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Profile: Barry Rogers
A profile of the much respected, highly innovative and dearly missed trombone player.

Barry Rogers: Salsero, Searcher, World Musician
by David Carp

In 1990, trumpeter Ray Vega made trombonist/ethnomusicologist Christopher Washburne aware of Eddie Palmieri's "Páginas de Mujer," introducing it with the words, "This is your bible, study it hard." The specific bit of chapter and verse referred to was a 24 measure trombone solo played by Barry Rogers. It's not just brass players who feel this way, as evidenced by a recent statement by pianist Oscar Hernández. "I knew all of Barry's solos by heart, I could sing them all. I could say that Barry is probably the instrumentalist other than pianists that had the biggest influence on me." In a 1967 Saturday Review article, the art historian and mambophile Robert Farris Thompson predicted the scope of the Rogers influence. "The chief proponents of this music [salsa] , a new solution to the problem of Afro-Latin form, are two intelligent New Yorkers named Eddie Palmieri and Barry Rogers.... I do not think that it is an exaggeration to suggest that the Eddie Palmieri ensemble is artistically the most promising dance band now performing in the United States." The promise sensed by Thompson more than thirty years ago was fulfilled; salsa became one of the world's major dance musics. Eddie Palmieri's role in this development has been acknowledged, at least in part. The same can hardly be said for his chief collaborator.

True enough, it was evident to 1960's habitués of the Palladium Ballroom or the Palm Gardens that the tall, skinny blanquito with long hair taking the trombone solos wasn't Cuban or Puerto Rican. It was equally evident that this didn't matter, and it was even more evident that everyone danced their toochises off whenever he played. For thirty years it's been quietly acknowledged that the trombone presence in the sound of salsa was ushered in by un otro judío maravilloso. What hasn't been acknowledged is how this same man blurred distinctions between cultural outsiderdom and insiderdom as few have ever done. What isn't known is how this same person brought the white heat of salsa into the musical smelting foundry known by the mid 1970's as fusion. What's rarely mentioned is his flair for directing musicians in a studio setting, and his uncanny sense of how to transform raw tape into finished product. It's hard to believe how one individual could express himself with as much competence and as much passion and have moved and inspired as many fellow humans as did Barry Rogers. Critical assessment is long overdue; hopefully, this article will help narrow, if ever so slightly, this gap between achievement and appreciation.

Bronx roots and beginnings

Barron W. Rogers (a name that he cordially detested) was born in the Bronx on May 22, 1935. Descended from Polish Jews who came to New York via London, the Rogers family (original name: Rogenstein) possessed abundant musicality. As youngsters living in East Harlem, Barry's father William and several of his uncles sang in the choir of Joseph Rosenblatt, one of the great cantors of the twentieth century. The natural beauty of their voices was matched by improvisational gifts; family legend also maintains that William Rogers showed enough ability as a sculptor to have been offered an apprenticeship to Sir Jacob Epstein. The only member of this generation to pursue the arts professionally was Barry's uncle Milton, who maintained an active career as a pianist, composer, educator and bandleader (and whom Barry credited as a major role model.) The realities of the Great Depression guided William Rogers in a different direction. Also a gifted student of the natural sciences, he opted for a job teaching high school biology in the New York City schools. His charisma and personal charm had an unforgettable impact on several generations of young Bronxites; the Rogers family recalls numerous former pupils who kept in touch with him long after their graduation from public school. This was equally true of Barry's mother Phyllis Lacompte Taylor, a brilliant zoologist who also taught public school science. A woman of mixed WASP and French roots whose ancestors came to the United States during the eighteenth century, she was a perfect candidate for DAR membership other than her leftist political orientation. A fiercely independent spirit long before women's liberation officially existed, Phyllis Rogers's teaching career coexisted with a considerable amount of field research in Mexico, the Caribbean basin, and Africa. These trips inspired her to study the traditional musics she encountered from an anthropological perspective, which was accomplished largely through collecting field recordings and commercially issued discs. As a child and young adolescent, Barry was exposed to both folkloric and popular music from West Africa, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Family members and friends believe that records of late 1940's New York mambo music were also brought home by Mrs. Rogers. In an interview with Robert Farris Thompson, Barry made it clear that hearing Tito Puente's "Babarabatiri" was his equivalent of St. Paul viewing Damascus; there would be no turning back. Given his listening experiences and his maternal influences, it's hardly surprising that during his teen years Barry became passionate about Afro-Cuban music in all of its manifestations. His wife Louise Rogers remembers one very unique and long-lasting expression of this addiction. "One thing he really did well and always amazed me, he could do this sort of old man coro singing. He sounded like one of those little wizened guys in La Sonora Matancera. He would screw his face up and the trombone would hang on his arm and this funny voice would come out of his mouth and it never came out at any other time." Barry was one of the few New Yorkers who actively collected African records during the 1950's. This was one of many interests he shared over the years with percussionist Ernest Philip "Phil" Newsum, who offered the following observation: "Either it didn't turn him on or it was great music, but nothing was ever strange to him. It seems like everything he heard he could understand right away. It made sense, it was comprehensible. Sometimes he would scare me because he could catch on to things so fast." Much of Barry's demonstrated ability to assimilate sounds from other cultures is readily explainable in light of the music he heard both before and during the onset of puberty.

By age thirteen, another obsession had entered Barry Rogers' life - cars. One result was a spectacular loss of interest in school, accompanying an equally precipitous drop in grades. After a brief period at Evander Childs High School, Barry transferred to Bronx Vocational, a school attended by few Bronxites of his ethnicity and family background. One of Barry's friends from this period, a drummer named Lenny Seed, observed: "You'd go to his house and there'd be engine parts all over the place. He could fix cars and he was into hot-rodding when I first met him. He'd hang around with all these hot rod guys in the Bronx, not musicians. Black leather jacket guys, you know? There was a funny thing at his memorial service, when Mike Brecker spoke he said, 'Barry Rogers was the first Jewish guy I ever met that knew how to fix a car'." By the time he arrived at Bronx Vocational, Barry already had a year or so of trombone playing under his belt (it is not known exactly how old Barry was when he began playing, his son Chris thinks that he may have started at age sixteen.) One of Barry's extracurricular activities at Bronx Vocational was playing in a small mixed Latin combo of students that included a Dominican saxophone and clarinet player named Johnny Pacheco. It wasn't long before Barry was introduced to percussionist Benny Bonilla, pianists Rupert Branker and Arthur Jenkins, and other Bronx Latin music performers. It must be pointed out that non-Latin residents of Harlem, Morrisania, and Bedford-Stuyvesant had easy access to Latin music through local record stores, black-oriented radio stations and live venues. In fact, it was not unheard of for African-American teenaged musicians to be hooked on Latin before becoming jazz players. It was in this particular milieu that Barry Rogers obtained his first significant experience in playing Latin music, rather than in a context of playing in all-Latin bands for strictly Latin audiences.

Chicken and booze

By the early 1950's Barry was playing Latin music with groups of Latinos, black Americans and white ethnics in lounges, dance halls, and nightclubs all over Harlem and the Bronx. He had also discovered jazz and began frequenting Branker's, Count Basie's, and any clubs that held jam sessions. The spring of 1956 marked the beginning of his most significant pre-Palmieri musical experience, a band led by an African American tenor saxophonist named Hugo Dickens. The bread and butter of Hugo's work (and that of competitors such as David Preudhomme "Joe Panama," Alfred Du Mire "Al La Paris," and Henry "Pucho" Brown) was dances thrown by the African American social clubs of Harlem, a thriving scene during the 1950's. Although a soft-spoken gentleman, Hugo always had the ability to relate well to club members and promoters; in his heyday (ca. 1955 to 1960) he was able to provide regular (if not high paying) employment. The work consisted of fashion shows, afternoon cocktail sips, and "chicken and booze" dances (audience members reserved tables and brought their own brown bags and bottles.) These affairs took place at Harlem venues such as the Savoy Ballroom, Dawn Casino, Audubon Ballroom, Rockland Palace, Broadway Casino, Royal Manor, Renaissance Ballroom, and the Celebrity Club. It was taken for granted that a musician working the "chicken and booze" circuit would be able to play jazz, rhythm and blues, calypso, and Latin. This was particularly true of Hugo's various units, considering the caliber of many of his musicians (Marty Sheller, Bobby Porcelli, Bobby Capers, Peter Sims "Pete La Roca," Eddie Diehl, Hubert Laws, Ted Curson, and Rodgers Grant are only a few of Hugo's better known side musicians.) Barry's arrival in the Dickens organization more or less coincided with Hugo's decision to reduce the size of the group. A long time Dickens-ite, Phil Newsum recalls the transition. "Before Barry came into it the band was really chart-bound. But when Hugo put the big band aside and we started going out with the three horn front line, Barry really took over how it was organized. Hugo handled the business but Barry would say, hey, you do this and I'll do this and you do that. We weren't using charts, it was all head arrangements. And the freedom that it gave everybody made all the guys really happy because not being bound by the charts, everybody who had this kind of jazz disposition anyway, they felt like they had unlimited freedom to be creative, which they did. And the band kind of took off and everybody's morale went up, we were just one happy bunch of dudes. A lot of that I believe was due to Barry."

