At a recent summit meeting of great Latin bass players held in San Juan, Andy Gonzalez was feted as the guest of honor. Most of the bassists in attendance, including Polito Huerta, Edwin “Muelense” Morales, Carlos Roldan, Efrain Hernandez, Johnny Torres and Freddie Rivera—all of whom are currently playing with the top salsa bands in Puerto Rico—had come up through the ranks listening to Gonzalez’s percolating bass lines on ’70s salsa recordings by the likes of Ray Barretto, Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco, Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon and Chico O’Farrill. The younger ones among them, like Pedro Perez, had maybe first heard Andy in the ’80s with his Fort Apache Band, the groundbreaking Bronx-based group he formed with his older brother, the great trumpeter and conguero Jerry Gonzalez. Regardless of where they may have first encountered Andy’s playing, they all came up emulating his signature style. “Most of these bass players grew up listening to me and it’s nice to be honored,” he acknowledges with a laugh. “But I’m too young for that.”
Other young bassists on the scene today, like Avishai Cohen, John Benitez and Andy’s current protégé Luques Curtis, have sung his praises as an important teacher and mentor. And though he had been sidelined in 2004 due to some serious health issues, Gonzalez is now back on the scene and as active as ever. These days you can spot him playing every Sunday at Birdland with the Arturo O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Big Band. His 2005 Fort Apache Band tribute to Art Blakey, Rumba Buhaina (Random Chance), received wide acclaim and he’s planning an upcoming reunion with brother Jerry, who has relocated to Barcelona, for a Fort Apache Band appearance at the San Francisco Jazz Festival. Andy also appears on a spate of recent recordings, including Conrad Herwig’s Sketches of Spain y Mas: The Latin Side of Miles Davis (Half Note), Latin pop singer Xiomara Laugart’s self-titled debut on Chesky, Yerba Buena’s Island Life (Razor & Tie) and an upcoming project by Manny Oquendo & Libre. That’s saying a lot, considering how playing the bass was not something Gonzalez thought he would ever be doing again.