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A discographic profile of the salsa bandleader, pianist, percussionist, composer-arranger Wayne Gorbea.

Profile: Wayne Gorbea by John Child (


(b 22 Oct. '50, Manhattan, NYC, of Puerto Rican parentage) Salsa bandleader, pianist, percussionist, producer, arranger, composer, label boss. Started studying violin and orchestration at high school '65; soon switched to trumpet; played conga in street rumbones (rumba percussion and vocal jam sessions); did amateur gigs. Became disillusioned with school; joined US Army '69-71; taught himself piano by copying Charlie and Eddie Palmieri and Richie Ray; learnt to read music while serving in Korea; after discharge married Korean girlfriend Myong '71. Returned to NYC, there organised short lived Orquesta Cuda; changed to conga and founded band La Nueva Comparsa; switched back to piano and formed Conjunto Salsa '73 (with lineup of two trombones, trumpet and Latin rhythm section), making album debut with Salsa Boricua on SMC. "The album was recorded on a hot summer day in June 1974 in Gabriel Oller's studio in Queens, off Woodhaven Boulevard," recalls Wayne. "It was about 90 degrees outside and at least 10 degrees hotter in the studio with only fans to cool us off. The band had just finished playing four gigs and hadn't had any sleep. We started at 9:00 a.m., but were gung ho and eager to record!"

Besides producing and co-arranging, he wrote most of La Salsa del Conjunto Salsa con Wayne Gorbea '78 on Disco International incl. the dark, brooding "Los Rumberos"; the lineup comprised two trombones, one trumpet and rhythm. Follow-up on that label La Salsa y Charanga c '79 introduced a charanga flavour by adding flute and violin to two trombones, trumpet and rhythm. Issued 12 inch single "Ariñañara" (composed by Chano Pozo)/ "The Night Is Still Young" '80, his first release on his own Wayne Go label. Dedicated Sigan Bailando '86 on Wayne Go to Myong; future Libre member and Los Soneros del Barrio co-leader Frankie Vázquez provided lead vocals and played güiro. Album incl. a remake of Justi Barreto's composition "Lo Que Dice Justi" (previously recorded on Salsa Boricua ), arr. by Wayne's longtime collaborator: arranger, composer, percussionist and coro singer Ramón "Ray" Rosado (b 26 Nov. '51, NYC, of Puerto Rican Parentage). "I was travelling once with Grupo Niche from Colombia," recalls Frankie. "When their vocalist Charlie Cardona found out I was the singer on Sigan Bailando , he sang the whole of 'Lo Que Dice Justi.' all the soneos and everything. My hairs were sticking out, because I couldn't believe that this kid knew all the song. The timbalero came up to me and tells me: 'You know that it is like an icon in Colombia. All the bands that start. 'Lo Que Dice Justi' is a song that they all study. It's like what you have in New York: 'Bilongo.' For us it's 'Lo Que Dice Justi' in Colombia. All those young trombone bands, they're doing that tune. You can't find a band that doesn't do that tune." (excerpt from Frankly Frankie, The Reluctant Sonero Del Barrio by John Child and David Barton, Descarga website, 26 Dec. '99)

Conjunto Salsa's mus. dir. and bassist Harry Justiniano departed '87 (also taking along his brother, conguero Angel Justiniano, and Vásquez) to become mus. dir. of the Bronx-based charanga Charanson led by pianist/ prod./ composer Héctor Serrano. For the next couple of years mus. dir. duties were shared by trombonist/ arrangers Dave Chamberlain and Rick Davies (b 9 Mar. '51, Albuquerque, New Mexico; a Gorbea sideman since '85; became full-fledged mus. dir. '89 following Chamberlain's move to Cruz Control; leader of Jazzismo and college professor). Gorbea opted for a three trombone frontline for Conjunto Salsa on El Condimento '88 on Martínez Records; Orlando Avilés sang lead vocals, played güiro and wrote three tunes incl. the title track (Avilés had contributed compositions to Gorbea's earlier albums and sang on Salsa Boricua ). One of the album's highlights was Chamberlain's tough and funky arrangement of the '48 Arsenio Rodríguez classic "Tumba Palo Cucuye."

