good experience because they had good music and musicians.

JIC: Do you remember any of the guys at all?

OH: Yeah. Eladio Pérez, who played with Eddie Palmieri, was the conga player. Julio Castro. People don't know it but he was the conga player on Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez's Este Negro Si Es Sabroso (1976 on Fania). The personnel were never listed on that record. We then went on to play with Pete. He was the conga player; I was the piano player.

JIC: I've been very interested in Julio Castro, because, to my knowledge, he made about three albums as a leader (New Generation Presenta Julio Castro & Orquesta La Masacre '79 on TTH, Mamey '80 on Fania and Julio Castro y la Masacre; Vocals by Nestor Sánchez '84 on Fania).

OH: With Masacre?

JIC: Yeah.

OH: He was a guy who wasn't an outstanding talent, but was a good enough musician. He played flute, percussion, and he played conga drums; and was a good businessman. He actually went on to form his own band.

JIC: Was that La Masacre he formed after that?

OH: Yeah.

JIC: He had a knack for choosing good singers, because New Generation Presenta Julio Castro & Orquesta La Masacre was with Tito Nieves, and his last album, Julio Castro y la Masacre, was with Nestor Sánchez (1949-2003).

OH: The one with Nestor Sánchez; although I don't know if it's listed…?

JIC: There are no detailed credits*.

(*NOTE: Apart from credits for the composers, lead vocals and cover illustration, the only credits given on Julio Castro y la Masacre; Vocals by Nestor Sánchez are for Julio Castro as musical director and producer and Jerry Masucci as executive producer.)

OH: Well, I produced that record.

JIC: Did you!

OH: I semi-produced it I should say. It was my first experience. It's a long story. You're actually jogging my memory back here.

JIC: This is great, because you're telling me about albums that have negligible information on them.

OH: Well, Julio Castro recorded that record in Puerto Rico. It came to New York, then he got busted for drugs. He wasn't a drug guy. He was kind of unfortunate. It's kind of sad because he didn't deserve to be in jail in a sense. He got caught up in that thing and he wound up going to jail for two or three years. So he had this record that wasn't finished and Fania Records called me and said: "Look, you take this record over." I think they put Nestor on the record.

JIC: Ah. This was this period in Fania's history when some albums were coming out with virtually no personnel credits on them. And they were pairing name singers with bandleaders**.

(**NOTE: Another example is Super Apollo 47:50 '82 on Fania, which coupled Adalberto Santiago with Roberto Roena with negligible credits.)

OH: Yeah. They had a lot of money and they were trying all kinds of stuff. They would throw things here, throw things there, to see if this works. And that was one of the things. And obviously Nestor was one of the great singers in this business. It was fun working with him.

JIC: Arguably, that album was a significant event in your career in terms of probably being your first taste of production work?

OH: Kind of, but that record didn't do anything. It never went anywhere. Hardly anybody heard it. It got me involved in the producing aspect; sitting in the control room listening to the singer, and saying: "Well, you're out of tune." In most cases you'd say to Nestor: "That sounds great." And he'd say: "I wanna do it again," because he was a perfectionist.

JIC: Any more guys from La Unica to mention?

OH: The singer was Junior Cordova, who was with Bobby Rodríguez (1950-2003), and the timbal player, whose name was Pedro Roque***. He only stayed in New York for a short time.

(***NOTE: Pedro Roque plays bongo on New Generation Presenta Julio Castro & Orquesta La Masacre. He also appeared on Aqui Esta '72 on Fania by Roberto y su Nuevo Montuno, with Julio Castro on conga, and Sangre Nueva c. '77 on International by Latin Tempo.)

JIC: So La Unica were just a gigging band, they didn't record?

OH: No. It was a real good band with real good musicians. Harry Viggiano was also on tres. One time we were playing a gig in the Bronx, and we couldn't find a bass player. We were stuck. Somebody said: "You know what? Cachao's in town." He'd just got back, because he'd been in Las Vegas for a year. I said: "Cachao? Do you think he would do this gig?" So I called him, and he said: "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Si, si, si. Just come by and pick me up." And it was an indelible memory for me. The music wasn't easy. Not only did he sight read every note, but he also played the whole gig with a smile from ear to ear, and took the band to a level I'd never ever heard. We all literally got off the stage, and it was like: "Wow!" Because I think he was playing bullshit music in Las Vegas for a year; so it was an opportunity for him to come back to play with a good band with a good rhythm section. And he had a ball as a result. It was incredible. He then played a couple of weeks with us.

JIC: And he actually relocated to New York at that time?

OH: At that time he relocated to New York.

JIC: When was that?

OH: Early '70s. I would guess '74.

JIC: Were you already working with Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez (1933-2000) at that stage?

OH: I'm kind of mixed-up, because I think I started to work before that with Chocolate, who had a band with Roberto Torres. They were a little bit of a happening at the time. Don't forget that there was a lot happening in New York. There was a hot bed of Latin music, a cultural revolution. There were clubs all over the place. People were dancing everywhere you went.

JIC: Can I get this clear? Was Chocolate's band backing Roberto Torres?

OH: They decided to form a band together.

JIC: Right, because they did the album Roberto Torres y Chocolate Juntos (1974 on Mericana) together.

OH: Which I think I did. I think I did two records. I can't remember the details, but they decided to split up. I stayed with Chocolate, and this was like over the course of a year. And right after that I started working with El Conde.

JIC: Because there's a year between Juntos (1974) and Chocolate Caliente (1975 on Mericana), on which you're credited as one of the arrangers. How did you hook-up with El Conde?

OH: He just called out of the blue. His was another band that was popular at the time and working a lot. That's where I really got my experience with José Febles, who was the musical director of his band and was a trumpet player.

JIC: He's a name that keeps coming up in my conversations with musicians, and a name I've noticed on numerous album sleeves over the years.

OH: You know, it's kind of unfortunate because he's a guy who never got the credit. If he were around today he would be in the forefront of a lot of things. Unfortunately he was a drug addict. He was a heroin addict. It was part of the scene, because he also played with Héctor Lavoe. He was also Héctor's musical director.

JIC: The story goes that AIDS struck him down.

OH: Yes. I found that out later. And this was after four or five years of him being clean, being into religion, and getting married. All of a sudden they said he's got AIDS. It was like: "Wow." So it was sad.

JIC: Am I right in believing that around that time you appeared on both El Conde (1974 on Fania) and Este Negro Si Es Sabroso (1976 on Fania), because again there are no credit listings on these albums?

OH: I bought the CD of Este Negro Si Es Sabroso about a year and a half ago. And I sat in my car and I went like: "Wow!" That's an incredible CD. It smokes from beginning to end. You do things and you forget. There's a lot of stuff that I feel that way about. I go back to listen to that old Ray Barretto stuff. Man, like that's pretty amazing.

JIC: Have you got anything to tell me about your experience of working with Pete?

OH: It was a great training ground for me. It was one of the best conjuntos for sure in New York at that time, and Pete was one of the best singers ever to this day. What a talent.

JIC: Did Pete have regular sidemen?

OH: He had a regular band for the most part. Every now and again one or two guys would change. I remember Victor Cruz, who's known as Junior Cruz, was on bongos. Julio Castro was on congas. Benji – I don't remember his last name – was the bass player. Then it was me on piano. He didn't have timbales, it was just a conjunto. The trumpet section was always José Febles and the other trumpet player varied, such as Tony Cofresi, Luis Doñé… I don't remember the other horn players.

JIC: By my reckoning, the last album with Pete you appeared on was Celia, Johnny and Pete (on Vaya) in 1980 with Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco. Were you working regularly with Pete up to that point?

OH: I don't remember. I know I worked with Pete for about two or three years, and then I moved on. I don't remember that recording. Am I listed?

JIC: You are on Celia, Johnny and Pete, yeah. You can't get out of that one!

OH: There's no doubt about Este Negro Si Es Sabroso. It pissed me off that they didn't put a credit on that.

JIC: Possibly you weren't on El Conde?

OH: You know what? I don't remember; it's possible.

JIC: This may have just been a one-off session for all I know, but you were on Pupi Legarretta's first album with Vaya in 1975 (Pupi y su Charanga). Did you work with him live at all?

OH: Not at all. It was just a session. At that time they said: "We can't use Papo Lucca for all the sessions." He's one of the greatest musicians of this music. Period. But they figured: "Well, we can't use him all the time, no matter how great he is. Let's give someone else a chance to play."

JIC: You participated in the Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino venture, out of which Libre emerged, and performed on their milestone recordings Concepts In Unity (1975) and Lo Dice Todo (1977), both on Salsoul. Please could you share your recollections of this exciting period in the history of New York Latin music?

