It is sad to hear of the death of Jerry González, the extraordinary bandleader, trumpeter and Latin percussionist. He died of heart failure at 69 after being overcome by smoke in a fire in his home in Madrid, Spain on Monday. He had lived in Madrid since 2000.
In the late 1970s, González and his bassist brother Andy established The Fort Apache Band, which quickly became one of the leading groups combining jazz and Latin music. Their album Rumba Para Monk melded music by Thelonious Monk with Latin forms and was an influence as musicians worldwide incorporated Puerto Rican and other Caribbean rhythms into their music. González continued the innovation that began when he was a youngster growing up in the Bronx surrounded by Latin music and culture. He learned not only from his bandleader father but also by simply absorbing the music that was in the air during a time when bands like Machito’s, Tito Puente’s and Machito’s were at their creative peaks.
Today’s New York Times obituary of González incorporates a video showing the González brothers with the Fort Apache Band. To read the obit and see the band in action, go here.
Here is part of a 2008 Rifftides review of González and company at The Seasons Jazz Festival in Yakima, Washington, triumphing in spite of pretty much everything.
Friday, October 17, 2008: Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band threw the audience into momentary shock with the opening blasts of Thelonious Monk’s “Little Rootie Tootie.” Powered by the overamplified bass of young Luques Curtis and the drumming of Steve Berrios, who had no choice but to compensate, the band was too loud for the hall, by half. The Seasons’ exquisite natural acoustics were rendered meaningless by volume suitable for a stadium. Nonetheless, the music was so captivating that the audience stayed with it, except for a couple of defections, and seemed to adjust to the sound level. Fort Apache followed with a long treatment of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,” notable for an alto saxophone solo by Joe Ford that assaulted the aural cavity but penetrated deep into the emotions. Gonzalez shone on congas, trumpet and flugelhorn. His impassioned flugel solo on “In A Sentimental Mood” was a memorable moment of this memorable festival. Curtis soloed with an acute sense of the harmonic possibilities in “Obsesión,” the Puerto Rican classic by Pedro Flores. Pianist Fred Hoadley came next with a solo that was hypnotically, and effectively, repetitive. Hoadley rushed across the mountains from Seattle at the last minute to substitute for Larry Willis, who cancelled following the death of a relative. Gonzalez wrapped up the set with Monk’s “Evidence,” taken at a fast clip and—what else— top volume. The evening ended with ears ringing and faces smiling.
Jerry González, RIP.