This freewheeling atmosphere was an ideal setting for developing the concept of playing "hard bop" a la Art Blakey or Horace Silver with the underpinning of authentic Afro-Cuban rhythm. A key point of origin for this approach can be found in the early 1950's conjunto recordings of Tito Rodríguez, many of which were very popular in Harlem. Phil Newsum cites Rodríguez's version of "Sun Sun Babae" in this context. "The break in 'Sun Sun Babae,' the one with the repeated rhythmic figure - it wasn't always exactly the same but Rodríguez incorporated a similar type of thing in one tune after another. Even the later ones like 'Ol' Man River,' they had three breaks in the middle and then the rhythm would come in, there would be a piano break and the rhythm would come in. He incorporated ostinato figures in the middle of a lot of his mambos and then having the rhythm come in behind in furious - it was very effective, it was wonderful. But all of the stuff that those conjuntos recorded was very rhythmically oriented and really appealed to the black community of Harlem. They really identified with it because it minimized the amount of Spanish and maximized the rhythm, so that the language didn't mean much." All of Hugo's sidemen and numerous audience members speak fondly of Dickens' "Ol' Man River Mambo." Other numbers frequently recalled are "Speak Low," "Nica's Dream," "Old Devil Moon" and "Spontaneous Combustion"; typical Cuban tunes in the book included cha chas such as "Chanchullo" and "Los Marcianos" and the danzón "Almendra." Whether based on the changes of a 32 bar song or on the more open form characteristic of a montuno, solos from alto player Bobby Porcelli, trumpeter Marty Sheller, and Barry Rogers were common.

Not much recorded evidence of African American experiments with Latin music characteristic of the later '50's has survived. There are no known commercial recordings of any of Hugo Dickens' groups; the best existing documentation consists of 8 millimeter films taken by Barry (unfortunately there are no soundtracks.) One of the most frustrating examples of this situation is the lack of any recordings of Hugo's experimentation with multiple trombones. An eyewitness for this trend is Steve Berríos, Junior, who by 1961 was playing both trumpet and percussion with Latin-oriented uptown groups. He remembers the presence of two trombones in some of Hugo's interpretations of "Ol' Man River," "Work Song," "Chanchullo," "Nica's Dream" and "Saint Thomas"; other trombonists besides Barry included Steve Pulliam, John Gordon and Jack Hitchcock. Steve Berríos and other informants remember that one trombone would play repeated riff figures and the other one would respond to these figures by soloing in a call-and-response style. It's experiences such as this that Barry recalled in a 1977 WBAI-FM interview with Pablo "Yoruba" Guzmán. "It was a school for us all, that's where I was really first exposed to Latin music. And boy, did I learn a few things about the world and life and music, that was my first experience with really heavy playing. And when I came out of that I ran into Eddie and I just threw in there what I had learned in the past three or four years with Hugo's group." It's no accident that all of the surviving participants in the Sabú Martínez and his Jazz Espagnole recording are Hugo Dickens alumnae. The importance of Mongo Santamaría's post-charanga groups to the emerging Latin jazz of the 1960's is undisputed; key Mongo sidemen such as Bobby Capers, Rodgers Grant, Hubert Laws, Bobby Porcelli, and Marty Sheller are all graduates of the Hugo Dickens Academy. Perhaps the most far-reaching importance of the uptown Latin-oriented scene is that this is clearly where Barry Rogers developed a personal interpretation of African-based music that was to reach its full fruition with Eddie Palmieri's La Perfecta. For this reason, Hugo Dickens and his colleagues can lay claim to no small portion of salsa's patrimony.

Perfecting La Perfecta

One of salsa's most influential figures began as a bandleader in 1960, when the use of this word as a magnificently effective catch-all phrase was very much a thing of the future. Active at first fronting trios for weddings, bar mitzvahs and hotel engagements, Eddie Palmieri longed for a vehicle to play the rugged Cuban music so dear to his heart. The key to reaching this goal became considerably clearer after a visit to a social club called the Tritons, located above Loew's Spooner Theatre in the Hunts Point sector of the Bronx. This is where Eddie heard Barry jamming with the likes of Johnny Pacheco and the rest was history - this, at least, is how Eddie usually tells the story. Trumpet player Joe de Mare remembers leading a Louis Prima-style shuffle band that included both Barry and Eddie; de Mare claims that Barry was aware of Eddie's rhythmic genius from the get go. Not surprisingly, one of the earliest instrumentations that Eddie used to express his musical vision was a conjunto. Here's Barry's first memory of the next stage. "We started with one trombone and a rhythm section and a singer and that was the group. 'Cause when we got together and jammed it just blew everything away. So he got rid of the trumpets and we just worked as a quintet for some time. Then we added George Castro on flute and the last thing to come in was the second trombone, that was at least a year after we started the group."

The first regular second trombonist with La Perfecta was Mark Weinstein. Although he can be seen in the photograph on the cover of the Alegre album Eddie Palmieri: La Perfecta, the second trombone parts are actually played by a Brazilian named Joao Donato. After approximately one year Mark moved to Europe and was replaced by Joe Orange, another excellent jazz trombonist. During the year of Joe's tenure the album El Molestoso was recorded (Mark Weinstein came back for the bolero "Contento estoy," which uses three trombones.) By the appearance of Lo Que Traigo Es Sabroso the second trombonist was José Rodrígues, a Dominican who had resided in Brazil for a number of years, and who stayed with Palmieri until 1974. Eddie Palmieri recalled what is considered by all (including Weinstein and Orange) to be his most successful trombone section. "Barry Rogers and José Rodrígues were so opposite in what they individually could do and we worked it that way. For example, Barry was involved in singing coro so when we'd play a mambo the first part would be given to José or the highest notes would be given to him, anything that would make it easier for Barry, who always had problems with his lip. Fever sores, that was a problem. He taught himself to play the trombone in the unorthodox way of learning and put too much pressure and that took a lot out of him. And even José Rodrígues told me once, 'If he keeps playing the way he plays he's gonna die.' that instrument takes so much out of you and the way he plays! Just the recordings told you that, imagine live! Those trombones, when they used to get into a riff behind the flute they don't stop and then Barry just takes off and keeps going and we just kept pushing and pushing. That instrument is not an instrument to be able to do that and they did it. And unfortunately it cost them dearly because they both passed away, they were both young."

La Perfecta's flute and two trombone lineup drew immediate comparison with the instrumentation of charanga, which was still hot in New York; in fact, Charlie Palmieri baptized the group with the name trombanga. But the model for Eddie's music was certainly not charanga, at least in regard to musical form. For Mark Weinstein, the model that inspired Eddie and Barry was Chapottín. "If you know enough about Cuban 78's from the '40's and early '50's you hear a lot of Eddie's arrangements. But think of the Chapottín album that has a very sort of abstract, almost cartoon-y cover with Miguelito Cuní. That's the best Chapottín, with 'Quimbombó' on it. And that was the model, there were a couple of other conjuntos. But it wasn't really a matter of stealing. Because Eddie's band, bizarrely, was Cuban revivalist, and the model of the trombone improvisation came from the way Chapottín, the soloist, would play against the trumpets. Then Barry extended that, but that was the model." One clear example of the kind of "borrowing" described by Mark is "La Gioconda" as recorded by Orquesta Aragón on their album Danzones de Hoy y Ayer. The uptempo final section of the Aragón version opens the version of this tune recorded by La Perfecta on El Molestoso almost note for note. The main differences is the substitution of two trombones for violins and lowering the key from E minor to C minor, which makes it easily playable in its new instrumentation. Weinstein describes the "road map" for a representative Palmieri/Rogers chart. "You play down the head and there'd be the first montuno, in the first montuno Barry would always be singing coro. And while the singer was improvising Barry'd turn around and during the four bars of the singer's improvisation he would play something for me to play, picking it up either out of the air or from something the singer had sung or whatever. I then had to get it from him in that interval and then if I didn't get it the first time he'd do it again, if I didn't get it the second time he was angry at me. Then I'd start playing that lick, Barry would join in playing the lick with me in unison, then in harmony and then the shit would happen. Barry would then start slowly, almost the way a sitar player develops a solo, he would start to very slowly move that lick into not quite a solo but into a sequence of ever increasing sophistication. We outswung Tito's band with all of his fuckin' cymbals, with all of his triplets, with all of his sticks over his head. Because when Barry would get the pots on there was nothing in the world that was more exciting, nothing, nothing! Not all of the high notes, not all of the screaming trumpets and the saxophones. When Barry would start to move through a sequence of improvisations there was nothing in the world that was more exciting and the dancers loved Barry Rogers."