OH: Yes that was a great milestone. Although when I go back and hear that stuff, it's kind of a blur. I remember the first song we recorded was "Iya Modupue." I remember being in the studio and going like: "Wow!" The sound that was coming at me was so amazing. I was the youngest at the time and I was a little intimidated.

JIC: How did you fall in with this crowd?

OH: I became friends with Andy González. We had a group of people who would congregate at Andy and Jerry's house.

JIC: The famous basement.

OH: Right. Andy and Jerry lived in a private house and their parents lived upstairs, and they had an apartment they shared. They were all about music, so we would go to their apartment and just listen to music all night and just talk. We listened to everything. I owe him a debt of gratitude for turning me onto jazz, because I wasn't a jazz guy.

JIC: Not only jazz, but they were really into the roots of Afro-Cuban music.

OH: Without a doubt. And, through them, the big connection was René López. And we would go to René's house. He was an expert on Cuban music and the Cuban son, and knew everything. He would play all the Arsenio, Chappottín, and that stuff. And hearing that really gave me an understanding of the concept.

JIC: And that was your initial exposure?

OH: Without a doubt. I wouldn't have heard that anywhere else. You wouldn't hear that music anywhere. It wasn't popular music. You wouldn't hear it anywhere!

JIC: Did it make you put your thinking cap on?

OH: No doubt about it. When you hear Arsenio with Lilí Martínez, Chappottín and Miguelito Cuní. That's the essence of what this music is. If you want to say where the music comes from, listen to that. And so it all kind of came together in my mind. It put it in perspective: where it came from and where we were at the moment.

JIC: Can you remember the process of moving from Grupo Folklorico into Libre and you being moved along with it?

OH: They were kinda mixed together. They were happening concurrently. Libre were forming their band at the same time and René was an important part of forming Grupo Folklorico. And it was a great time for Latin music. I tell the guys: "All those years that we took for granted we realised were the good old days."

JIC: A number of people have described Libre as a university of salsa. Is this a view you subscribe to?

OH: I think it's an exaggeration. Obviously they were an important group, but it was just as important as listening to Ray Barretto or Eddie Palmieri at the time. Libre were a direct descendent of Eddie Palmieri and his Conjunto Perfecta, which had Barry Rogers and Jose Rodrigues. They were the next progression of that.

JIC: They were never very prolific as recording artists, but you worked on six of their albums between 1976 to 1983: Con Salsa…Con Ritmo Vol. 1 (1976), Tiene Calidad - Con Salsa…Con Ritmo Vol. 2 (1978), Los Lideres De La Salsa (1979) and Increible (1981) on Salsoul; and Ritmo, Sonido y Estilo (1983) on Montuno.

OH: I listen to those records, and a lot of it was good music for sure. But I think, personally, I was never really happy with my playing on those albums. I was just searching.

JIC: That's interesting, because in the liner notes to the second album from 1978, Andy González said about you: "He plays a fair montuno, is young, talented, melodic, lyrical, and awake enough to search for his own voice." What are your reflections on that observation 26 years later?

OH: Andy's big thing that he instilled in me at that time was that you've got to have a strong rhythmic sense to play the music correctly, which was directly from Eddie Palmieri, because that's the way he plays. In a sense, as much an influence as Eddie was on me stylistically, he was not a good influence pianistically. I hate to even say that, but I realised this later on when I went to study how to play the piano correctly. Don't forget, at that time I was also listening to Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and all those people; and going like: "Wait a minute, if I'm going to play like Eddie Palmieri there's no way I can play like these other guys." So it was a tough time because I had to try and find how to play technically correctly. I remember Jerry González making the comment: "I liked the way you played before you went to study." (Laughter) Because I was just doing it on natural talent and raw ability, and now I was trying to play more refined.

JIC: Just returning to your reflection that you weren't all that pleased with your playing on the Libre albums, could you say what it was you were dissatisfied with?

OH: Just being self critical, you always compare yourself to other people. I know it's stupid to do. Now I don't look at it that way, I just understand it for what it was. And obviously I've come a long way. Getting back to Andy's remark, at that time the big thing was that you had to play a great montuno to be able to play this music, which was where Eddie was coming from. So, to play a strong montuno, there's a certain raw power you need that is anti-technique. It can mess up your technique. Anyway, I guess that's what he was talking about. As much as I was listening to other people, I think what he meant was that I wasn't necessarily copying anybody. I was basically absorbing it and bringing my own take on what it was. Which, to this day, is what I feel I've done. I don't think I play like anybody else. You can hear influences, but I think people for the most part say…

JIC: That's Oscar.

OH: Exactly. To me, I hear Papo Lucca and I go: "Wow!" I love the way he plays: lyrically, technically. But I don't play like him either.

JIC: Thanks for that. In 1976 you sessioned on Union Dinamica on Alegre by Kako and Azuquita, your first of several collaborations with Azuquita. Did you gig with Kako's band?

OH: No, that was just a session Fania called me in on.

JIC: Arrangements written by you started increasingly appearing on salsa recordings in the mid-'70s on albums such as The Big Kimbos with Adalberto Santiago (1977 on Cotique), Para Gozar Borinquen (1977 on Inca) by Tito Gómez and Tiempos Buenos / Good Times (1977 on Fania) by Junior González. Please, could you comment on this period of your career?

OH: Well, I think that was part of: "Let's use some different arrangers." To this day, you don't use the same people over and over. With the amount of records Fania were putting out, they were going to start sounding the same because it was the same guys. And, even as an arranger, you have a certain style where you have an identifiable sound. So if you use the same people on different people's records, they wanted to try and create some variations. So that's why I got some sessions and arrangements.

JIC: Whom were you getting the calls from?

OH: The guys at Fania who would call me were administrative people like Victor Gallo.

JIC: Victor Gallo is still on the scene with Fania. In what capacity was he working for the organisation at that stage?

OH: To be honest, I don't exactly know what his role was, but he's definitely heavily involved in the administrative side. He wasn't producing, because he's not a musician at all. He dealt with finances, with respect to paying the musicians, arrangers and producers.

JIC: This is an interesting digression because there is still a lot to be learnt about how Fania worked. Do you know how they made decisions about what projects to do?

OH: No. I think that they would sit in the office. At that time they had a big talent pool to choose from. And they were signing people left and right. They had a lot of money. They were the Motown of Latin music during that day. I suppose you can make a lot of comparisons between those two companies. I really don't know.

JIC: In 1976 you made your recording debut with Ray Barretto on the album Barretto Live: Tomorrow on Atlantic Records recorded at the Beacon Theatre.

OH: That's correct. It was the beginning of a pretty long association with Ray. I remember that Eddie Martínez was the piano player before me. He quit or couldn't do the date. They called me and it turned out to be a blessing for me working with Ray's band at that time. I think that Ray's band, more than any other band, really gave me the opportunity to find my own voice as a musician. At that time I was starting to be older. I was like 25 years old. So I started to come more into my own as an arranger and as a pianist.

JIC: And also on the date were Messrs. Blades and de la Paz.

OH: Ray had some of the singers who had sung with him before.

JIC: Did you gig with Ray during that period?

OH: Yeah, I became Ray's pianist from that time on. I don't really remember the exact sequence of things to be honest with you.

JIC: Did he do Latin fusion gigs that you played on? Because he made two fusion albums for Atlantic: Eye Of The Beholder '77 and Can You Feel It '78.

OH: Eye Of The Beholder? Really? But I don't remember that record. I'm not on that record.

JIC: No you're not.

OH: I don't think he worked much based on that music. Almost not at all.

JIC: To the Latin music fan it looked as if Ray left typical music behind and went off to see if he could get a bit of crossover success with the fusion thing with Atlantic Records. Meanwhile he seemed to keep his hand in by producing albums such as Guararé's eponymous 1979 LP on Inca, with Ray de la Paz on lead vocals, and Pupi's Pupi Pa' Bailar (1980 on Vaya). You sessioned on both of those albums.

OH: Right.

JIC: You were getting called to work on those recording dates, but did Ray do any salsa gigs during that period? Can you remember what was happening from your perspective in terms of work with Ray?

OH: To this day, Ray is always experimenting with different things, and he kind of felt that he maybe wanted to try his hand at achieving a different level of success with a different type of music. Because he had other visions and the chuchifrito circuit, as we call the Latin market, was somewhat limiting. So looking at some people crossing over and making the big money, he maybe thought he could fall into that, but he was never able to achieve this. He was always listening to different styles of music anyway, because Ray had that type of head. He was a huge jazz fan; steeped in the tradition of jazz; very knowledgeable of the whole jazz tradition.

JIC: He sessioned on a phenomenal amount of jazz dates in the '50s and '60s.

