whats going on?
I've been playing at the harbor conservatory for over 2 years now, after doing gigs in east harlem before that w/ my brasilian group. i've switched over now, completely absorbed w/ latin music, my awesome underaged associates, & my teachers. My Question:
what was going on in the 70s when johnny colon's school *and* the Harbor were both formed? were these the first attempts to institutionalize latin music? why did it take me two years at the harbor before i knew about the east harlem school, & to find out that most of my teachers were there before they came to the harbor?
was there any rivalry? is this a sensative question?
there is a new influx of teachers--very good, all of them--but more recent immigrants. they didn't come up in harlem listening to james brown or latin soul, etc. there are certainly a lot of kids there, and they're out there playing 4 or 5 nights a week before they hit 17, some of them. between the newer teachers, the administration, and the legends who have been educating in the barrio for 30 years or more-- there isn't a complete agreement on what the fundamentals of latin music are. but the kids are coming, and they have minds of their own, and *something* is happening.
SO, back to my q: what happened in the 70s in the neighborhood that created the right ambience for these two schools? why did it happen THEN?
and--what has changed in terms of venues? what keeps the music in the neighborhood? 'salsa', as im beginning to learn about it on a more academic level, has reached nearly all ends of the earth. but here it always feels local. you can catch the legends, johnny at La Fonda and people like chocolate who drop in whenever... karen from la perfecta god bless.
are there fewer venues for young players to learn by rote? my teachers are always pulling me up on stage-- but i don't know the barrio of 30, 40 years ago.
anybody who wants to talk and share--thanks. sounds like many of you know the sidewalks like the back of your hand.
Growing up in Spanish Harlem in the '60's and '70's, I can honestly say that I do not remember Boy's Harbor or any school that, at that time, paralleled Johnny Colon's school of music. I remember Johnny Colon's school of music and vividly remember Sonny Bravo teaching me the piano.
Salsa dura's brink of fame started, IMO, in the '60's. I'm pretty sure that Johnny, being a barrio boy (and still is) saw that there were, and to this day, are no prominent schools (i.e., Julliard) with the exception of Boy's Harbor and the classes that Bobby Sanabria teach at New School of music -- that taught conga, bongo, timbales, Afro-Caribbean instruments, the Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban folkloric musics. The musicians and artists that are now teaching at the Harbor were students of the Johnny Colon School of Music, i.e., Jimmy Delgado, Sonny Bravo, Gilberto "Pulpo" Colon, Jr., Harry Adorno, Johnny Almendra, etc.
Most of the musicians of my era (as young as 12) were already experimenting with bands of their own before they joined Colon's school of music, playing (by ear, which most still do...lots of the artists back then, and still today, do not read music, but are natural talents, and/or have studied music late in their careers) and did so because THEIR parents were musicians (either from Puerto Rico, which made up and still do, most of the artists today). They grew up listening to folkloric Afro-Caribbean, Jibaro music as well as, Soul, Jazz, Rock 'n Roll, Calypso, Reggae, top 40's (cousin Brucie), and our beloved Symphony Sid. Statistically, Puerto Ricans were the ones who spent their money at these venues (Palladium, Caborojeno, etc.) and who were the ones who mostly bought the music.
When the U.S. cut ties with Cuba, the market in Latino music was not coming in anymore for my father's generation. In comes MY generation and we take the jibaro music, Cuban Afro music and mix it with our neighbor's (Harlem) music creating Boogalu, Salsoul, Salsa, Latin-Jazz, Shingaling, etc..which is basically what Salsa is comprised of. Salsa was amalgated by the Puerto Ricans and NuYoricans in Spanish Harlem...this makes it an American musical genre.
In the '60's and '70's, there were at least 35 clubs in NYC alone (not counting the "after-hours") and that gave musicians the opportunity to enjoy gigging (back then, for most musicians, gigging was more important that the pay!) almost every night of the week! By the '80's, Salsa "dura", as well as Salsa venues, was waning significantly and replaced by Salsa "monga".