Gorbea and Conjunto Salsa often performed live on Al Angeloro's WBAI radio show Montuno (started '86; later evolved into his eclectic world-beat show New York International broadcast on WBAI until '91); Angeloro chose Gorbea to lead an on-air jam session in honour of the recently deceased Charlie Palmieri Sept. '88, from which emerged a stunning version of "Tumba Palo Cucuye" by the Wayne Gorbea All-Stars, the most popular track chart-wise on the compilation The Montuno Sessions - Live From Studio 'A' '95 on Mr Bongo, which also incl. Charanson's "Descarga (Around Midnight)" of Dec. '87. Gorbea made his UK debut guesting on claves and coro (chorus) with Libre Mar. '92.

A successful once a week residency for two months at SoHo's González y González club '96 inspired Gorbea to take his band, re-christened Salsa Picante by Libre's leader Manny Oquendo and returning to a two trombone/one trumpet combination, into the studio to make the solid swinging Cogele El Gusto '97 on Wayne Go. Frank Otero (b 29 Apr. '54, NYC, of Puerto Rican parentage) sang lead vocals, having replaced Avilés a few years earlier. (Otero was lead singer on the '70s album Andy Suárez And His Orchestra on J.R. Melody.) "Their sound oozes with Bronx sassiness," wrote Libre's mus. dir. Andy González. The album became an instant hit in UK Latin clubs. Re-release on Shanachie in late '98 provided wider distribution. In March '99 Wayne and Salsa Picante provided further testimony of their UK popularity by completing a sellout national tour.

He followed-up on Shanachie with the cracking Saboreando '00, described by UK deejay/ columnist Dave Hucker as "the first major Latin release of the 21st century." It contains 10 tunes and every cut swings incl. the sure fire dance floor filler "El Yoyo," previously done by Cortijo (incl. in Invites You To Dance/ Los Invita A Bailar on Seeco), and an almost 10 minute killin' remake of Eddie Palmieri and La Perfecta's "Estamos Chao" (from Mozambique '65 on Tico). "Gorbea's piano solo on this track amply demonstrates why he has developed into one of the finest piano soloists currently performing in the Afro-Cuban/ salsa tradition. Eschewing the technical glibness of many of his fellow keyboardists, Wayne goes straight to the heart and swing of the matter," writes Salsa Picante's mus. dir. and first trombonist Rick Davies. Another UK tour is proposed for Oct. '00.

Wayne's recordings have involved regular sideman Rubén Borgas (b 4 Aug. '49, Puerto Rico) on timbales or bongo (he appears on the reissue CD Exitos by Paul Ortiz y su Orquesta Son on Ghetto Records); other notable contributors incl. trombonist/ arrangers Ronnie Williams and Rubén Lebron and trumpeter/ arr. Junior Vega. Personnel of Wayne Gorbea's Salsa Picante in 2000 incl. Otero, vocals; Gorbea, piano/leader/coro; Richie Sanquintin (b 5 Aug. '55, Dominican Republic), bass; Davies (mus. dir.) and Rafi Malkiel (b 14 Apr. '72, Jerusalem, Israel), trombones; Tomer Levy (b 21 Oct. '72, Tel Aviv, Israel) and Mike Lewis, trumpets; Borgas, timbales; Juan Rodríguez (b 2 Nov. '46, Puerto Rico), bongo/coro; Frank Reyes (b 16 Mar. '45, Puerto Rico), conga (he played on Ray Rodríguez y su Orquesta c '70 on Cotique); and Rosado, güiro/coro.

-This is a revised version of one of over 130 Latin music entries written by John Child ( for The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 2nd Edition, edit. Donald Clarke; Penguin Books; 1998; 1524 pages; US$22.95, UK£16.99.

They are published on the Descarga website by kind permission of Mr. Donald Clarke.

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