OH: Yeah, he had all that background. So he was trying different things. I was lucky to be part of that era with Ray because we were very experimental and he always had great musicians in the band.

JIC: Ray returned to the típico scene in 1979 with the groundbreaking Rican / Struction on Fania, on which you played piano and wrote three charts. Please could you share your reminiscences of this project?

OH: Right. At that time I lived by myself and I had a studio apartment in New York. I was hanging a lot with Bobby Paunetto. Bobby was a big influence on me, because he was a pretty great musician who was a Berklee graduate and made his own records. At that time there were Paunetto's Point and Commit to Memory (originally released on Pathfinder in 1974 and 1977 respectively and reissued in a double CD set by Tonga Productions in 1998), which were pretty advanced recordings with great jazz players. He's a unique obsessive person. He would come to my house and sit at the piano and play non-stop for hours and hours and hours, and talk. I would say to him at like six o'clock in the morning: "Bobby, I've got to go to bed, could you go home." (Laughter) That stuck. All his stuff influenced me because I was listening to this pretty advanced stuff. So I incorporated some of this into Ray's writing at that time. It's a direct line. Maybe people are not aware of that, but I can hear it. It wasn't salsa, but it was Latin jazz, more jazz than Latin.

JIC: How closely did you get to collaborate with Ray over the sound of Rican / Struction?

OH: Well, a lot. Ray would call me and come to my house. I was kind of the musical director, although he never had a musical director, but I was kind of the musical director of the band. We would use each other as a sounding board.

JIC: Was Ray also conscious of the Bobby Paunetto influence?

OH: I don't think he really was. All he knows is that I brought him some hip shit.

JIC: Does Bobby appreciate the impact he had?

OH: That's a good question.

JIC: He might learn now.

OH: Yeah, Paunetto's Point and Commit to Memory, those were the records I'm talking about. At that time, Andy González was part of it. Bobby and he were friends. And Bobby arranged "Corte El Bonche" on Grupo Folklorico's Lo Dice Todo. Very unique personality.

JIC: What did Bobby do after those albums?

OH: He's done a bunch more since then. He's got a small label. He's put out three or more other things, some of which I've heard. They're good stuff.

JIC: Please tell me about some of the fantastic arrangers and sidemen who worked for Ray's band at this point?

OH: At that time, Eddie Martínez was also an influence on me, because he was another unique voice, some of which was actually absolutely beautiful. If you listen to his arrangement of the bolero "Ya Vez" on Rican / Struction. I was like going: "Wow!" He's very jazz influenced too. Another guy, who I still use to this day and whose arrangements I love, is Gil López. Gil arranged "Guararé" (from Barretto '75 on Fania) and a lot of Ray's great hits from those days.

JIC: The Spanish Harlem Orchestra having raised Gil's profile inspired me to go to his work with Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis (Afro Jaws '61 on Riverside) and Lenni Sesar. He arranged a whole album for the timbalero Lenni Sesar in the late '60s (Lenni Sesar '69 on Fania).

OH: Really, I'd love to hear that. Gil is a great musician, a great pianist.

JIC: I've also been digging out the Tito Puente recordings Gil was on.

OH: He's obviously before my time. He has a solo he plays on one of the Tito Puente records, which to this day is one of the greatest piano solos. I've forgotten the name of the record, but the old people tell me: "Back in the day there was Gil López and nobody else." He's a Korean War veteran and I think that had an effect on him, and he subsequently became an alcoholic, which is kind of sad. To this day he's now clean and he's cool, and he's seventy something years old. In fact, he lives right near me which is kind of convenient. He's a cook in a health food store. I get tickled pink to be able to give him arrangements to do, because he's still a bad motherfucker. You know what I mean? He comes to my house and plays. Just to have him in my house is cool.

JIC: You also played on Adalberto Santiago's Feliz Me Siento (1980 on Fania), which was produced by Ray and included many of the same musicians as Rican / Struction. I would like to hear your comments about Adalberto and this production?

OH: I don't recall much of it, other than it was natural that Fania would have said we need to produce something for Adalberto. "Well who can we get to produce it?" Well, Ray was the obvious choice. And Ray said: "Who am I going to get? I'll get my musicians to play on the record." That's the way it went in those days. I don't remember much, if anything at all, about that record. I remember that I did a record with Adalberto, that's all I can say.

JIC: You were saying earlier that you have been going back to some of the Fania albums you did with Ray. There was obviously Giant Force / Fuerza Gigante (1980) and the Grammy nominated Rhythm Of Life / Ritmo de la Vida (1982) featuring Ray de la Paz, and then the last one Tremendo Trio! (1983) with Celia Cruz and Adalberto Santiago. Do you have any memories of these?

OH: Well, no, other than that those are records that I'm really, really proud of to this day. You can put them out today and they still sound fresh; and they still sound hip; and they were great musical statements. My memory of Ray's band back in that day is that it wasn't a popular band, unfortunately, but we used to get up on stage and kick everybody's ass, because it was very competitive in those days. Literally, that band was awesome. It's like Spanish Harlem now; where we're going round kicking everybody's ass, because that's what we're doing.

JIC: And you came over here and kicked a bit of ass in 1982 with Ray's band at London's now defunct Venue. By my reckoning that was the first time you visited the UK. Am I right?

OH: You're probably right, but I don't remember.

JIC: I do though.

OH: Right. So you got to hear that band live?

JIC: Yeah, yeah.

OH: So you know what I'm talking about?

JIC: Ray de la Paz, to our regret, had left. So at that particular gig it was…

OH: Cali Aleman.

JIC: But it was still serious shit.

OH: Yeah, because the band was the band. There's no doubt about it.

JIC: Meanwhile, you went off with Dave Valentín, who you had worked with in Libre, and made a whole series of jazz-fusion albums with him such as The Hawk (1980), Land of the Third Eye (1980), Pied Piper (1981), Mind Time (1987) and Tropic Heat (1993).

OH: I was with Dave through Libre. He was the flute player when I was with Libre. I remember him telling me: "I've got a record coming out on a jazz label." I'm going like: "Really!?" He said: "Yeah." And the record came out, and it was killing. It was that Legends (1978 on Arista / GRP) record with Dave Grusin. At that time I was going like: "Shit, you did a record with Dave Grusin?! Damn!" Dave's got one of the best flute sounds ever in any field. He's a naturally talented musician. He told me: "I'm forming a band, do you want to be part of it?" I was like: "Hell, yeah. Let's go." So we got to record some records and that was a great experience. And I got to be part of the jazz scene, so to speak, because we weren't doing Latin gigs. We were doing The Bottom Line, and clubs like that.

JIC: Did it involve a lot of gigging?

OH: Yeah, not a lot, but a good amount.

JIC: You became a member of Rubén Blades' Seis del Solar, whose debut album Buscando América (1984 on Elektra) was nominated for a Grammy. How did all that happen?

OH: The band started in '83. At that time I was still playing with Ray. I vividly remember Rubén saying to me: "I'm forming a band. I want a sextet like Joe Cuba. I want to keep it small." He was at the height of his popularity at the time with Willie Colón. They had sold like the first million selling record in Latin music with Siembra (1978 on Fania), and he was very controversial. He was kind of a friend, whom I liked. We knew each other. I was ready to move on. Ray's stuff never really worked commercially, although he worked and traveled somewhat he never reached the popularity of Ismael Miranda and obviously Willie Colón and Rubén Blades. And I think Ray always resented that. When we speak, I say to Ray: "You've been blessed man." He always felt he had to take a backseat to Eddie Palmieri, but that's just the way it is in this business.

So Rubén asked me to recommend a timbalero, and I recommended Ralph Irrizary, who was with us with Ray Barretto. I vividly remember telling Ray that I was leaving. It was my last gig, and we were coming back from Boston on a bus. At the time I didn't have a car, and he said: "I'll drive you home." And he made me feel guilty the whole trip home. My god! I later felt really angry. I gave my blood, sweat and tears to Ray. He used to call me at two / three o'clock in the morning and say: "Come over to my house," and whatever. And he never said: "You know, look, I know you're leaving, but I want to thank you." He was just like pissed off, and he was going to make me feel guilty about it the whole way. So, later on, I just said: "Fuck you Ray." It took me a while to say it. Even though he was very generous, it was very self-serving.

JIC: You're all right that this is for the record?

OH: Yeah. It doesn't bother me because it's the truth. I love Ray, and he deserves all the kudos to this day.

JIC: Do you think he felt that he was having another Típica 73 moment?

OH: It could be. It could be that he got dissed a lot, you know what I'm saying? But he's been blessed with putting out a lot of great music. He's one of the heroes of this music.

JIC: It's a thing about being a leader or a manager, is that when you play a part in developing individuals, you have to cultivate the ability to say: "Goodbye and thanks for your contribution." Because people will move on. You can't expect them to stay.