I'm reminded by the end of this last quote of a great mambo dancer named Luis Flores, better known as "Luis Máquina." In a 1993 interview he told me, "The Spanish salsa people are not listeners, we are dancers." The truth of this assertion can never be overstressed when considering the music of La Perfecta, or of any great dance orchestra; it's the dancers who are the quintessential consumers of the product. This is rarely discussed on any level other than the most superficial in most print coverage of Latin music. Considering the record collecting mindset that drives much writing on the subject, this is hardly surprising. One of the few writers who has consistently put equal emphasis on dance and music is Robert Farris Thompson. An early chronicler of Palladium history, Thompson had ample opportunity to see La Perfecta in this setting. The Palladium closed its doors in 1966; two years later, he invited Barry Rogers to lecture at Yale. It wasn't until then that he realized the depth of Barry's connection to movement. "I had films from the Palladium with no sound, Barry looked at the screen and from the feet reconstructed the sound and played off the line of the music. Now these little innocent Yale students had never heard Palladium-type intensity, I mean they had never heard a trombone that loud! But remember, in the Palladium if it isn't all-out intensity you're going lose your audience. Well, he was Palladium trained so he had learned to pick up notes off of the heels and toes of the people, he saw them as eighth notes and whatever. Barry's genius was to have such a highly defined inner pulse control in the African sense, that if you look at the feet of the guys in the movie boom!, he was able to reconstruct what kind of mambo they were dancing to, that it was a fast batiri or a slow kain. He made me see the dance floor as sheet music." One thing that Thompson always noticed about Palladium musicians in general was their athleticism. "I remember interviewing Alfred Levy, aka Alfredito, and asked him, 'Why didn't you play the Palladium more?' He said, 'Well, the reason I don't play at the Palladium, man, the Palladium's a laundry!' I'll never forget that, the Palladium's a laundry, you've got to work and then I realized, yeah! And I watched Barry play, sweat pouring down from his hair, his thick, athletic neck. The same thing with Gilbert López, all those guys, it was like the Superbowl. That's another part of him, it may be that the strain of producing all out mambo sounds at Palladium intensity may have weakened his heart." When I asked Thompson if Barry Rogers participated in sports avocationally, he maintained that Barry's athletics were on the bandstand. "There's an article about some people who overeat and remain thin, the study shows they fidget it off. Most of the salseros are always fidgeting left to right. The African style is that you don't play an instrument, you dance it, and man, was he into that! He danced the trombone as intensely as Johnny Pacheco danced his flute." For anyone who remembers Pacheco in his prime, that's saying a lot. By expressing themselves with this kind of abandon, Pacheco and Rogers went far beyond putting on a great show. They bonded with their audience to a very rare degree.

La Perfecta's initial audience was heavily Puerto Rican, the majority ethnic group that patronized Bronx venues such as the Tritons and the Caravana Club (Eddie's early '60's audiences at Brooklyn's church dances probably contained a strong Italian and Jewish element.) The crowd that Eddie won at the Palladium was the African Americans. Some insight into this process can be gained by listening to African American low brass groups that play gospel-inflected call and response patterns in Central Park and other New York public spaces. Mark Weinstein describes the first time he heard the Fabulous Hummingbirds, a band of five trombones and a tuba. "When I heard them I fell down because the lead trombone player was doing exactly what Barry did! Now Barry really loved rhythm and blues, and what he was doing was playing a rhythm and blues kind of shout against a salsa vamp. But it wasn't until I heard these guys, this trombone band from somewhere in Saint Albans and South Jamaica, that I realized that Barry had really invented something, and it was using the trombone to play essentially vocalistic music using the inflections of the trombone the way a voice could do it. 'Cause that's what the trombone can do, it can do what a voice can do. So Barry was playing trombone like a rhythm and blues singer and that's what connected with the black audience." It's been said that Barry Rogers was one of the first to play the trombone in the manner of Felix Chapottín, Chocolate Armenteros, or any great Afro-Cuban trumpet player - that is to say, like a great sonero. Playing in the most typical Cuban way possible was one of Barry's principal goals. He made it his business to understand how the music was structured, so that he could play and write in a manner that grew organically from the music rather than imposing externally derived techniques. His understanding of tumbao was sound enough to enable him to play an occasional second conga part during Tommy López solos; considering Tommy's demands on a personal and musical level, this was obviously no small feat! Barry's understanding of Cuban musical structures was further deepened through intense listening to the music of Arsenio Rodríguez and study of tres playing (he learned this instrument well enough to record with La Perfecta, Johnny Pacheco, and the Cesta All Stars.) Listening to Cuban 78 rpm records with Manny Oquendo and dubbing many onto open reel tape provided a fine sense of Afro-Cuban musical nuance. As much as Barry Rogers respected and loved the Cuban models he studied so assiduously, copying them was not enough. One fundamental difference between the original and Barry's interpretation involves the fundamental grounding of typical Cuban brass soloing in diatonic harmony, with occasional chromatic passages of an ornamental nature. The excellence of Barry's ear and his jazz background enabled him to hear harmonies implied by the basic diatonic idiom, and to graft on extensions in a clear and logical way. Likewise, his experience both as a player and collector of R & B allowed him to incorporate the blues scale into Latin music to an unprecedented degree. The vocal inflections and rhythmic concept of King Curtis, James Brown, and other Rogers favorites were a rich stylistic vein he mined successfully for the rest of his life. In listening to Barry's final solo on "No Me Hagas Sufrir" (Eddie Palmieri - Eddie Palmieri ) one is struck immediately by how Barry phrases, articulates, slides, and bends the pitches in a way that bears amazing likeness to a great soul singer. For a listener with any experience whatsoever in listening to R & B, it's easy to create words in one's own mind for the trombone line, and to imagine Otis Redding singing them. It is this aspect of Barry's talent that is one of the major factors in Eddie Palmieri's success in reaching out beyond his own culture.

The importance of Barry Rogers to Eddie Palmieri in so many ways and on so many levels is recognized by everyone who ever worked with any of his groups. It's true that Eddie gained a lot from being around Barry; it's also true that Barry found La Perfecta to be a tremendous learning experience. With Manny Oquendo as the band's bongocero, timbalero, and Cuban music guru in residence, how could it be otherwise? A less known aspect of how the Eddie Palmieri experience benefited Barry is suggested by Joan Fagin, an English fashion designer and long time close friend of Barry's. "He felt that they had collaborated really well, that they were great together because Eddie could provide the basic idea and he would develop it and do the arrangement. And that's how he preferred to work because he found it very difficult to innovate himself, innovate in the sense of creating a melody or anything like that. He admired people who could do that, this included his wife Louise, who he said was very good at that, and Eddie, but he had trouble with that. Even just a little phrase, he could do something with it but to start from zero was not his thing."

One fascinating aspect of the Eddie/Barry symbiosis is La Perfecta's arrangements, specifically the trombone writing. When it came time to create horn lines, Barry's experience as a listener to jazz records and participant in jam sessions paid off tremendously. The trombone playing of J. J. Johnson is often cited as a major influence on Barry, the obvious parallel being that between the J.J. Johnson/Kai Winding duo and Eddie's various two trombone frontlines. In terms of approach to the horn itself, J.J. and Barry are night and day, J.J. having the more refined technique and Barry being the brasher and more strident of the two (there's more to follow about Barry's relation with the trombone...). Joe Orange claims that Barry's favorite jazz trombonist of the early '60's was Julian Priester; he quotes Barry as saying that J.J. was a great player but altogether too easy to superficially imitate. Perhaps the real substance found in the rather facile comparison between Barry and J.J. can be found in examining their approach to arranging. Although the musical contexts are certainly different, it's logical to compare the J.J. and Kai Winding lineup with the Barry Rogers/José Rodrigués equivalent strictly in terms of the parameters of how the instruments function. To begin with, the difficulty of writing for two trombones is the difficulty of any kind of two part composing. Searching the collected works of even the greatest composers will yield very few masterpieces written for two single line instruments. Then there's the issue of the limitations of the instrument vis-a-vis the idiosyncrasies of manipulating the slide. This can be true even for as great a technician as J.J. Johnson (for that matter, Barry Rogers was no slouch when it came to slide technique.) The notes played by J.J. and Kai on their classic albums are cannily chosen for their intervallic weight and for their artful use of two of the oldest devices in any composer's bag of tricks: tension and release. It is especially in their ballad work that one can hear frequent use of diatonic dissonance, also known as "white note dissonance." Slow moving passages using voicings based on seconds or fourths open up a large number of possibilities for resolution, and these possibilities are used to their fullest potential.

No aspect of J.J. Johnson's musical landscape was terra incognita for Barry Rogers, who knew J.J.'s records and caught his club appearances. One of the great thrills of Barry's life was sharing the stage of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw with J.J.'s group as a member of Jimmy Wormworth's American Jazz Quintet in the summer of 1957. It's my contention that J.J.'s arranging concepts were absorbed by Barry, whether consciously or otherwise. Barry's economy as a writer is as pronounced as his economy as a player; this is obvious from listening to La Perfecta albums. A listener can forget that there are usually only two trombones on these records, the ear sometimes being fooled by the craft with which the notes have been selected and the intensity with which they have been played. When a third trombone is available (an example being the bolero "Contento Estoy"), it's also a shock that there are only three horns; the mastery of shell voicings and clever use of simultaneous major and minor harmony is a guarantee for some gorgeous backgrounds for the lead instrument or voice. When we ask who wrote any of these arrangements (Joe Orange thinks that the three trombone version of "Contento Estoy" was written by Eddie), we may be posing an unanswerable question; in some ways, trying to separate the Palmieri from the Rogers contributions to a La Perfecta arrangement can be compared to unscrambling an egg. Eddie Palmieri has always given Barry Rogers full credit for exposing him to a tremendous variety of new musical ideas, particularly from the cutting edge of early 1960's jazz. As noted, this relationship lacked fixed roles of teacher and student. Arranger and trumpet player Marty Sheller alluded to this type of musical symbiosis when I asked him to comment on their mutual growth as writers. "I think they both had the same way of thinking about harmony. That's why it's almost interchangeable, the arrangements that Barry would do and the arrangements that Eddie would do. It's almost like Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn." Particularly worthy of note is a mutual interest in harmonic exploration, a topic which fascinated (and still fascinates) Eddie Palmieri; this resulted in genuine and wonderful forms of musical dialogue between Eddie and Barry. The trombone-based introduction to the Palmieri composition "Solo Pensar en Ti" (from the Azúcar pa' Ti album) is replete with mystery and expectation, which is created by a kind of harmonic ambiguity between the keys of F minor and A flat minor. The harmonies outlined by the intervals of the two trombone parts are mirrored and developed marvelously in a series of runs and other pianistic devices improvised by Eddie. Exactly who created this arrangement? To me the real question is this: could such an arrangement have been created in any way other than the Palmieri/Rogers collaboration?

