Argentinian tenor saxophonist, Gato Barbieri, has been entertaining jazz fans for over half a century. Gato Barbieri is Spanish for 'Barbieri the cat'; his real name is Leandro Barbieri. Gato's career has spanned from free jazz, to Latin jazz, to jazz pop and in 2002, Gato released his 50th studio album. He first took up music with the clarinet, at age 12, after hearing Charlie Parker's Now's the Time.
Gato Barbieri began his professional music life playing the saxophone
' target='_blank'>alto saxophone with pianist Lalo Schifrin in Argentina during the 1950s. While in Lalo's band, Gato would get the chance to play shows with some of jazz's greats, like Coleman Hawkins and Dizzie Gillespie. In 1962, Gato moved to Italy, the homeland of his first wife, and took up the tenor saxophone.
In Italy, drawing influence from John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Pharaoh Sanders, Barbieri began collaborating with trumpeter Don Cherry. As a sideman for Don Cherry, Gato Barbieri played on two free jazz albums, Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisors.
In 1969, with the release of The Third World, Barbieri began his career as a band leader. His music began to show a South American influence and garnered him enough recognition that he landed the job of composing the film score to Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. His success on that film score landed him a Grammy award and a recording contract with Impulse Records. It also launched a profitable side-career for Barbieri; he scored over a dozen films in three different continents.
By the late 1970s, Barbieri had shifted his focus again, this time to the pop jazz that was becoming prevalent at the time. During this phase of his career was recording for A&M Records. One of the most successful albums of that time, and one of the most successful of his career, was Caliente. The album featured a Barbieri's cover version of Carlos Santana's Europa. Another big album during his years with A&M Records was Shadow of the Cat. A&M label owner, and jazz trumpet great, Herb Alpert played the trumpet for three songs on that album.
Barbieri's wife died in the 1980s and six weeks after her passing he underwent triple bypass surgery. Because of the toll these events had on him, Barbieri disappeared from the public eye for quite some time. He returned in an impactful way in 1997; his Columbia Records release Que Pasa was the fourth best selling contemporary jazz album of that year.
In 2004, Universal Music honored Gato Barbieri by releasing a compilation of his work in their 20th Century Masters series. The other musicians to receive that honor in 2004 were Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, and Carmen McRae. Gato was also honored by his home country the same year when the Argentine Ambassador to the United States presented him with a lifetime achievement award at the Argentine Consulate in New York City.
Gato Barbieri plays a Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone with a short facing Berg Larsen Metal 105 mouthpiece and Rico 1 ½ reeds.
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