OH: You know what? It's not an easy thing. Now that I'm the leader of this band, I just tell the guys in the band: " You know what? I wish that one day you guys have your own band, that's all I can wish." Because they put me through some stuff sometimes. I don't deserve it, because I'm really fair and really clear with everybody. There's no underhanded bullshit. Everything's above board and I treat everybody as fair as I can. It bothers me sometimes. I'm too sensitive to the stuff. It's kind of a drag. I could relate to how Ray feels. In his case he brought some of the stuff on himself by not being totally above board with the business aspect of it. I'm at the point now where I'm not taking anybody's bullshit. Nobody's. I'll get somebody else in a second. You've got to be that way. I'm as loyal as it gets. At some point you've got to say: "Wait a minute."

JIC: In management speak they call that flexible resourcing. (Laughter)

OH: Yeah, exactly. It's tough being in the position of a leader.

JIC: Rubén made another couple of albums with the Seis del Solar format, Escenas (1985), his first Grammy winner, and the Grammy nominated Agua De Luna (1987) on Elektra. Then he added a trombone section, renamed the group Son del Solar, and deployed you and bassist Mike Viñas to write the arrangements to develop a sound reminiscent of his work with Willie Colón for Antecedente (1988 on Elektra). The album won a Grammy Award. That was an interesting development in the history of that band. To be honest, it really only started to click for me when the 'bones were back.

OH: Well, a lot of people feel that way. The thing is that trombones are real instruments. They are organic, as opposed to a synthesizer, which is what we had in the band prior to that. So I guess that was your reaction. To this day, I don't really agree with using the sound of synthesizers for this music at all. This has nothing to do with what this music is about. I came to realise it afterwards, but when you're in it, you're experimenting. Synthesizers were part of what was going on. They were an important part of everything you were listening to, so we integrated it into the band. But now, in retrospect, I'm really clear on that. Even with our own solo records with Seis del Solar, the first record (Decision '92 on Messidor) was with a synthesizer. And that was the reaction. It really dawned on me after that, I'm saying: "I don't want to use the synthesizer on a record." And we had a great synth player, Arturo Ortiz. He was a great player; still is.

JIC: What happened to Ricardo Marrero, Seis del Solar's original synth player?

OH: Ricardo Marrero was a kind of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. He's also a self-taught guy, even more self-taught than me. I want to make it clear that I went to study and got a degree in music afterwards and know my stuff. But Ricardo played vibes, he played percussion, he played piano, and although he played them all right, he was never great at any one of them. At the time, Ricardo was playing keyboard in the band, and we met Arturo, and he's a phenomenal keyboard player. And Rubén integrated him into the band. Richie took playing bongos as a demotion. He didn't really like it and he just decided to leave.

JIC: He seems to have disappeared from the scene.

OH: He disappeared completely.

JIC: You took time out from Seis del Solar to play keyboards and contribute charts to Luis "Perico" Ortiz's In Tradition (1986 on Perico Records), with Domingo Quiñones on lead vocals, and Breaking The Rules (1987 on Perico Records), the first 48-track recording in the Latin music industry.

OH: Right. At that time Luis was looking for a keyboard player, and I guess I wasn't doing much of anything. Don't forget that Rubén took a lot of time off. He was going to school or whatever, so we weren't working. I'm sure that Perico figured: "This is the perfect time to use Oscar's talents. I'll call him, he's not doing anything." And it was great for me as Perico is an extremely talented musician. So working with him was great also.

JIC: You performed live with him?

OH: Yes.

JIC: In 1987 you played on the notable Charanga - Tradición Cubana En Nueva York on Montuno by Orquesta Son Primero led by Charlie Santiago.

OH: Yeah, that's another record that I recently heard, and I said: "Wow, that record is great man!" I haven't heard that album in ages. Jorge Dalto and I played on that record. Charlie was a good friend of mine; part of that Grupo Folklorico / Andy González crowd, and he was a big charanga freak. So he got to do this charanga record and he called me.

JIC: Did the band actually perform live?

OH: You know what? It never really did. They might have done one or two gigs, but I don't think so, no. It never got off the ground. But it was a great record and another record I'm proud of.

JIC: We've already mentioned that you recorded with Azuquita in the '70s with Kako. You also arranged three tracks for an album he did in '83 (Salsa Internacional 83 on Polydor). Am I right in believing that the album you did for him in 1988, Azucar A Granel! on Melao, directed by José Febles, was your first proper production?

OH: I don't remember if it was my first production. It might have been. It was certainly one of the first. But all the time, although I was not credited as producer, I was somewhat playing that role in different projects because that's something I'm really good at. I can look back and say: "Yeah, I can produce records. I know the dynamics of what's involved." So, if I'm involved, that aspect of me naturally comes out. So I didn't know if that was the exact first one. That's a great record.

JIC: Azucar A Granel! has recently been reissued on CD.

OH: That's another record I hear, and I go: "Wow." That specifically exposed the talents of José Febles. I think that they were mostly his arrangements if I'm not mistaken. It was a great band with great arrangements.

JIC: But the same year (1988), and this is why there may be a jockeying for position in relation to your first full production, you did two wonderful albums for Primo Records: Carabalí by the group of the same name and Twice as Good by Rafael de Jesús. Could you tell me about those?

OH: Carabalí was a group that this guy, Raúl "Primo" Alomar, who had some money, formed with Ray Colón. They called me and said would I get involved, and I got involved. I sat down with Raúl, and he said: "Look, I want to make a label. Do you want to be part of it?" I said: "Sure." So I got heavily involved with him making this record label, Primo Records, and we recorded the Carabalí stuff. And then at that time I was working with Rafael de Jesús, and he didn't have a label, so we said: "Look, let's record Rafael." And that's another record that I'm really proud of. That's a great record.

JIC: That's got a bit lost, and could well do with reissuing.

OH: It's a shame; they are records that went by the wayside because they were on an independent label that didn't have any distribution. Actually, Rafael did another record called En Grande (1984 on Corso Records with Oscar on piano). You ever heard that record?

JIC: Yeah, I have that on the Corso label.

OH: Well, I don't have that record. I'd love to get it.

JIC: I can give you a CD transfer.

OH: I'd appreciate it, because that record was also José Febles. Arranged and directed completely by José Febles, and it really shows his talents.

JIC: So you were gigging with Rafael around that time?

OH: Exactly.

JIC: The fact that En Grande was on the Corso label would seem to suggest that Rafael had some association with the Corso club?

OH: Without a doubt. Tony Raimone, who was the owner of the Corso, decided to make a record label. He was much involved in the scene, the fabric of Latin music, with his club. Because his club was the club to go to back in those days. So he said: "Let me take some money and make a record label, and maybe give Fania some competition." I don't know how many records he did. He may have done two or three, something like that. And Rafael didn't have a label at the time, so he said: "Let's record him."

JIC: Again, he's another name who has sadly…

OH: Disappeared.

JIC: Yeah. In 1989 Carabalí did a residency in London at the now defunct Bass Clef and toured the UK with the group. Promoter and deejay Dominique Roome was instrumental in organising this. Do you have any memories of that?

OH: Yeah, it was fun to be able to come out here and do a tour of the UK with that group. It was kind of interesting because it wasn't a popular group in a sense, but it was a small enough group – just six people – for them to bring over from New York, and for us to make a little bit of money to do a tour. About that time we had an association with Island Records.

JIC: Yeah, you got a deal with Mango.

OH: Mango, which was part of Island; Chris Blackwell, who had a big thing here in the UK.

JIC: And you got the job to produce and direct the follow-up album Carabalí II (1991).

OH: That's correct.

JIC: But the group then faded from the scene.

OH: Well the band faded because Ray Colón, who was the percussionist, felt I was getting too much money. (Laughter) It was his idea to form the group, which he did, but I made it happen. Once I put my name to it and put it out there, it gave it the credibility it needed. And I sat down with Raúl, who was his partner, and said: "Look, I'll make the label with you. I'll put everything I've got into it, but it's got to be half and half." That was the deal we struck. And then Ray felt resentful and started making waves. And at that point I said: "Look, I don't need this. See ya, I'm out of here." And that was the end of that. And you know what happened since? They've never been heard from, unfortunately.

JIC: In 1989 you sessioned on Santiago Ceron's La Vecina on Combo produced and directed by Perico. Again, was that just a one-off?

OH: Strictly just a session that they asked Perico to produce, and I was working with Perico, and he called me to play.

JIC: Mango also hired you to produce Daniel Ponce's Changó Te Llama (1991). Please tell me about that recording?