Everything, including Salsa, evolves and unfortunately, at times, not for the better.
Please visit www.salsasight.com
I'll have to respond to your questions spearately as it won't allow me to do so in one single post....
The various musical elements that encompass what is referred to as "Latin Music" have been institutionalized in the past in countries such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Brazil, etc. The USA, however, has been another matter. Prior to Johnny Colón's East Harlem Music School and Boys & Girls Harbor Music Conservatory, there were classes being offered that were strictly revolved around percussion within certain Community Centers and Youth Centers. One example was an African-American percussionist who went by the name of Montego Joe, who developed a drumming class at a place called the Harlem Youth Center. So pleased with his students was Joe, that he brought them into the recording studio and recorded an entire LP. The ensemble was baptized as the HAR-YOU PERCUSSION GROUP (With the HAR-YOU being short for "Harlem Youth"). You also had individuals independently teaching the rudiments of afro-cuban percussion. Folks like Humberto Morales, Ubaldo Nieto, Frankie Malabe, amongst many others, would provide instruction that wasn't being provided in prominent musical conservatories or university music programs. This independent instruction also included the areas of Guitar, Brass, Woodwind and Piano. In fact, the very first instructor of Latin-oriented music in New York City was a Puertorican woman, who also went by the name of Victoria (Hernandez), whom taught her students how to play the piano. Among her first students were two pre-teens named Ernest Anthony "Tito" Puente and Joe "Loco" Estevez. There were also books that specifically dealt with instruction in latin percussion. One of the foremost was one authored by Henry Adler, whose students were among the many who would emerge within the latin music pantheon such as Manny Oquendo and Mike Collazo Sr.
Johnny Colón created the first educational and instructional institution (or at least that I'm aware of) in the United States that was squarely revolved around Latin Music. Not just "Salsa," but the music from Brazil, Puerto Rico, Colombia, etc. And the instructors were the very same musicians who were in the trenches within the Latin Music New York scene at the time. I'm not sure if this was Johnny's original intent, but aside from creating an educational platform for the music, he also managed to provide a secondary income stream for working musicians as teachers.
It's important to note that the Boys Harbor facility in East Harlem and the Music department headed by Ramon Rodriguez were two separate entities at one point. Ramon Rodriguez was leader of an ensemble known as Orquesta Yambu. He then abandoned the latin music playing circuit and devoted himself to music education. He developed a similiar curriculum as Johnny Colón in the late 1970s, and also included working musicians in the "Salsa" scene to provide instruction to prospective students. Although his particular "school" was located, at the time, on the Lower East Side. In the 1980s, he relocated his school and moved it into the building it currently is found in on 104th & 5th Avenue and integrated his program into the Boys Harbor Not-For-Profit Performing Arts School. So the Ramon Rodriguez Music School is now officially known as The Boys & Girls Harbor Music Conservatory. Which is one wing or department of the much larger Boys & Girls Harbor School of the Performing Arts, which includes instruction and development in both Theater and Dance.
This is just my own personal opinion based on observation. Ramon Rodriguez, in particular, seems very reluctant to recognize anyone or any other entity that mirrors the work he's doing. Which is why you and others probably may not be aware of the Multicultural Music Group which is another non-profit institution dedicated to instruct and preserve the culture of latin music and also includes many of the instructors who went through Johnny Colón, Boys Harbor and some of the emerging latin-american musicians on the scene. Although, to be fair, this reluctance is not exclusive to Boys Harbor. Very few musical institutions would or will ever sing the praises of other similiar musical institutions. You won't find Julliard ever promoting the Manhattan School of Music or the latter talking about the New School or they praising the efforts of the Mannes School in harlem. Unless of course a musician/instructor happens to be associated with more than one and they are self-promoting on their own...