With all of the sharing of ideas between the two key musicians of La Perfecta, there is one aspect of the music that clearly comes from Barry Rogers - the voicing of the trombone parts. Joe Orange remembers driving to the Palmieri home in Brentwood, New York in Barry's Volkswagen. "Eddie had written out the charts on the piano, he had copied the trombone parts and we would play them. And then we would start to just discuss and change and move things around so that it felt right for the trombones. He really wrote for the trombone, other than the volume it's very comfortable playing Eddie's music on the trombone, the range is perfect. I'm sure he got that from Barry, the music lent itself very, very easily to the trombone." Compare Mon Rivera's charts for three and four trombones with the horn parts created by Barry Rogers and Eddie Palmieri. An intuitive man for whom making music was as natural as breathing, Mon's arrangements used simple diatonic harmonies often presented homorhythmically. The chord changes are often limited to tonic and dominant harmony, with an occasional subdominant or other scale degree. His triads are usually voiced as closely as possible; octaves are common. La Perfecta's charts show a far greater degree of harmonic intricacy and jazz influence without sacrificing one iota of sabor. On Mon Rivera's recordings the most common high note for the trombones is the G above the piano's middle C; some A's and a very rare B flat can be heard. Sometimes it seems that where Mon's trombone sections leave off range-wise, Eddie's begin. Much of what Barry plays on La Perfecta albums lies between the F above middle C and the C a fifth above this note. There's no question that his exploitation of a consistently higher range than any previous trombonist in Latin music contributed to much of La Perfecta's visceral excitement. Writing in this range also has a practical advantage - the trombonist will normally have to use only the first three or four positions, and will not have to move the slide as far as playing parts written in a middle to lower range. It is this middle to lower range where much of Mon Rivera's trombone parts are written. In addition to his work with La Perfecta, Joe Orange subbed on Mon Rivera's band at dances and recorded with him. He observed: "You can hear a lot of trombone bands where the writer doesn't understand the instrument he's writing for like Eddie did, and that's the difference. And you can even hear the awkwardness in the execution, Mon's is kind of rough because he didn't write for that upper middle register. His lines may look easy on paper, but they can be a lot more awkward than they look. But Eddie really knew where the sound of the trombone was, which is really in that middle to upper register." It must be noted that playing in this range was one of the innovations of innovative trombonists of the late 1920's, giving them a newly acquired facility compared with earlier players. As a student of the playing of Jack Teagarden, Lawrence Brown, and J.C. Higginbotham, Barry Rogers understood this perfectly. It must also be said that the last thing on my mind is to show the least particle of disrespect for the brilliance of Mon Rivera's rhythmic concept, his greatness as a sonero, and the place he has won in the collective heart of Puerto Rico. My point is that Eddie Palmieri and Barry Rogers set the highest possible standards for trombone writing, regardless of musical genre.

Eddie Palmieri's periodic financial and organizational quagmires and struggles with his own personal demons are well known within the Latin music industry. In his 1976 Down Beat interview with writer John Storm Roberts, he addressed these issues with great candor. 1968 was the last year in which Barry Rogers worked for Eddie Palmieri on a regular basis (this was after his participation in the Champagne album). Over the next decade and a half he would return to the Palmieri organization on a per project basis. Recorded fruits of these later collaborations include Sentido, The Sun of Latin Music, and Eddie Palmieri, some of the greatest Latin music ever committed to disc. Nevertheless, Barry needed a more dependable way of supporting his family. A temporary solution was joining the house band at Lloyd Price's Turntable in October 1968 (this club was known as Birdland in its previous incarnation.) It was also time for Barry to look for fresh musical challenges and play not only with New York's best Latin musicians, but with New York's best musicians, period.

That f@#kin' trombone!

Before moving on to Barry Roger's life after La Perfecta, it is important to examine his relationship with his chosen instrument. First, a few words on this instrument's relationship with the music itself (and only a few words, the history of the trombone in Latin music is a topic very much worthy of its own article.) The early 1960's represents a watershed for Latin trombone playing. Up till this period trombones had added color and fullness of sound to the Latin bands that were open to using them and able to pay them (this is, of course, a vastly oversimplified statement.) For René Hernandéz, Chico O'Farrill, and others who wrote "mambo music" in a layered fashion, having a trombone section added one more layer to interact with trumpets and saxophones. This supplementary role was to change; by the end of the decade in question the trombone was established as an integral part of salsa's front line. It's generally accepted that La Perfecta's popularity both with dancers and record collectors was the key factor in this change; it's axiomatic that Barry's trombone playing has much to do with this. Never before had there been a trombone player in Latin music who was equally featured - not even Beny Moré's "Tojo" Jiménez (who Barry was very much aware of.) No one had ever made comparable use of the upper part of the trombone's range, or played with anything resembling his tonal and emotional intensity. It may very well be true that the experience of hearing La Perfecta's recordings, as dynamic as they are, is only a pale shadow of what was experienced at their dances. This has been said by every dancer and musician with whom I've ever brought up this topic. However, La Perfecta's recordings suggest the incredible volume level of Eddie's trombone section, and Barry in particular. Simply put by Joe de Mare, "Big, fat sound, biggest sound I ever heard on a trombone!"
Trombonistically speaking, how did Barry create his sound? Answering this question requires us to consider his unorthodox schooling: Mark Weinstein, Louise Rogers, and Chris Rogers agree that Barry probably never took a trombone lesson in his life. Mark Weinstein expands further on this thought. "Barry was not a schooled musician, he had pretty good natural setting on the trombone. One of the real tests of whether you have a good, balanced embouchure is whether you can go from the low register to the high register. I had an enormous low register, listen to "Lázaro y Su Micrófono" where the trombone plays endlessly from low B flat to low C to low F - I originated that lick, I was the first guy who played it. But I had my jaw so spread that I couldn't move up from that register, I had to reset my embouchure. Not Barry, Barry could go down to the bottom. He didn't have a fat low register, as big as mine, but he could go easily from the bottom to the top. He had good placement but he played with enormous pressure. He also played the high register as a pressure player, never played above a high D, sometimes played mainly D flats. He also tended when he wrote the charts - and his charts were always the best charts, to be perfectly honest - to write high and then he would always play lead. José was not a good lead player, José was a powerhouse but he was really comfortable in the middle and lower register. Now Barry didn't use as big a mouthpiece as I did but he may have used too big a mouthpiece and he may have used too much top lip, I don't know. I mean when I think of Barry all I think of is a red piece of meat between his nose and his lower lip, I mean that he got from so much pressure."

This hyper-intense approach to the trombone was exacerbated by an almost complete absence of the kind of sound reinforcement taken for granted in today's salsa world. "The thing that nobody realizes about the '60's", continues Weinstein, "was that we didn't have microphones, if there was one mike the singer got it. Now Eddie always had an amp and the bass player always had an amp and Georgie would play on the microphone and the trombone players would sweat, sweat blood. Oh, yeah! Barry would sometimes catch the edge of the microphone by pointing his trombone towards the microphone. But because we were always playing during the montunos the singer was in the way. And the second trombone was more grueling in a way because you never got to relax your chops whereas Barry could vary what he was playing. But to Barry music was everything, and if in order to get something out he had to jam the mouthpiece in and grind his lip into his teeth he would do it. He also had cold sore problems, he was very susceptible to cold sores and like most brass players he'd get the cold sore right on the rim. I mean he and I for a while were both Blistex addicts - we would carry Blistex around, rub it on our lips. Now think of a place like the Palladium, big barn, you knew you were playing loud enough when you were bouncing off the back wall. Now that's tremendous volume!"

During a long and candid interview conducted with Mark Weinstein, a picture began to emerge in my mind of a more or less continuous struggle between Barry and his chosen instrument. I asked Mark if anyone had ever questioned whether the trombone was the most appropriate vehicle for Barry's natural gifts. His reply: "Barry and I never called it a trombone, we called it a fuckin' trombone. Man, that was it, I mean for Barry and I the trombone was a fucking cross that you bear! We hated the fucking thing because you couldn't do shit with it! The fuckin' trombone, man, to go from a B flat to a B natural you go from first to seventh position, you have to move three and a half feet. I mean that is stupid! And if you play it with the stupid trigger then you're carrying all that extra weight in your left hand. The trombone stinks!" This was confirmed by others, including Louise Rogers. "He always hated the trombone. He studied over the years with a great diagnostician named Carmine Caruso and he worked at it and he was dutiful and fairly faithful. But his heart wasn't really in being an instrumentalist, his heart was in having a voice that he could speak with and that he had in spades always and that was his reason for playing the trombone. He loved the sound of it, he loved the voice of it, he hated the problems of it."