OH: Mango, through my association with Carabalí, hired me to produce Daniel's record. It's funny because I completely put that record together from beginning to end. Concept, every single aspect. That should have been my record because I chose all the material, the arrangements and the songs. I had my own songs on there and I gave it all to Daniel because he wasn't capable of producing a record himself.

JIC: Daniel Ponce had got a bit of a hip reputation at the time.

OH: He was flavour of the month because he came from Cuba and he became kind of the hip thing.

JIC: He seems to have sunk without a trace as well.

OH: Yeah. Then I worked with him later and realised that he was very paranoid and insecure.

JIC: Meanwhile you performed on Rubén Blades' wonderfully rugged double album Rubén Blades y Son del Solar…Live! (1990), his parting shot from Elektra Records. Any comments about this?

OH: It was an opportunity to hear the way the band sounded live at that time. And you can get that sense from the record, the energy and the dynamics of how that band sounded. That's also an excellent recording.

JIC: You performed on and contributed charts to Rubén's next two albums, Caminando (1991 on Sony) and Amor Y Control (1992 on Sony), which were both nominated for Grammies. The musicians were still described as Son del Solar on Caminando, but the name was dropped on Amor Y Control. Meanwhile you continued with a restyled Seis del Solar and made two albums with the group: Decision (1992) and Alternate Roots (1995), both on Messidor. What was the story there?

OH: We talked about making our own project and Rubén was very gracious and said: "Look, you can use the name." I guess he had other plans. We wanted to feature the talents of the group without Rubén. We were talented guys in the band. We made the first record, Decision, which was the album with the synth. To this day, it's a great record, but I don't think the synthesizer is necessarily a pleasing instrument. You've got to be careful how you use it, because it's somewhat anti what this music is about. So I think that was the problem with that record, although the compositions and the playing were brilliant, there's no doubt about it. Then the next record was the same way. We changed a couple of the members, dropped the synth and put in a sax player, Bobby Francescini, who's one of the most brilliant sax players there is. People think he's Italian, but he's actually Puerto Rican. Again, never had any success with those things. Maybe if a major label had distributed them, and they got behind them, we could have achieved some success. Because there were only six guys, we should have been doing every major jazz festival. I don't know, it just didn't work.

JIC: But then you went from one megastar to another because you sessioned on Juan Luis Guerra's Grammy nominated Areito (1992) and Fogaraté! (1994) on Karen.

OH: Yes. Juan Luis Guerra was a big Rubén Blades fan, and we would hear through the grapevine that he loved the stuff we were doing. Working with him was an absolute joy. What a musician and what a talent. I bow down to him; he's excellent. It's just a joy working on his records. Music just exudes from him. They were just record dates. He called us and we got there, and he was really so nice. He would ask my opinion. I said: "You don't need to ask me, what you're doing sounds beautiful."

JIC: You played for many years with Johnny Pacheco and performed on and arranged one track on his 1993 Fania album ¡Sima!. Exactly how and when did you hook-up with Johnny's band?

OH: I played with Johnny for a couple of years. It was fun because his conjunto was butt kicking to the max. Two trumpets. Only eight guys. It's the essence of what this music is about.

JIC: You'd obviously worked with him as early as the mid-'70s, because of that Pupi Legarretta album, Pupi y su Charanga (1975 on Vaya), that we were mentioning earlier, which Johnny produced. So you were obviously crossing paths.

OH: Yeah, we crossed paths. Everybody knew who Johnny was. He always had a good conjunto. We used to alternate with them when I was with Ray, or Libre would play opposite them.

JIC: After La India and Eddie Palmieri split up in early 1993 you became her musical director. Please tell me about that experience?

OH: I became her musical director for a short-lived period. It's a shame that it didn't keep going because we had a great band. We didn't get to record, because obviously she was under pressure to go with what was happening at the time, which was salsa romántica and Sergio George and his stuff. I said: "You know, you gotta do what you gotta do. Fine." That's the way it is in the business. Somebody is hot and everybody wants to go copy.

JIC: In 1992 you produced Siempre Pa'lante on Cali (reissued as Como Nunca on TTH and Barrio on Latin World) by another Libre alumnus, Orlando Watussi. Can you remember anything about that particular project?

OH: Yes, it was a fun project to work on. Again, another record that José Febles had a part in. I have to say that whenever there was anything involving me, I would obviously call José. I could count on him to give me some ass kicking stuff and quick. With some arrangers you have to wait forever, but I don't have the patience. That turned out to be a really good record, too. I recently heard some of it, and said: "Wow, this sounds really good."

JIC: You performed on and contributed a chart to Louie Ramírez and Ray de la Paz's reunion album Otra Noche Caliente (1992 on RMM). Do you have any memories you can share about working with Louie?

OH: I don't remember anything about it. (Laughter) I don't, I'm being honest.

JIC: Any memories of working with Louie?

OH: Louie was just one joke after another. He was always laughing and always very gregarious. He was a fun guy to work with, and very humble and down to earth.

JIC: You produced the Rubén Blades / Willie Colón Grammy nominated reunion album Tras La Tormenta (1995 on Sony Tropical), though the story goes that the two stars didn't actually share a studio for the production.

OH: Yeah, they didn't. That's kind of a shame. That's what happens when you do things this way. I think they were put together simply because the powers that be felt this was a way to make money. Obviously they must have got paid their share to do the record, but when you do things with these intentions they never work out. Rubén didn't even want to be involved much other than: "You take care of the production and I'm going to sing my songs, then I'm out of here." That's the way it happened, and I think as a result you got a record that wasn't really successful.

JIC: You produced the splendid but underrated Dance City (1994 on E&E) by the Mambo Kings Orchestra for Eddie Torres, which I regard as almost a trial run for the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

OH: Well, you can make that analogy. Eddie Torres was a friend, and at that time he was the foremost mambo dance teacher in New York. He used to work with Tito Puente a lot. Sometimes he wanted to work with a band, but Tito wasn't available, so he talked to me about forming a band. He said: "Look, I'd like to have my own band because I can't depend on Tito. He's always traveling." He had a lot of ideas about songs. I would say: "Yeah, yeah, that's a good song," or he would suggest a lot of material. This is what happens when you do things with the right intentions. I did this record as a labour of love. Didn't make a lot of money. It didn't sell a lot of records, because it had no major label or distribution whatsoever, but it did get a great review in the New York Times. And Paul Simon read it and said: "Get me this record, I want to hear it." He heard the record and says: "Who's this guy? Who's Oscar Hernández?" And that's how he called me to do The Capeman (1997).

JIC: We'll talk more about that aspect of your career later. So you were actually performing with the Mambo Kings Orchestra to substitute for Tito?

OH: Yes, we had the Eddie Torres Mambo Kings Orchestra. Eddie did a thing called Salsa Sundays on Sunday afternoon from like 2:00 to 6:00 at Broadway 96, which wouldn't be open on Sundays except that he took it over for his own dance people. And we would perform. We had a good run there every Sunday with the band, and then that's how we also came to do the record.

JIC: On the Latin jazz front around that time you appeared on albums by Mitch Frohman's The Bronx Horns, Catch the Feeling (1995 on TTH) and Silver in the Bronx (1998 on Timeless). Can you tell me more about that band?

OH: I've had a long association with Mitch Frohman going back many years, working in different contexts. He used to have a big band back in the day. I guess sometime in the '80s. Then he decided to go with a scaled down version of a Latin jazz group, which was The Bronx Horns, that I've been part of ever since they came into existence.

JIC: Are they still gigging?

OH: Well, they don't work much, unfortunately. I tell Mitch that he needs to get more on the ball. He doesn't have product to push and send out. It's kind of unfortunate because it's a good group.

JIC: In the mid-'90s you performed on Mongo Returns (1995 on Milestone) by Mongo Santamaría.

OH: That was strictly a studio date that they called me for. Marty Sheller produced the date. He's a friend and someone I respect and admire as an arranger. Incidentally, I just did a record with Marty of some of the most incredible music. It's not out. He doesn't have a label. It's his own compositions. We did like 12 songs. Man, it's just amazing music. I'm hoping he gets a record deal.

JIC: Salsa?

OH: No, it's a jazz record. I'm really proud to be on the stuff we recorded.

JIC: What was the instrumentation?

OH: It's five horns and a rhythm section. Great, great, great writing. I was pleased that he called me. He was so specific about who he wanted on the record. He's trying to get something happening with it.

JIC: In 1998 you contributed arrangements to Jimmy Bosch's solo debut album Soneando Trombón, described by its co-producer Aaron Luis Levinson as: "to some extent the start of a return to a 'Nuevo Típico' style in salsa, especially in New York City." I would be interested in your comments about the significance of this production?

OH: I had nothing to do with that record, other than the arrangements. I originally did them for three trombones. I told Jimmy that I didn't think it was a good production.