I'm sure there was. Though it may have been kept in the dark as far as the public was concerned. Two organizations dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of Latin Music, it's culture and history and only a mere few blocks within walking distance of each other, is bound to create some form of rivalry or perhaps even a slight animosity. Both were funded in part by the government and, obviously, both are attempting to accrue even more funding by the state or federal government in order to support their work. With the limited amount of funding provided by our government towards the arts, but especially towards those revolving around a Latin-american culture, one of the two would've lost out on some much needed $$$ due to one being awarded the financial support in favor of the other.
Could or should have both entities combined? Perhaps. But that would mean someone would have to submit some "power" and lose complete and total administrative control. And some people would rather have crumbs, rather than a loaf of bread, if it meant those crumbs would be theirs and solely theirs to do with as they choose...
The ethnic makeup of the instructors has definitely changed. Which of course will directly affect their musical slant of what they happen to be instructing in. What was once a predominantly Urban New York latino or Nuyorican faculty is now a combination of recently arrived musicians hailing from Colombia, Cuba, and other parts of South America. All of whom excel in specific areas and are experienced within specific formats that may be alien to the traditional New York Salsa Orchestra. The great thing about such diversity is that a student has options to pick and choose from...
I would say one of the reasons was that it was during a time when the musical preferences of the youth were geared towards the musical elements found within "Salsa" and it had reached a level of popularity not seen before that it was only a matter of time before aficionados of the music would want to become involved in contributing to the music. I tend to speculate that the fact that there had been years of independent instruction taking place prior to Johnny Colón opening the doors to his music school, must have been some form of inspiration to him. Allowing him to realize the potential that there was a demand for such instruction and with a legitimate and state recognized music school at his disposal, he could round up all of these musicians who were independently teaching on their own and provide them the space, resources, and other benefits, befitting of an educator. And couple that by bringing the music to a standard. It woul no longer be "Street" music, but music that had to be learned at an institutional level and be just as respected as any other form of institutionally trained music...
"Salsa" is as much a part of the New York Latino culture as anything else,. "Salsa" has no specific ethnic identity, despite the roots of the music and it's musical content. South, Central, North Americans, Europeans, Asians, all embrace this music. You yourself jsut mentioned three musical figures from different cultural backgrounds Johnny (Nuyorican), Chocolate (Afro-Cuban), Karen (African-American). Yet, all are linked to each other by way of the music. It stays in the neighborhood as long as the people within those neighborhoods remain a part of it. They are simply celebrating the culture that they lived or was passed down to them from previous generations.
I would say so. There are way fewer venues then there were at one point. Aside from a lack of venues, there are also new obstacles that make it impossible to be able to interpret this style of music. The draconian cabaret laws that have been enforced within the last few years under the Guiliani Administration and has carried over with the Bloomberg regime. But their actions are also reflective of a public demand. Our music tends to be regarded by the most of the general public as noise pollution. There are few bars, lounges, restaurants or performance spaces that allow for latin percussion because they deem it as entirely too loud. You also have a situation where the places that are available to interpret such music, there is very little to no compensation whatsoever. Very few of the more polished musicians want to find themselves in such a situation. Less and less of the youth want to take the plunge and develop a jam session and play in front of a potential audience. They prefer to hone their craft in school and wait until they are called upon by an established veteran to perform, rather than do any "shedding" on their own.
Hope some of this info helps...
PEdagogy in East Harlem
I'd like to thank you for all the time you put into your response, and for your expertise. It was extremely helpful.
I'm wondering what your response --and everyone else's-- is to some of the films aired recently on Channel 13's Cantos Latinos?
The Boys Harbor film (Mi MAmbo) hasn't aired yet, but i expect it to have mixed reviews (particularly among the kids i know who were in it!)
I was particulary bowled over by "From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A south Bronx tale.
Did anyone else see that? What was going on between the south bronx and east harlem in that time? i know the musicans travelled all over the place--but what about the music was specifially tied to one neighborhood or another.
And I'm desperately looking for the song "Se le Quema la Casa", about the fires in the south bronx. i don't know who sang it or wrote it.