Young New York Latino musicians of the 1960's were mesmerized by the fiery trombones heard on La Perfecta's records and in personal appearances. One was a teenaged Willie Colón, who became aware of Barry's solo through Joe Cotto's hit recording "Dolores." A fledgling trumpet player, Willie immediately memorized the solo and decided to switch instruments: "When I first heard a trombone solo by Barry I said, 'What the hell is that?' It sounded like an elephant, it was so big and angry and powerful and just brilliant. I started doubling on the trumpet and trombone and then finally I dropped the trumpet and I started a two trombone band. And that's when things really started happening because it was such a contrast from these big bands with all the saxophones. You know, the old-timers would get up and they'd have like four trumpets, five saxes, a flute player, you know, a legion of musicians on the stage. And then we'd come up and it was like one of these little rap groups, two trombones and a rhythm section. That became the standard of the salsa band now, if you listen to salsa radio now the rule is that it's a trombone band." Or, if not literally a trombone band, a trumpet-and-trombone frontline. One of the most common dispositions of these instruments is two trumpets and two trombones, a scoring initially popularized by Larry Harlow (not coincidentally, many of Harlow's charts for these instruments were written by Mark Weinstein, one of Barry Roger's earliest disciples.)

There were older trombonists who were turned off by what they perceived as the crassness of this new style. One of them was Jack Hitchcock, a veteran big band musician who was no stranger to Latin music. His credits included work both as a trombonist and vibraphonist with José Curbelo and writing for both Herbie Mann and the short-lived but exciting Patato/Mangual Band of 1960. The changing expectations in Latin trombone playing were not to his liking; by the 1970's he had left the Latin scene and was making his living playing club dates. When asked what was expected of trombone players in the Charlie Palmieri Orchestra of the mid '60's, his response was "Loud, louder and loudest." Hitchcock said: "You could almost blame Barry Rogers for what happened to trombones in Latin music. I got to love Barry a lot, man, we got very close but at the time I hated his guts. Because I was essentially a rather soft trombone player and I liked it that way. Now Eddie Palmieri was the hot band and Barry and José Rodrígues, they pumped that stuff out and it was so loud, I mean it was incredible. Then Willie Colón comes up after him and says, 'That must be the way you play!' So I mean all these guys are blatting away and I finally got to play louder out of self-defense. 'Cause whether I was with Orlando Marín or whoever I was with it was, 'Hey, man, can't you play louder?', 'cause they didn't feel they were getting' their money's worth. And poor Barry, he was sick half the time, I mean he was always coming down with colds. He looked like death warmed over and it wasn't because of drugs or anything like that, I think it just took so much out of him."

Like many Latino trombonists coming up in the 1970's, Angel "Papo" Vásquez received his first real incentive to master the instrument from listening to La Perfecta records. Papo's first meeting with one of his idols provided some advice that surprised him. "Barry told me, 'Listen, man, when you play with these electric bass players, people with electric instruments, you put your bell into the microphone.' He kind of messed up his chops when he was with Eddie Palmieri's band. They used to play real loud and he used to not use the microphone too much. And that's when they started using the baby bass, the electric Ampeg bass and electric pianos and I guess he out-blew his chops." It's a given among brass players that one's "chops" are slow to develop and easy to mess up. When considering Barry's early "chop problems," it is important to keep in mind that when La Perfecta was formed he had not been playing much more than ten years. Viewed in the context of a brass player's entire career, that's hardly any time at all. Joe Orange has a story from this period. "A couple of times I talked Barry into coming over to my house so we could play classical duets together. Barry couldn't play! I mean he could (makes loud noise) but he was doing that so much that when he had to play with a lot of control and softness and get into the high register he couldn't do it! Now the problem wasn't reading, he could read. It was his approach to the horn, he could just play what he could play at that time." As surprising as it may be to hear a story like this about one of salsa's canonized heroes, it makes sense when one considers the length of time Barry had been playing and the kind of work he was doing. I hasten to add that Joe Orange is totally in awe of the greatness of Barry's ears and the brilliance of his conceptions; he's on record as saying that Barry Rogers was the most musical trombone player he's ever heard.

Rather than studying with trombone players, it was Barry's choice to seek help from non-trombone-playing instrumental diagnosticians. One of New York's most celebrated "chop doctors" was a saxophone player named Carmine Caruso, who was known for extraordinary insight into how to make a brass player's lip, air, and psyche work productively together. Barry's son Chris is a highly gifted trumpet player and composer/arranger, a featured soloist for five years with Gerry Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band. He has also worked with many of the top Latin groups of the '80's and '90's. He was always aware of his father's search for self-improvement. "He definitely practiced every day, I have vivid memories of him practicing. In fact if I listen to my childhood cassettes of myself playing with my friends you can often hear my dad practicing in the background. Later on he was more comfortable with being able to take a few days off and be able to come back strong. But he had a very specific routine when he started practicing, you know, stuff for the brass embouchure. Carmine Caruso type slurring, harmonic exercises, he would always do that to keep his range up."

It was only after abandoning full-time work in the Latin scene that Barry became successful in resolving his struggles with his chosen instrument; the need to play "loud, louder and loudest" became a thing of the past. Working regularly during the 1970's as a recording artist both facilitated and necessitated a less strident approach to playing. Generally speaking, musicians who spend most of their professional lives playing for microphones play softer and with less tonal edge than musicians who perform in large concert halls or who do most of their work with dance bands. The "fuzz and buzz" that makes the sound of an instrument project well in a large space is worse than unnecessary in a recording situation. Microphones are very unforgiving of bright, edgy tonal qualities, which tend to record poorly. This approach became more and more internalized by Barry throughout the '70's. Still, it was impossible to mistake his playing for anyone else's. A thorough student of his father's playing, Chris Rogers offers the following comments. "There was a definite evolution to his approach with the trombone. He probably would refer to his style in the beginning as 'elephant trombone' because he was just pounding the horn on his face, playing really loud. I don't know how he could do it, and definitely in the long run that's not the productive way to play. If you're really overblowing, you're playing your loudest the whole time and you're probably cutting your dynamic range. I think that's probably how it was on the gigs, but I know that changed. Listen to Eddie Palmieri's 'White Album,' I mean Barry's tone on that is amazing and is so centered because he had somehow gotten to a point eventually where he decided OK, he's not going to overblow, if there's a mike he's going use it and he's not going to kill himself. On the liner notes for Eddie and Cal Tjader's album [Cal Tjader & Eddie Palmieri: El Sonido Nuevo ] they describe one of my father's solos as swashbuckling. I think my dad never lost that quality, he just refined it. That's the way he played, graceful but amazingly strong presence regardless of whether he was overblowing or playing softly. Amazing dynamics in his playing, which I would love to hear in other players, that I very rarely hear. So I still think of 'elephant trombone' as just a way of describing really loud, distorted, metal-in-your-face playing."

By 1974, the year of some of his greatest collaboration with Eddie Palmieri, Barry's rethinking of his instrument was already paying off. His astounding work on "Cobarde" shows him playing passages up to a high F, something he would have never dreamed of doing during the 1960's. On "Páginas de Mujer" from the 1981 release Eddie Palmieri (aka "The White Album"), Barry tosses off beautifully centered high C's and D's, using all of the crafty pitch choices and emotional directness of the halcyon days of La Perfecta. Part of this newly found oneness of his chops, his ears, and his soul are attributable to a period of study in 1979 and 1980 with one of the greatest brass playing "troubleshooters" ever. This was Vince Penzarella, who has held jobs with the Baltimore Symphony and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and is currently playing second trumpet with the New York Philharmonic. Another outstanding Penzarella student is Chris Rogers, whose time in this brass guru's studio coincided with his father's. The 1980's became a period of progressive refinement by Barry Rogers of fundamentals grasped in the late '70's.


"Over the last three decades, no musical innovation in jazz has been more important - and more controversial - than the wedding of jazz improvisation with rock music. The last coherent radical movement to emerge in jazz, it has continued to evolve in a way that most other areas of jazz have not" (Stuart Nicholson, Jazz Rock: A History).

"There was really no term for what we were doing back then, nobody called it fusion. We were just searching for new ways to break down barriers. It was a very fertile period. People were experimenting, trying different things. It was an exciting time to be in New York" (Michael Brecker, quoted by Bill Milkowski in liner notes for CD reissue of Dreams).

Jazz musicians have always played other vernacular musics, if for no other reason than to help pay the rent. Whether or not one wants to waste time arguing whether Barry Rogers was or was not a jazz musician, he embodies the jazz sensibility and was brought up musically with jazz values. Having said this, it's equally true that he was no hidebound purist. Known among his friends as a musical omnivore, his pantheon of musical heroes includes the masters of American black music of all genres, as previously noted. Backing New Orleans blues stylist Lloyd Price in late 1968 and early 1969 proved in many ways to be an enjoyable musical experience. However, playing the same music night after night in a show band was not how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. An alternative way of combining his love of jazz, funk, and R & B came in 1970 when he met a young tenor sax phenom named Mike Brecker; the setting was a band called Birdsong, an R & B group with jazz leanings led by a singer and songwriter named Edwin Birdsong. The chemistry between Mike and Barry was instantaneous. One feeling that Barry shared with Mike Brecker was enthusiasm for some original material written by two rock musicians named Doug Lubahn and Jeff Kent. Eventually Mike was able to sweet talk his trumpet playing older brother Randy into coming to a rehearsal with Lubahn and Kent; somehow drummer Billy Cobham was coaxed into showing up. This was the beginning of Dreams, a band that Louise Rogers considers to be the most significant part of Barry's life and legacy. She claims that: "Dreams was in ways much more incredible than the Palmieri band, because every person in that band was absolutely a pinnacle talent. The energy in that band, it was exactly the same, it was Barry, and Mike will tell you so. I think he describes him as the balls of the band. And the records are nothing compared to what it was, it was unbelievable! If you can ever get some of the last live tapes of the band you'll hear that it was a whole groundwork for funk and fusion, it's all in there." The arrangements for the front line of trumpet, tenor sax, and trombone (shades of Hugo Dickens!) were done collaboratively. Randy Brecker says: "There might have been little snippets that were arranged by more than one guy and, I think, looking back on it, Barry probably had a bigger hand than Mike and I. Maybe not in the original idea of the part, but he was ahead of anybody in the band, I think, harmonically and as far as his experience. So he would sometimes say you play this note, I'll play that note or whatever, he was rhythmically more astute than I think we were. If anything he was kind of the straw boss of the whole group. Other times we'd just come up with voicings, he was great at finding inner parts and finding these weird notes that would fit. We all were pretty good at it but I think he was ahead of all of us." Mike Brecker agrees: "He would always think of great horn riffs and we used to do them live. He'd think up things on stage, he was a good arranger and sort of arranged on the fly. And some of the things that we would come up with live just became the arrangements that we recorded."

