Jazz sax man GATO BARBIERI died on Saturday 2nd April aged 83. His wife, Laura, said that her husband had died in a New York hospital from pneumonia. He’d recently had bypass surgery to remove a blood clot. She posted: “Music was a mystery to Gato, and each time he played was a new experience for him, and he wanted it to be that way for his audience. He was honoured for all the years he had a chance to bring his music all around the world.”
Leandro “Gato” Barbieri was born on 28th November 1932 in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina and in a lengthy and garlanded career he recorded some 39 albums and toured and performed regularly. Indeed since 2013 he held a monthly residency at New York’s Blue Note Club. He last played there in November shortly after receiving a Latin Grammy lifetime achievement award. Gato had previously won a Grammy in 1973 for best instrumental composition for his music for the then controversial movie ‘Last Tango In Paris’.
Barbieri had learned the sax in his youth, stating Charlie Parker as his inspiration. His name – or Nickname, “Gato” (Cat), he said, was given to him in Buenos Aries because of the way he scampered between lots and lots of night club gigs. (Always, of course, sporting his distinctive feodora). By the late 50s Barbieri was fronting his own groups and in the 60s he was dividing his time between Europe and New York where he became part of what was to be dubbed “The free jazz movement”. He worked with people like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Carla Bley.
By the late 60s Gato Barbieri had started to incorporate South American nuances into his work – as exemplified on his live, 1971 LP ‘El Pampero’ album. After his award winning ‘Last Tango’ LP he signed with Impulse! where he became known for his mellow, Latin slanted albums. Soul fans will have fond memories of his 1976 album ‘Caliente!’, which featured a feisty version of the Marvin Gaye/Leon Ware song ‘I Want You’. In 1982 he began a bitter dispute with the label as a result of which he concentrated on touring rather than recording.
Barbieri made a recording comeback of sorts with ‘Que Pasa’ in 1997. The album dealt with the turmoil of losing his wife of 35 years. He then underwent a triple heart bypass. Barbieri remarried in 1996 and had a son, Christian. Besides his wife and son, he is survived by his sister Raquel Barbieri. It’s reported that in lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations be sent to The Reciprocity Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to help homeless and foster youth in New York City.
Laura Barbieri posted:”He was my best friend. I’m so grateful we had these 20 years together.” She added that a public memorial was being planned, but details have not been finalized.