JIC: You're very candid.

OH: Jimmy is my friend and I love Jimmy, so I don't want it to seem that I'm criticising, but I can't lie about what I feel. At the time Jimmy was very raw. He was thrown into the fire and didn't know anything about producing and arranging, or even composing. It's a good first effort for him. It was great for him because it gave him some notoriety and success. In that sense it was good, but musically I think it was a poor record. His new record (El Avión De La Salsa '04 on JRGR Records) is going to be incredible. I love it.

JIC: You've participated in a number of what, for want of a better expression, I'll call "African salsa" productions, including Africando's Gombo Salsa (1996), Baloba! (1998) and Mandali (2000) on Stern's and Ricardo Lemvo's Mambo Yo Yo (1998 on Putumayo Artists).

OH: Those were strictly studio dates that they called me for. Actually, I recorded a charanga record with Boncana Maïga way back when (Salsa y Alegria by Boncana con sus Ritmos y Sabor de Africa '77 on Dragon Phéniz / Safari Ambiance; most tracks collected on Boncana's Best of Salsa '98 on Maestro Sound). He's part of Africando and he's a producer. He's a pretty good musician in his own right and loves this music. And they have an interesting take, so it's fun when they call me to be part of these things. But they are strictly studio dates.

JIC: Salsa y Alegria also had Manny Oquendo, Jerry and Andy González, Alfredo de la Fé, Chombo, Barry Rogers, etc.

OH: Yeah, yeah.

JIC: Another major strand of your work has been working on stage productions such as Paul Simon's The Capeman, Quien Mato A Héctor Lavoe starring Domingo Quiñones (1999), 4 Guys Named José (2000) and La Lupe (2001). Please tell me more about this area of activity?

OH: I always tell everybody that I had no idea what musical theatre was about, but I earned a doctorate degree on The Capeman (see Songs from the Capeman). I subsequently went to see Broadway shows to see a little bit of what it was about. It was just an amazing experience to be part of that whole thing. It was unfortunate that it was sabotaged. That's not to say that it didn't have its problems. As Broadway shows go, in many respects it was revolutionary and brilliant. Paul's fate was doomed in this genre because of the things that he said.

JIC: Do you think that after a respectable period of time that the show might be revived?

OH: I don't think so because there are still some inherent problems and it's a touchy subject, the nature of it. Maybe it'll evolve into another form, not as a glitzy Broadway show. When people went to see it, they thought of Latin music as the Palladium and mambo, that's not what this show was about. So if you understand that and you know that's not what you're going to see, then you could understand and absorb it as a brilliant piece. I think it was. I think it had brilliant aspects to it.

This is a funny story, man. I was never a Paul Simon fan. I subsequently became a fan and realised the scope of his talent. One day he calls me and says: "Hi Oscar, it's Paul." "Hey Paul, what's going on?" This was just when I started working with him. He tells me: "You know, I have a concert with Sting at Carnegie Hall and I'm thinking of doing 'The Sound Of Silence' with batá drums." And I say: "'The Sound Of Silence', how does that go?" This is how stupid I am sometimes, man. (Laughter) I told my friend, and he says: "Fuck, you asked Paul Simon how 'The Sound Of Silence' goes! A fucking yak in Tibet knows how 'The Sound Of Silence' goes!" Paul Simon started singing the song: "Hello darkness my old friend…" Obviously I knew the song. (Laughter) Later on I realised the scope of what Paul Simon has done and what he means to a lot of people. He's obviously a great composer and has written a lot of great songs.

JIC: But clearly The Capeman established your credentials in musical theatre, because you've gone on and worked on other shows.

OH: Well Quien Mato was an easy no-brainer. That was a small production with only five musicians. Easy for me to put together. I had to laugh because I was stealing my money. It took me a day to put the music together for that. I'm exaggerating, but you know what I mean? I got a lot of credit for it and, in a sense, rightly so. But it's something I can do in my sleep. This show was kick ass. I had friends and musicians tell me: "You don't know how brilliant this show is." It was a small theatre. The sound designer did a great sound design. We had five musicians on that stage and it sounded like you were listening to Héctor Lavoe's band. We had three background vocalists singing on the side, which helped. But you had the complete essence of that era of his life: the tragedy, the comedy, all of it. I've got to say that it was a brilliant show.

JIC: Do you want to say anything about the other two shows?

OH: 4 Guys Named José was an off-Broadway commercial show. It was not really salsa per se; as much as an American's version of what Latin is. That's kinda what it is whatever success it received, I'm glad I lent my name to it. La Lupe was a fun project to work on. Again, a no-brainer. An easy thing for me to do. I can take La Lupe's music off the record and have it for you tomorrow, the whole show. And my take on what the songs should be. By that time I knew musical theatre. I said: "Look, we need this much of the song." I sit there with the director. They give me the input and I say: "Boom, boom, boom." I'm really quick with exactly what needs to be done. So the same thing: a no-brainer piece of cake. It was fun, but I didn't play on that one, I just arranged the music. I actually played on Quien Mato A Héctor Lavoe. The lady who plays La Lupe is a brilliant talent by the name of Sully Díaz, who is not a singer, but she's an amazing talent who can sing. The depth of her talent is so profound that she transforms herself to be able to sing well enough to do this role. She's a great actress. When I saw her doing her acting audition, I said like: "Wow! This woman is BAD." Then I heard her sing, and she told me: "Do you think I'm going to be able to do it?" I said: "Man, you're going to be fine." And sure enough. It's fun when they come up to you and say: "Man, I can't thank you enough. You helped me to be able to do this." "Man, I didn't do nothing, you did it yourself." But the fact that they're coming to you for encouragement, and you say: "Look, you got it baby. You're the goods."

JIC: Have you got any other stage projects lined-up?

OH: I'm currently working on a workshop of The Mambo Kings for Broadway, which I'm kinda not that happy about. From what I've seen of this production, they're really missing the boat with making it authentic. They are using all the stereotypical Broadway clichés. When you see Broadway for the most part, I can see what Paul Simon meant when he said the music on Broadway sucks. When you see Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, that music really sucks. I'm sorry. I went to see Chicago. It doesn't do it for me.

JIC: So you're having a bit of a struggle for authenticity with The Mambo Kings?

OH: Without a doubt. It's like 20%. The only reason that it's 20% authentic is that they have me there doing the dance numbers. Other than that, it wouldn't be authentic at all.

JIC: Will it be featuring a big band?

OH: No. At this point it's just a workshop, but it's likely to go on. But they are missing the boat with really making it authentic. That's not to say that it won't be successful. I want to get the essence of what the Palladium was really about.

JIC: It should be the Latin Giants of Jazz with dancers, acting and costumes.

OH: Yeah, there you go! You got it.

JIC: You co-produced the Latin jazz CD Señor Kroon (2003 on Azica) by percussionist Steve Kroon.

OH: Yeah, exactly.

JIC: Which features some notable jazz musicians like Ron Carter and Houston Person.

OH: Yeah, that was the fun part. It's amazing to me how everything starts with a conversation. Steve Kroon's a friend of mine, and he said: "Oscar, look, I wanna do this record." We talk about it, and the next thing you know we're in my house going over a couple of songs. Next thing I know, we're in the studio recording the stuff and I go: "Wow! Shit, man, it sounds good!" Everything basically starts with an idea. Steve Kroon was the percussionist for 20 years with Luther Vandross, and he has been working for many years as a percussionist for Ron Carter. So Ron Carter is his buddy. He quit Luther Vandross about four years ago and wanted to do his own stuff.

JIC: He wanted to do something in a Latin jazz vein?

OH: Steve Kroon is really Latino. He doesn't have a Latino name, but his father is from Puerto Rico and his mother is from the West Indies or something like.

JIC: You contributed a chart to Tony Pastrana's Latin jazz album Presents New York Latin Jazz, Featuring Dave Valentín (2003 on Mambo Maniacs).

OH: I have no idea what that's about. I haven't seen Tony Pastrana in about 15 years.

JIC: Are Tony and Joey Pastrana related?

OH: They're brothers. Tony is Joey's little brother. They are like 15 years apart.

JIC: So this chart they used is old?

OH: Very old! (Laughter)

JIC: You performed on and contributed a chart to Andrea Brachfeld's hit CD Back With Sweet Passion (2003 on Latin Cool).

OH: That was another record that we recorded. Good music, good musicians. Andrea is a very accomplished flautist who is pretty clear on what she wants. Has a lot of experience, is not a kid anymore. It was fun doing that project and helping her out. She would ask me: "What do you think about this? What do you think of that?" It was fun giving my input.

JIC: Tell me about The Latin Giants of Jazz project (The Latin Giants Play The Music of the Palladium '04 on Gigante)?