Chris Rogers quotes Mike Brecker as having said that Barry Rogers was the Coltrane of the trombone. Considering Mike's mastery of the style of Coltrane, among others, that's a pretty extraordinary statement. When questioned about this attribution, Mike replied: "I might have said that, and I meant it in a way that he had that kind of intensity and conviction. He had a tremendous conviction when he was playing and he could just make a rhythm section levitate, he would just carry you right along. Barry used to say that the only way he could do that was if the rhythm section inspired him. There were times when he couldn't play, if he felt nothing was happening in the rhythm section he didn't bother playing. But if he got excited all hell broke loose." The regularly observed phenomenon of hell breaking loose at Dreams concerts was pretty much guaranteed by the presence of Billy Cobham. Both the musical and visual impact was overwhelming. According to Mike Brecker: "The music was built around Billy, who was playing in a very unique way at the time. He had, and still has, an enormous amount of technique and played the drums in a way that I had never heard anybody play. He was a burning R & B drummer and great jazz drummer, he could do both, and that was unusual. And so we took the tunes written by Doug and Jeff, they wrote really nice songs and they sang them and then kind of arranged them around Billy."

By late 1971 Billy Cobham had defected to join the newly formed Mahavishnu Orchestra. Dreams became legendary for holding drum auditions for months; between sixty and seventy drummers were heard (Alan Schwartzberg, Rick Marotta, Steve Gadd and Bruce Ditmas are among the handful that actually worked briefly with the band.) By this time keyboardist Don Grolnick and bassist Will Lee were part of the Dreams family. In spite of the level of talent assembled, Dreams was history by 1972. The inability of any of the drummers, as excellent as some of them were, to fully be able to replace Billy Cobham is cited by members as a major part of this decision. For reasons having mostly to do with the vagaries of the promotion and business side of music, Dreams was never able to translate the power of its music into even a vague equivalent in terms of commercial acceptance. Their concerts consisted of working rock venues and colleges, usually opening for established acts such as Three Dog Night, Tina Turner and the J. Geils Band. Their recorded legacy consists of two albums, both issued by Columbia. Much of their legacy is more indirect; the emotional force and sophistication of their work is still talked about by musicians lucky enough to have heard them. As stated by Down Beat staff writer Bill Milkowski, "Rather than being a band of jazzers checking out the visceral power of rock, or a band of rockers making feeble attempts at improvising, Dreams was a balanced act; rock and jazz musicians bringing their influences to bear, creating together, melding their disparate sensibilities into a wholly unique hybrid." For Barry, the stridency of the La Perfecta days was replaced by an ever growing mastery of the horn without sacrificing intensity and conviction (in fact, it is the considered opinion of Chris Rogers that his father's mature playing begins in this period.) Jazz trombonist Gary Valente remembers hearing Dreams as a teenager; as overwhelming as the whole experience was, his strongest memory is of Barry's playing: "He had innovated a new style, what can I say, no one had played with that sound and vibrato. And most of the thing was the sound over the band, it was over the whole shit, it was very present. So when he took a solo it was really strong and up over everything, man, and that was a big influence." Considering the wide circulation of Dreams' alumnae throughout the emerging world of jazz/rock and their key presence in the cream of the fusion world, is it possible to say that Dreams is to the music of the '70's and '80's what La Perfecta was to the nascent salsa of the '60's? If so, Barry Rogers can be considered by extension one of the fathers of fusion and jazz/rock.

Playing with Dreams exposed Barry to a world he had never been part of; the elite who live their professional lives in the studios of New York recording musical backing for jingles, film, and pop albums. His ears, stylistic versatility and reading ability more than qualified him for this kind of work; his closeness to active studio players such as Don Grolnick and the Breckers provided the all-important links to contractors and producers. Artists with whom he recorded in this period include James Taylor, Carly Simon, Aerosmith, Average White Band, Chic, Todd Rundgren, and Tina Turner. By the mid 70's, Barry was highly in demand in New York's recording scene. Only the very longest established trombonists in the music business would have been routinely called ahead of him. The music world abounds with cliches about musicians who succeed as recording artists due to affable and completely inoffensive personalities, utter reliability, and a complete lack of any personal quality in their playing. Randy Brecker compared Barry's way of playing with that of some hypothetical faceless studio player: "He could do it, he could play in a section but his real forte was really playing out. That's what we used to like about him, he would really put a lot of air through the horn. That was his whole sound as opposed to somebody like Bill Watrous or Urbie Green, who were probably first call back then. Guys like that play a lot softer and play with a lot of agility and finesse, probably more finesse than Barry. Barry, he had a lot of technique but it was more just on-the-spot excitement and playing the hippest notes that you could hear, he just had great ears. I mean there were a lot of guys probably that could play faster or higher or whatever, but Barry would play the hippest stuff."


Barry Rogers was endowed with a highly acute pitch sense and a rhythmic feel that was both gutsy and precise. In addition, he had the ability to keep track of detail without losing awareness of the big picture (put in other words, the capacity for functioning simultaneously as telescope and microscope.) Combined with a knack for the technical and mechanical, whether regarding boats, cars, electronic equipment, or cameras, a picture emerges of someone ideally qualified to direct recording sessions and deal with post production. This, in fact, was true of Barry Rogers. His sense of how to deal with musical and technical problems that constantly arise in a studio setting improved countless recording projects. Many of his accomplishments in this area have never been credited, financially or otherwise. In a 1974 interview with John Storm Roberts, he presented the dilemma in which he often found himself: "Now where do you draw the line between arranging and producing? You can't. And of course you never get paid for it, for that reason. But I did a hell of a lot of work on some albums that no one knows about, including tape editing, producing, which included doing overdubs for other musicians. I mean they'd leave me alone for hours, and I ran the sessions, which I enjoyed doing. I gave it, and that's the way I am. I give more than I ever get paid for." Although listed as the arranger of "Un Dia Bonito" (The Sun of Latin Music), he is not credited for the layering and molding of sound so brilliantly realized in this number. In his 1977 WBAI interview he recalled the sessions: "I produced everything except the original rhythm track, without horns and without the arrangement. After the rhythm track was laid down by Eddie and the gang, without horns and without singing, I had to go in there and cut it all up with a razor blade with an engineer at the Electric Lady studios and we pieced the entire thing together and overdid all the horns and the singing later." In a 1998 interview for Descarga's website, Eddie summarizes Barry's role: " 'Un Dia Bonito' is the maximum of our collaboration ever. I never played piano like that again and I couldn't do that again if I tried. Because it was the magic between he and I, he drew it out and I drew everything out of him too." Artists on whose albums Barry receives non-playing credit, whether for mixing, engineering, or producing, include Rafael Cortijo, David Lahm, Jens Wendleboe, and the Star-Scape Singers.

One of Barry's closest friends was audio engineer Bernard Fox. Their relationship involved a very productive exchange, with Barry picking up considerable insight into recording technique and Bernard becoming acquainted with key concepts of musical form and style. Interestingly enough, to this day Fox thinks of Barry Rogers as a producer and not as a trombone player, even though he played trombone to make a living. He views a great producer the way many symphony musicians view a great conductor: as a teacher. Hearing his take on what made Barry's producing special recalls the telescope/microscope hybrid mentioned earlier: "What's interesting is that it's because music is so emotional we have a tendency to think that we can't analyze it and those that analyze it are unemotional about it. But Barry had that together - I mean there's a reason why this works and there's a reason why this doesn't work and it ain't that sudden magical gel. That sudden magical gel could be made to happen, and Barry used to do that on a continuous basis and I'd see it. I'd see him do it with vocalists who couldn't sing, who couldn't sing this song. They would suddenly figure it out, he'd explain it to them and get them to sing it on a line-by-line basis and they'd get it. He'd do it with players and he'd do it with musical structure." Fox comments on Barry's attention to detail: "Here's a little notebook, it's got 150 pages of little things. This page doesn't have much on it, OK, because I write big and quick and sloppy. Imagine very, very, very small writing, much smaller and finer than this. Barry would generate books like this on every single record he was working on, notes upon notes upon notes of what he was thinking and how he was approaching it and when he had a thought. And he'd come in with this little book and you would have to overdub four pages in that book in a day, all totally prepared. I mean normally I go in the studio with a producer and we listen together and I mark off which lines go together to assemble and I assemble them. Barry'd come in with all that done. If you wanted to know about musicians you called up him. If you wanted their phone number you called up Larry Harlow, if you wanted to know what style they played perfectly you called up Barry."