I had every intention of seeing MI MAMBO on PBS, but unfortuantely, I missed it. I completely forgot about it. What did you think of it?
I saw this and enjoyed it as well. There's a lot that wasn't covered, but with only one whole hour, they did manage to fit in alot of the important historical aspects.
What was going on between the South Bronx & East Harlem was the 6 train. :D
In the 1920s through the early 40s, East Harlem was THE community conclave for Puertoricans. Everything was going on there that was musically, socially, politically and culturally relevant to the stateside Boricua. Prior to East Harlem, Brooklyn was a stomping ground for newly arrived Puertoricans. As time passed, families residing in Brooklyn and East Harlem began to relocate more and more into the area of the South Bronx. Which, as you saw from the Documentary, was not always the bombed out war zone that it eventually became in the 60s & 70s. As Bobby Sanabria pointed out in the Documentary, Robert Moses' vision of creating the Cross Bronx Expressway ended up carving up beautiful Bronx neighborhoods in half and killing its vibrant communes altogether.
What tied the music specifically to one neighborhood were the musicians themselves. In those days, Latin musicians weren't necessarily touring the world as many are doing today. Most never even left the city until years later. The majority of these orchestras sprang up locally and they honed their craft by playing local venues. So it's no coincidence that when you have Machito, Rafael Hernandez, Noro Morales, Los Happy Boys, Antonio Marcano, Alberto Socarras, Augusto Coen, Miguel Matamoros, Davilita, Panchito Riset, etc. living simultaneously in the same neighborhood, you're going to have a multi-cultural musical mix between Cuba and Puerto Rico, on top of everything else that's going on (Jazz/Swing, Tango, Pop, Merengue, Samba, Boleros, etc.).
As more and more Puertoricans relocate to the Bronx, what you have is a new generation of musicians who emerge and are predominantly influenced by Afro-Cuban oriented music. Mambo, Son, Guaracha, Rumba, and especially Charanga. Men like Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Charlie Palmieri, Manny Oquendo, Joe Quijano, Orlando Marin, Johnny Pacheco, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, etc.
After the height of the Mambo craze, all of what later becomes popular dance trends in New York City: The Cha-Cha-Cha, The Pachanga, The Latin Hustle and B-Boy/Breakdancing, all have their genesis in the Bronx, interpreted by Bronx residents of Puertorican descent, and manages to travel beyond NY and influence other cities and even countries....
SE TE QUEMO LA CASA was a huge hit for Orlando Marin. You can purchase a copy at CASA LATINA located at E. 116th Street between Lexington & 3rd Avenue...
Thanks again for responding. I did know that the Barrio was an important P.R. community since the late 1800s, and after citizainship was granted, became the neighborhood of choice for P.R. immigrants. I didn't know that it was later on that peolple started moving to the South Bronx.
The images in the film (A south bronx tale) really changed my perspective on the music of that time, as if i can't listen to it in the same way anymore.
I know that salsa has become an international phenomenon (orquesta la luz, Salsa in Cali, etc)--but it really made me think of how, after debates of "authenticity" have already gone cold, music is still very tied to a place and to personal experiences in a place.
what did i think of 'mi mambo'? i'm proud of those kids, many of whom i know well. i wish they had featured more of them. I noticed that cultural differences were very played down (puerto rican, dominican) and a kind of general pan-latino identity emerged from it all. i'm not sure if this is due to the political position of being a non-for-profit, or what, but it struck me since many kids i know there are very involved in either bomba y plena groups, palo groups, or are starting their own old-time merengue bands outside the harbor.
I also noticed no mention of the johnny colon school, probably for reasons you already discussed. Despite this, i have a good deal of respect for Ramon and the work he does.
When Willie Colon talked about salsa lyrics becoming more political (in 'A bronx tale), he mentioned the song 'se te quemó la casa'. he recorded it on 'there goes the neighborhood'--i didn't know that it was an Orlando Marín original. Johnny A. told me that the album title really wasn't about the S. Bronx fires, so maybe i was jumping to assume this.
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