OH: I can't tell you, that was such a such a fun project, to be in the studio with all those musicians, that great music, and just say: "All right, one, two, three, four." BANG! It was like: "Woo, yeah!" It's great music, what can you say? That's another record I'm proud of.

JIC: I've spoken in detail elsewhere on with Spanish Harlem Orchestra co-producer Aaron Levinson and yourself about the band's first two recordings, Un Gran Dia En El Barrio (2002 on Ryko / Ropeadope Records) and Across 110th Street (2004 on Libertad Records), so I don't intend to go over the same ground here. However, can you give me a status report on the band and any hints about future developments?

OH: I've been doing a lot of interviews, and I can't even tell you what a blessing the Spanish Harlem Orchestra has been for me. I've been able to do music on my terms. Oscar Hernández, me. All right. Doing like I want to do it in every aspect. In other words: from arrangers to songs, to musicians, and working and being successful and making money at it. God, what more can I ask? We've been getting notoriety. I know it is bewildering to a lot of people why these guys have become so successful when this music, in a sense, has been done before. I can understand, but the truth of the matter is that we've touched on a nerve at a particular time with a lot of people, and deservedly so. Because it's like I've said: it's a kick ass band with great musicians, great arrangements, and great singers.

JIC: Un Gran Dia En El Barrio was nominated for a Grammy. Across 110th Street, even though it's an independent release, went straight into the Billboard tropical salsa chart at number four and into the Billboard Top Latin 100 at number 43, so it's shifting units from the outset.

OH: Well, I hope so. I just hope it keeps getting all the success it deserves. I don't want to pay my dues anymore, though you still pay your dues somewhat. I'm 50 years old, I want to be able to enjoy the fruits of all the shit that I've done throughout my life and do things the right way. I tell people: "The karma train is always running." I think I built up enough good karma about how I wanna do things and how I treat people, and the vision I have. So, if it's coming back to me, then beautiful.

JIC: In terms of musical taste, if you stick to your guns, you come back into fashion.

OH: That's what so cool about it, because 12 years ago I was considered old fashioned, and passé, dated. Because that was the stuff I would hear. Like Sergio George was the shit, just to bring up his name. I love Sergio, but I could have mentioned any number of people. I'm damned if he's a better musician than I am. That's not to knock on anybody. What goes around comes around. Even he's saying: "Like, man! That's just the way the shit is."

JIC: Sergio paid his dues in typical salsa as well.

OH: He somewhat paid his dues, but he never really delved into that enough. That's obvious from what he does. But he's about 10 years younger than me, so he's influenced by more contemporary stuff than I was. He's excellent at what he does. The important thing of what we're doing transcends the music. The importance of what we're really trying to say is that it's not based on commercial success, so to speak, or flavour of the month. What is the essence of this music? Where does it come from? What is it about? What has become popular in the last 10 years, because people copy everything that they hear, is mass produced salsa where nobody's featured except the singer, which is anti what this music is about. You go to listen to a Gilberto Santa Rosa concert, or anybody, I don't want to pick on names, and you don't hear a trumpet solo. You don't hear a piano solo. You don't hear a percussion solo. Fuck, you got 10 or 12 musicians on that bandstand!

JIC: During the era that we've been talking about, you would make a decision about buying a salsa album based on who was playing on it. Barry Rogers is there; Nicky Marrero's there…

OH: Without a doubt. You kidding me? I would do the same thing. I'm a music fan, too. Back in the day I would go: "Oh shit, Papo Lucca's on this record, it's coming with me." Same thing as music fans do. It's a shame that we've gotten away from that. As far as advances have been made, in some respects we've gone backwards.

JIC: This is a historical moment for this style of salsa. I can't recall it having had this level of international exposure.

OH: Yeah, I guess you're probably right. I think that's another aspect of the importance of what we're trying to do. I'm not an ego-driven person, but the truth of the matter is that the band is to the point where it is so tight and so good, that you can't deny that this is a great band. There are other good bands out there too; I'm not saying that. But when you hear the power of what this band is about. So the fact is we are able to play major jazz festivals, and play beyond the realm of normal circles, and be considered in the world panorama. Which is my vision for the band: to take it to a world place where people say: "These are great musicians." I've done enough stuff in this business with other people outside this type of music to know that we're all as good as musicians as a lot of people out there. I'll be damned if we're going to take a backseat to any one of them. That's not to say that I don't give them kudos, and they're excellent in what they do, but you know what? So am I, pal. I think people need to give us the recognition we deserve. Obviously it's not mainstream commercial English lyric based music, and there's no drum set behind it driving it, but if the Buena Vista Social Club sold two million CDs, God bless their souls, man.

JIC: Billboard made a remark like "middle-aged power rules" in relation to the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

OH: Maybe they were making a comparison with the Buena Vista Social Club, where those guys are in their 70s and 80s, or whatever it was. When they make that comparison, there are certain analogies that can be made. I always say that the analogy is that we're playing music from a certain time and a certain place, as they were. But we're not old and forgotten, unlike them. I couldn't be happier for their success. When I saw the film it was actually touching.

JIC: Is it your concept that you're actually playing a music from another era? You don't see yourself performing the role of modernising it?

OH: Well, somewhat. I don't want to say that because I don't want it to seem that we're playing dated music. No, we obviously are influenced by all the stuff that happens today, but integrating it with what has gone before us. So in a sense, yeah, it is somewhat playing music from a certain era, but it crosses the line of bringing it up to today's standards.

JIC: But it is basically a tradition that is ageless.

OH: I think so. It is beautiful music; there is no doubt about it. It's Afro-Cuban music, but it developed in its own unique way in New York and Puerto Rico. What makes it so unique, hypnotizing and appealing in terms of a sound is what we try to bring to the forefront.

JIC: You've already expressed your delight that now is your moment. How do you keep it going?

OH: I try to be true to what we do all the time. I don't try to think: "How can we make this commercially successful?" Obviously I want to take our vision to a world stage: so I have to be conscious of the commercial aspects. But when I sit there to do the music, I don't try to make it commercial. I do music that is true to my heart, true to my belief of what we're trying to do.

JIC: Integrity driven?

OH: Yeah, without a doubt. When you do a record based on trying to make it commercial, you might as well hang yourself.

JIC: You've already commented on notable causalities.

OH: Yeah, there's a lot of them. You can't have that premise for making a record. People do it all the time, I've seen it, and they fall into that trap. That's happened to me sometimes as a byproduct of being involved with other people. They say: "Well, we need to put in this type of song." Well, why? Because they feel that's what everybody else is playing, so they feel the pressure to do what is successful. That's the beauty of what we're doing, because this wasn't intended at all along those lines, and it's receiving success. It reaffirms your belief that people are tuning into this and saying like: 'Aye, there's something really cool here." Even if it's an underground. It's obviously not a mainstream, because we're not selling millions of records, nowhere near, but enough for us to be able to come to Europe; now the seventh time in two years. It's pretty amazing. To go to Japan and do a tour; to go to Hong Kong. The truth of the matter is, as good as the records sound, the band sounds better live. We just did a concert with Rubén Blades at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. They sent me a CD of it, and it sounds like a record. It sounds great. As far as how to keep the vibe: just take it as it comes. I don't take it for granted and slack off, or take any crowd for granted. We always go out there and leave our hearts on the stage. I think people sense that. As long as you do that, people will appreciate what you're doing. There's no dishonest intent. Obviously I would like it to be more successful because it would be good for us.

JIC: Is there anything you'd like to say about the implications of Rubén Blades being added to this current round in the band's career?

OH: I was kinda resistant at first to adding Rubén, believe it or not, because I didn't want him to take the focus. It has taken the focus a little bit.

JIC: The way the concert is billed here seems to be: "Rubén Blades supported by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra."

OH: Don't forget that Rubén has a big name in this business, and deservedly so. He's a great artist and I am happy to be associated with him, no doubt about it.

JIC: I'm not casting any aspersions on Rubén at all.

OH: You can't be totally objective. (Laughter) You know how I know? I'll give you an example. Simple, we came into the airport today, and nobody knew who the hell we were, but they knew who he was. And the female agent at customs said: "My mother is such a fan of your music." So I said: 'Girl, get hip, you've got to get with your mum." (Laughter) The thing about Rubén is that I felt a little resentful because, as I said, I didn't want him to take away from the focus. But it also adds another dimension, a different dynamic. There are a lot of people who are going to say (and obviously this doesn't apply to you): "Oh, Rubén Blades is singing with these guys, they must be pretty good." You know what I'm saying? Obviously the musicians know where that's at. But that's the truth. That's the way the business is. That's the way the world works, unfortunately, but Rubén brought a unique dynamic to the situation. This particular project piqued so many people's interest across the board because they haven't heard Rubén sing like this in this setting for so long. And that was the kick, I'm sure. He had a great kick doing it because, first of all, he came in and sang his ass off. It totally put it where it goes. He's a bad dude. It piqued a lot of people's interest. It's like: "Oh shit, it's down home and hardcore. Rubén singing to the people again." You know what I mean? That was the reaction we got in Puerto Rico, where we just did a concert with him.