One of Barry's most justly celebrated productions is Orquesta Broadway's Pasaporte. Of all the albums made by this charanga, this is arguably the one with the best production values and the highest technical quality. Bernard served as the audio engineer of Pasaporte; the following anecdote reveals how the song "Barrio del Pilar" was recorded: "I've never been to Puerto Rico, Barry explains to me the kind of feeling we're trying to capture. OK, we take a piece of multi track tape and cut it into a loop and mix it down so now we have a loop with a rhythm pattern, in time with the album. We take this rhythm pattern and we copy it onto an entire reel of two inch tape, so now we have 32 minutes of the same rhythm pattern playing over and over and over again. We take this and we cut it into the song in time. So instead of having a four minute song we now have a 34 minute song. We put two microphones on the roof of the building to mike the street on Eighth Avenue and 54th Street and we book a session for 4:30 Friday afternoon with a whole bunch of Barry's friends. There's 25 people in the studio, there's conga drums all over the room. There's people playing percussion, I think we even had food and drink there. Everybody's having a real good time, everybody's a little drunk and now we play back this 34 minute "Barrio del Pilar" and invite everybody to play along feeding the street noise, which is now 5:30 Friday afternoon into the studio. And wouldn't you know it, you can hear some gunshots, there's car horns going 'Beep beep, beep beep' and it might have been Frankie Malabé going 'Bop bop, bop bop' on the conga and you've got this interaction between the street noise and the actual rhythm of the song. About five minutes later we hear sirens coming onto the street and now we have 34 minutes of actual street noise with people playing against it like it would be in real life. We cut this 34 minutes down to 6:32 and that's how that song got made. Now that's radical thinking for a producer!" This is hardly the first time this type of layered approach has been used successfully; albums made by Ramsey Lewis and Marva Whitney immediately come to mind. In the Latin field, this level of studio creativity was certainly novel, as was the overall patina of sonic refinement. As Bernard Fox remembers, the time required to achieve these results was also exceptional for a mid 70's Latin record: "Most producers try to get it done, deliver for the budget that they gave you. Barry for better or worse didn't care about the budget, he always did what he ultimately felt needed to be done. Most Latin albums took 40 or 60 hours at that time and here we're into 150 hours and Harvey Averne's screaming, OK? And then once Pasaporte came out nobody was going to stop. I mean charanga wasn't happening, salsa was happening in '75. It was Barry and this album that turned charanga into the big thing it became again and consequently at that point all the numbers were blown out the window. There was no more, 'Let's do an album in 60 hours' any more, it was, 'What does it take to make a great album?' 'Cause that album as I remember was on the charts for seven months, I mean it had one song or another song on the charts for such a long time that it didn't matter."

By the late 1980's, Linda Ronstadt had acknowledged her Mexican roots, as evidenced by her highly successfull album Canciones de Mi Padre. When she became interested in doing a bilingual album drawing on Hispanic Caribbean musical traditions, Barry Rogers was suggested as the sine qua non of any such project. After spending time with Linda orienting her to the music, Barry introduced her to his wife, a talented songwriter and lyricist. The plan was that Barry would produce an album of bilingual, thematically conceived songs created by Louise Rogers. A demo recording was made with the cream of New York's salsa and jazz musicians, with a studio singer laying down the part intended for Linda Ronstadt and with Bernard Fox as engineer. All of the work was done on spec; this should give readers some idea of the extent to which Barry was loved, respected, and trusted by his colleagues. For reasons that have never been clearly explained, the project was abandoned by Ronstadt and her representatives. None of the musicians were paid. All that remains of this project is a demo reported by the few who have heard it to be of unimaginably high quality. For Barry Rogers, this was a disappointment unequal to any in his life. The loss was not only a career opportunity dazzlingly close, but a chance for overdue recognition snatched away. This combination of nonpareil talent and name recognition could have brought a whole new audience to Latin music; the word "crossover" could have been given a totally new meaning. Or is this word really the most appropriate one? With a musical vision as broad as that of Barry Rogers, the parts are related in such an organic whole that there's no need to "cross over."

World musician, musician for the world

The term "world music" is very much a product of the last quarter of the twentieth century, and very much spawned by the Age of Marketing. Searching for new sounds from foreign cultures can be a stimulus to intellectual growth and a source of great pleasure. This process can also turn into a jejune quest for musical novelty of highly limited shelf life. From such a perspective, the view provided of other cultures can be a highly patronizing one. In the words of ethnomusicologist Henry Sapoznik, sampling ethnic music often amounts to a kind of slumming in the global village.

What's so refreshing about Barry Rogers' musical odyssey is his total freedom from these limitations, and from the dilettantism that can easily become a kind of baggage for the musically curious. A close friend of Barry's from the Hugo Dickens days, Bobby Porcelli can attest to this: "He had more knowledge than everybody about everything, every kind of music. He was so curious he got into Arabian music, this and so many things. He learned how to play the tres, the tambora, before I would ever see any Caucasian horn players do it. He'd always be the first one I'd ever see do these kind of things. He had a knack for it too, not just being curious and playing terribly but being curious and really being able to do it. In all these areas when you talk to people about Barry they'll always say, 'He turned me on to this,' 'he's the first person who mentioned this name to me,' that comes up constantly with me and with everybody else who knew him and I don't care what year it was." For Barry Rogers, listening to music with friends was tantamount to Holy Communion. Mark Weinstein maintains that those who truly understood the depth of Barry's love of music were those with whom he shared these experiences: "To be invited to Barry's house to listen to records was the guarantee of an experience that would transform your thinking about music. Barry could sit down for hours on end and play records, classical records. I remember he introduced me to this record called Greek Island and Mountain Music, I've just never heard anything like it. The music that I stole for Cuban Roots, it was on a record of a pre-Castro folkloric group that had all of the classic guaguancós and all the classic comparsas - Barry introduced me to that album. Barry introduced me to West African music, Barry introduced me to Peter Pears singing with Dennis Brain, who was this amazing French horn player. I mean you would go to Barry's house and you knew that every single record you would hear would be amazing beyond belief and that the sequence of records that you would hear would be transcendental. To listen to Barry's records with Barry was to learn more about music than you could ever want to learn from another human being."

Barry's musical multi-lingualism can be viewed as a set of variations on lifelong themes. His early listening experiences and ease of learning has already been noted. This facility also translated into a gift for learning languages. One of the world's hoariest bits of wisdom is the observation that "the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient" and numerous variants thereof. Barry turned this cliche upside down: anyone who teaches himself so many skills so brilliantly stands an excellent chance of developing into a fine teacher. Robert Farris Thompson recalls an important lesson at a jam session that included some guaguancó: "Barry laughed and said, 'You realize that that's a hocket, those are two drums.' A hocket is when the note leaps from one player to the other and then comes back again. Hocketing is about the most pure, most ancient African procedure that there is, when you divide the melody among the people. Of course Ellington did it and Machito - who was the baritone player, Leslie Johnakins, he opened up that whole current of incandescent Africanness in the hocketing patterns that are in things like 'Feeding the Chickens.' It's this terraced quality, each guy is on a different note, a different level, and that's Africanismo. Now I'm not a hundred per cent sure that he called it a hocket but he definitely drew my attention to what it was. That was another great lesson." Hocketing is a technique that goes back to the Middle Ages; its presence in the courts of thirteenth century France, in the villages of Central Africa, and in the solares of Havana provides one far-reaching example of musical unity that transcends time and place. Barry Rogers grasped that unity like very few.

Barry's uncanny ability to absorb the most arcane techniques of music making was demonstrated during a visit to Robert Farris Thompson's home near Yale University, where he's taught for some forty years: "Barry discovered that I had some batá drums and to my amazement he picked them up and he knew how to play them. Ernie Ensley was with us, he showed Ernie how to do the (sings "Kun KUN KUN KUN") and he showed me how to do (sings "KON ke KON ke KON KON ke KON ke KON KON"). And then once he had the two he came in on iya and we fused and we grooved and it was very spectral because batá of course are loaded with aché. So they started playing themselves, the notes started going in and out and it was really incredible! I've never played batá before or since, I don't know why he never explored this in his recording. But knowing Barry I think he did it as a rhythmic exercise, he had it stored in his mind and he started improvising. It's like Piazzolla and his new tango, of course he had an awful lot of modern jazz and an awful lot of Western harmony but at the same time he pushed tango back to the root before the tango, the candombe. The real geniuses do that, the real geniuses borrow from Europe as deeply as they can but you forget that as deeply as they drink from Europe they're exploring something else in Africa." Louise Rogers views this type of creativity from a slightly different perspective: "Barry had an ability to go to the heart of a given musical vernacular. At the same time he never lost himself, he was always himself in doing it. Which is why he was not someone who emulates beautiful things from the past, he was really a creator in the stream of the past."


On Wednesday, April 18, 1991, Barry Rogers went to sleep in his Washington Heights apartment. He never woke up. There was no history of any illness that could have provided any context or explanation. The shock to Barry's friends, family, and colleagues was compounded by the veil of mystery clouding the end of his life. According to his cousin Heidi Rogers, the autopsy was inconclusive.

