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Attendance to live musical events is a part of my “Jazz Is a Woman” course at UPenn.  Here, a student details her reactions to hearing jazz great Eddie Palmieri in concert for the first time. Enjoy!

By Joy McKinley

Walking into the Annenberg Center to see the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band, I truthfully had no idea what to expect. I’d heard jazz before, certainly. I had also been somewhat familiar with “Latin” music. What I hadn’t heard before was the two genres fused together. I had also never been to a concert in such a formal setting. I must admit I felt a bit of trepidation along with my excitement when taking my seat. What if I didn’t like it? Did that mean I wasn’t cultured enough to recognize pure genius when I heard it? Needless to say, as the lights dimmed I was literally on the edge of my seat.

I found, about two minutes into the performance in fact, that not only was the slight unease I had been feeling completely unfounded, but that I was entirely incapable of holding onto to such feelings in the audience of one Eddie Palmieri. The band walked onto the stage, set up behind their instruments, began to play, and were promptly cut off by a simple flick of the hand. Something was wrong.

Silence before the storm

There were many different ways Mr. Palmieri could have handled a technical issue on stage. The audience was palpably distressed by the situation, and the night could have gone any number of ways with a simple change in attitude. He chose to handle the issue with patience, sincerity, and a warm welcoming sense of humor that invited me to be a participant in the experience of the night, rather than a simple observer. His conversation and light-hearted banter set the tone for the entire performance. He created a space of fellowship, of commonality and community, even before the music began.

But oh, when the music began…

It was a fiery blend of smooth and percussive, staccato and marcato; a texture of sounds that inspired movement of the body and soul. The congo and bongo drums (and cow bell) reflected Mr. Palmieri’s self-proclaimed Latino roots. The trumpet and alto sax recognizable in almost every jazz ensemble, whose dulcet tones gave way to rough growls and tremulous high notes, added layers of meaning to Mr. Palmieri’s expressive tickling of the ivories. The harmonies were well recognized as those often associated with Latin music and the rhythms were all geared toward movement and energy. It was a veritable volleying of the emotional focal point, repetition used as a tool to highlight creative  improvisation. Mr. Palmieri’s silences were just as loud as his booming crescendos.

Pre-concert interview with the great Eddie Palmieri

Though each of the musicians showed virtuosity in their own right, it was the feeling of community created by their interactions with each other and with the audience that brought the music to heights of emotion that are unattainable outside of live performance. It was a show I’ll not soon forget; spectacular because of its flaws, and not in spite of them. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, and will never again expect anything less from Mr. Eddie Palmieri.