Rubén's very smart. He's been out of the limelight, so this puts him completely back dead centre. He's thrust completely forward in a place he wants to be, creating controversy. "Oh shit, they thought he lost it. He hasn't lost nothing. Listen to him now!" He's really smart to do this project, because as much as it is good for us, it is going to be good for him. There's no doubt about it. It's unfortunate because we could have made a real happy marriage in terms of touring because obviously Rubén's name helps us a lot in a lot of circles. We're doing major tours. But he's going to be involved politically in his country as of September. The guy he campaigned for won the presidency. I think he was offered a post in the government. I think it is minister of tourism, something like that. So he's going to be serving in that capacity, which is kind of a drag because I was hoping that we could keep parleying this into something we could do in terms of touring, and making good music and making money.

JIC: Obviously it's important to savour the moment, but where do you go now?

OH: As far as the next record you mean?

JIC: Probably.

OH: You know what? I haven't even thought that far. But I'm a person that gets going really quick. So when it comes to the time to really think the next record out, I'll get into gear and two months later I'll have everything prepared. It's not going to be a big departure from what we're doing. It's going to be the same formula: kick ass arrangements, kick ass songs. I might probably integrate more original songs. I might say: " Spanish Harlem record: totally original." That might even be the next record. And it'll be all original songs. We received tiny sprinkles of criticism, only because you find people looking for shit. I laugh at critics. They say: "Well, they're doing stuff that has been done before. They're not doing new material." And I'm saying: "That's what we chose to do." I can easily pick 12 original songs and use the same arrangers and formula, and it'll be just as kick ass. So that might be it. I might be using more original stuff, but there is so much more material out there that I'd like to do. So, approaching it with the same integrity, the same love, the same respect, and hopefully using the same musicians more or less.

JIC: Do you think that eyes could be on you to have another prominent name on the next production?

OH: That may be possible. We didn't mention Frankie Vázquez, who I love. He's not on the new record, neither is Hermán Olivera. Clearly the focal point is on the band. As much as I love Frankie, and as great a singer as he is, which he is, I haven't received feedback like: "The record sucks because Frankie is not on it." Obviously that ain't the case. People hear the singers and say like: "Wow, they sound great." That's what I really want the focal point to be, just like you have a Gran Combo and Sonora Ponceña. I want it to be Spanish Harlem. For that matter, I don't want it to be Oscar Hernández and Spanish Harlem.

JIC: So the unit is the key thing?

OH: There's no doubt about it. It's like a total team concept here. It's kinda like an all-star band in a sense. If someone goes, it doesn't mess with the concept of what we're trying to do.

JIC: It's not like an all-star band whose sound depends on who's there; you seem to have set parameters in terms of the sound of the band.

OH: Exactly. And that's what I want people to understand. This is not about any individual member, because if that were the case it would be about me, and that's not what it is either. Although I can say, rightfully so, that I produced this record. Just about everything you hear on that record was my decision. But I'm not going there, I want it to be a group concept, where we all get the credit we deserve.

JIC: When I spoke to you and Aaron in May 2004, Aaron mentioned something about the possibility of a live DVD.

OH: He mentioned a live DVD because we did the Montreal Jazz Festival where we played in front of over 100,000 people, and it's recorded live, and it's incredible. So we've talked about releasing that as a live DVD.

JIC: I'm pleased you were prepared to spend so much time talking about the earlier part of your career, because you were associated with some important stuff.

OH: I'm all for setting the record straight. I kind of take the past for granted.

JIC: You emphasised earlier that you've paid your dues, and that's undeniable. However, what you're doing now wouldn't be possible if there hadn't been this run-up of something like 36 years in the business. What you're doing now is a product of all that accumulated experience and that track record.

OH: Yeah, I wish I had known that years ago, but I'm a firm believer in things are going to happen when they happen. I've got to thank Aaron Levinson, who didn't know he was putting this in my path. For years I honestly didn't know what I wanted to do. I feel blessed, because this has made me realise what I should have been doing all these years when I was thinking: "Gee, what shall I do?" People would ask me: "Shit, when are you going to make your own record? You produce all this stuff. Fuck, what are you waiting for?" And I'm going like: "I don't know what record I want to do." Because I could make a Latin jazz record…

When you got the call from Paul Simon, did you think: "This is going to open doors for me in the future"?

OH: I never think that way. (Laughter) I just think about whatever's in front of me. I'm going to be me no matter what, and I'm going to say what I feel.

JIC: Things come your way?

OH: Yeah, they come my way and I'm involved in them. And I'm not star struck.

JIC: It must have occurred to you that you've moved up in divisions.

OH: It's taken me a long time. I wish it had happened a long time ago.

JIC: But aren't you better equipped to deal with it at this juncture?

OH: Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Things happen when they're gonna happen, and God knows why they happen when they happen? The important thing about building a name and getting notoriety is that it somewhat gives you the power to do things on your own terms. It's taken a whole lifetime to get to the point where I'm totally secure and feel cool about it. Goodness knows I came from a real poor background in the South Bronx. I come from a family of 11 kids. So there's a lot of insecurities. I saw my brother die of heroin. But all that shit aside, there's also the ghetto mentality that exists that I see in people that I work with. It's taken me a long time just to do away with that.

JIC: Rise above it.

OH: Rise above it, and not deal with it anyway, because I see it in colleagues of mine. I try to tell them: "I don't deal on that level." Thankfully, I think I've built enough of a reputation in this business so that automatically people know not to come to me with any bullshit. I don't deal on those levels. I don't get those phone calls. Usually when I get a phone call, they know I'm serious and no bullshitter. They're not going to finagle or weasel or con me into whatever. You don't call Oscar Hernández if you don't want the serious shit. If you want to go through some trauma and drama and bullshit, call somebody else.

JIC: Do you turn much down?

OH: No, it's not like my phone's ringing off the hook. Things are better now especially with Spanish Harlem. There's a lot of that ghetto mentality pervading the Latin circle, which I don't deal with. Rubén and I speak about this a lot, because he's aware of it too. He doesn't even deal with it at all; you know what I mean? He's on a different level, and so am I. I've grown up, I'm out of that scene. I left the ghetto behind, but that's not to say that I can't relate, and that I can't feel compassion for people in those circumstances. But I don't have time for it. I left that shit behind. I don't have time for that mindset. But coming from where I come from, it's the stark reality. And you have to deal with it in the Latino circle because it's a minority mindset that pervades that whole community. I want to rise above that, which is part of the joy of taking us to a world vision, and getting what we want and playing on real professional sound systems and equipment, and everything we need to go out there and kick ass and play with whoever. I'm not taking a backseat to anybody, with all due respect. It's a growing process. Part of what we're talking about is being able to finally attain confidence and leave insecurities behind. Having confidence means so much because sometimes you're able to blossom. But when insecurities are deep, you know the possible consequences?

JIC: Before we close I'd like to thank you for your forbearance and spending all this time with me. Is there anything you'd like to add?

OH: Gee, I think I'm all talked-out. (Laughter) I was surprised you knew so much. You mentioned stuff I've forgotten about.

JIC: You wouldn't necessarily remember when it's your own life. Some of the recordings that take on a significance to those interested in this music might just be a one-off recording date that the participants have long forgotten about.

OH: Exactly. I understand.

According to the Spanish Harlem Orchestra's co-producer Aaron Luis Levinson:
Joey Pastrana and His New Orchestra (Parnaso P-LPS-1092), produced by Joey Pastrana; musical director: Roger López. The song he talks about "El Pulpo" has a long and I contend prescient solo as he mentions, though he takes a much dimmer view of the performance. I know because I made a copy of it for him to hear and he said something like: "I didn't like it". I had to laugh cause I'm thinking to myself: "You were freaking SIXTEEN years old papa!" For any normal person it would not be a forgotten little turd as it is to him, but to me it is a tentative but deeply musical experiment by a genuinely gifted person and that is what is most outstanding about it. It is not the empty virtuosic athleticism of a child prodigy obsessed with dazzling his elders nor is it the halting attempt of a young but merely ordinary musician. No it is the first salvo from what will one day become one of the masters of the form and to me at least that degree of promise and talent is very much in evidence."

© and John Child, producer and co-host of the the totallyradio show Aracataca , contributor to the Latin music website and MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music

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