The life and work of Barry Rogers is fraught with irony. Not a Latino, he changed the face of Hispanic Caribbean music. Not a scion of the African Diaspora, he felt, mastered, performed and taught Afro-Atlantic music as if it were part of his genetic makeup. Known best as a trombonist, he spent much of his life fighting "that fuckin' trombone." Although he eventually won, it was an invisible battle to all but the keenest observers and his closest friends. A man who worshipped John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins and who began and ended his life playing jazz, he is best known as a salsero. The de facto leader of almost every band fortunate enough to count him as a member, he never officially led a band or had a hit record. His role (however vaguely formulated or insufficiently understood) in shaping the sounds of 60's salsa and 70's fusion masks another achievement, possibly even greater: Barry Rogers can be considered to be one of the first world musicians. The clouding of this achievement is probably the greatest irony of all.

Photography Acknowledgements
We would like to thank the following people for the use of photographs that appear with this article:
Arthur Jenkins
Joe Rivera
Chris Rogers
Roy Ramirez

Writer's afterword and barely disguised plug

The life and work of Barry Rogers is something that I've been studying on and off since 1996. Studying this topic has made it easy for me to approach musicians, dancers, and music industry operatives, regardless of my "insider" or "outsider" status. Discussing Barry's human and musical qualities seems to encourage openness and articulate response from interview subjects. Considering the giving way in which people have opened their hearts and minds when the subject of Barry Rogers has come up, it's a mitzvah to make this information available to the world at large.

Those who are diligent in seeking knowledge of Barry's life and work will find a great deal missing in the above article. There's not a lot of discussion of the role jazz played in his life, and the additional ironies caused by his love of this music. There's not very much about Barry's relationship with automobiles. In this respect I have failed our mutual friend Lenny Seed, who early in my research enjoined me to collect every possible story about Barry Rogers and Volkswagens. I have totally neglected to mention the family yacht Harpoon, or his skills as a photographer and filmmaker. Barry comes from a family filled with steam locomotive fanatics; his wife is probably reading this piece and pondering this omission. Of all the hundreds of recordings in which Barry participated, only the Latin-oriented ones are listed at the end of this article.

Descarga readers, if you were me, what would you do? Indeed, what would any obsessive record collector and researcher do after coming up with a mere 12,000 words on a topic of such self-proclaimed importance? The only possible recourse in such a quandary is to write and publish a book. This, in a word, is my intention. The book in question should be out by October 1999; it will be available through Descarga and hopefully through other retailers. My financial goals exist on three levels. The first is the obvious one, paying for the production costs. The second is to award myself a pre-determined sum of money in partial compensation for research time and expenses. Any money earned beyond this level (knock on wood) will be donated to the Point CDC, located at 940 Garrison Avenue in the Hunt's Point area of the Bronx. This community is one that has always supported the music that Barry Rogers helped to develop. I'm sure that some of his most fulfilling moments were spent playing with La Perfecta at the Hunt's Point Palace and the Tritons, both of which are on the other side of Southern Boulevard from the Point. Since the mid-1990's this marvelous center has been of inestimable value to the Bronx; wherever Barry is, I'm sure he'd agree.

For those interested in finding out more about Barry Rogers and his ambiente musical, there are several worthwhile sources. As an afterward to my 1998 Descarga interview with Eddie Palmieri, I recommended Robert Farris Thompson's "New Voice From The Barrios," published in the 10/28/67 edition of Saturday Review. Also cited was John Storm Roberts' "Salsa's Prodigal Son," an interview with Palmieri that appeared in the 4/22/76 edition of Down Beat. Although considerable time has passed since their printing, both pieces hold up extremely well, due to the cogent thinking and imaginative writing of both authors. Another piece of great value is Christopher Washburne's "Play It Con Filin!: The Swing and Expression of Salsa," which appeared in the fall/winter 1998 issue of Latin American Music Review, Volume 19, Number 2 (University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819.) Washburne's background as a trombonist and ethnomusicologist, combined with a wonderfully clear and incisive writing style, makes him uniquely qualified to discuss Barry Rogers. This article contains accurate and well annotated transcriptions of various salsa improvisations, including the solo from "Páginas de Mujer" referred to at the beginning of this piece. Qué viva el verdadero rey del trombón criollo!

A Select Listing of Latin music recordings including Barry Rogers

Alegre All Stars The Alegre All Stars
Alegre All Stars Vol. 3 - Lost and Found
Alegre All Stars Vol. 4 - Way Out
Alegre All Stars Te Invita
Azuquita La Foule
Cachao Dos
Cesta All Stars Cesta All Stars, Vol. 1
Bataan, Joe Laso
Bataan, Joe Singin' Some Soul
Byrne, David Rei Momo
Colón, Willie El Baquine de Angelitos Negros
Cortijo y su Combo Caballo de Hierro (mixing)
Cotto, Joe Dolores
Cruz, Celia (w. Tito Puente) Cuba y Puerto Rico Son...
Cruz, Celia The Winners
Dimond, Markolino/Frankie Dante Beethoven's V
Entre Amigos Entre Amigos
Fania All Stars Live
Fania All Stars Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 2
Fania All Stars Live at Yankee Stadium, Vol. 2
Fania All Stars Salsa
Fania All Stars Tribute to Tito Rodrguez
Feliciano, Cheo Felicidades
Feliciano, Cheo The Singer
Harlow, Larry Our Latin Feeling/Nuestro Sentimiento Latino
Libre Con Salsa y con Ritmo, Vol. 1
Libre Tiene Calidad
Lupe, La Un Encuentro con La Lupe - with Curet Alonso
Machito Fireworks
Mann, Herbie Brazil: Once Again
Mann, Herbie Sunbelt
Miranda, Ismael No Voy al Festival
Orquesta Broadway Pasaporte
Orquesta Novel Salsamania
Ortiz, Luis "Perico" El Isleño
Ortiz, Luis "Perico" Sabor Tropical
Ortiz, Luis "Perico" El Astro
Pacheco, Johnny Johnny Pacheco con Pete (Conde) Rodrguez/La Perfecta Combinación
Pacheco, Johnny Pacheco - His Flute and Latin Jam
Palmieri, Charlie Mambo Show
Palmieri, Eddie La Perfecta
Palmieri, Eddie El Molestoso
Palmieri, Eddie Lo Que Traigo Es Sabroso
Palmieri, Eddie Echando Pa'lante
Palmieri, Eddie Azucar Pa' Ti
Palmieri, Eddie Mozambique
Palmieri, Eddie Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri/El Sonido Nuevo
Palmieri, Eddie Molasses
Palmieri, Eddie Bamboleate
Palmieri, Eddie Champagne
Palmieri, Eddie The Sun of Latin Music
Palmieri, Eddie Unfinished Masterpiece
Palmieri, Eddie Eddie Palmieri
Playa Sextette, La Si, Si, La Playa
Playa Sextette, La The La Playa Sextet in Puerto Rico
Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers Legends of Acid Jazz - the Best of Pucho and the Soul Brothers
Puente, Tito Cuba y Puerto Rico Son...
Puente, Tito Vaya Puente
Quintana, Ismael Ismael Quintana
Quintana, Ismael & Papo Lucca Amor, Vida y Sentimiento
Rivera, Ismael Feliz Navidad
Rivera, Mon Mon y Sus Trombones
(originally Que Gente Averigua)
Rivera, Mon Kijis-Konar
Sabater, Jimmy Solo
Santamaria, Mongo Ubane
Tico All Stars Descargas at the Village Gate, Live, Vol. 1
Tico All Stars Descargas at the Village Gate, Live, Vol. 2
Tico All Stars Descargas at the Village Gate, Live, Vol. 3
TIco-Alegre All Stars Live at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 1
Tjader, Cal El Sonido Nuevo
Torres, Roberto El Castigador
Valentin, Bobby Afuera

This is by no means a complete listing of Latin-oriented records that include Barry, let alone any real indication of the breadth of his discography. David M. Carp's upcoming book will provide a more inclusive picture of Barry's recording career, giving readers an idea of his work in jazz, rock, disco, etc. David would be more than happy to have his coat pulled to recordings that he's missed. He can be reached electronically at

Interviews used as source material for this article
(all conducted by David M. Carp unless otherwise indicated.)

Lolly Bienenfeld 3/13/99
Steve Berríos Jr. 6/13/97
Benny Bonilla 8/12/96
Randy Brecker 10/13/98
Mike Brecker 12/26/98
Willie Colón 9/7/92
Eddie Daniels 3/13/99
Joe de Mare 5/4/99
Alfred Du Mire 5/15/97
Joan Fagin 2/15/97
Bernard Fox 3/20/97
John Gordon 4/11/99
Rodgers Grant 6/9/96
Oscar Hernández 4/5/99
Jack Hitchcock 7/10/97
Arthur Jenkins 5/10/96
Luis Máquina 10/22/93
Kenny Mills 4/14/97
Phil Newsum 10/10/98;10/17/98
Joe Orange 2/6/99
Johnny Pacheco 4/2/97
Eddie Palmieri 8/13/98
Bob Porcelli 6/30/96
Joe Rivera 1/30/99
Barry Rogers 1974 (interview with John Storm Rogers)
Barry Rogers 1/30/77 (WBAI-FM, interview with Pablo "Yoruba" Guzmán)
Chris Rogers 11/10/96
Heidi Rogers 4/22/99
Louise Rogers 4/17/97
Ray Santos 8/3/92
Lenny Seed 7/7/96
Peter Sims 5/15/96
Marty Sheller 5/26/96; 12/23/96
Robert Farris 1/18/99
Papo Vásquez 8/3/93
Mark Weinstein 11/24/96

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