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Eddie Palmieri: Rebellious Perfection

Latin jazz’s greatest living bandleader reigns comfortably

Eddie Palmieri, 12/11, Yoshi's San Francisco
Eddie Palmieri
Eddie Palmieri, 1960s (Photo courtesy of Eddie Palmieri)
Eddie Palmieri's original La Perfecta, 1960s (Photo courtesy of Eddie Palmieri)
Eddie Palmieri (r) and brother Charlie Palmieri, early 1980s (Photo courtesy of Eddie Palmieri)
Eddie Palmieri in the '70s (Photo courtesy of Eddie Palmieri)

For a few months at the end of 1963, Eddie Palmieri spent every Wednesday evening outside a small dance hall in Midtown Manhattan, barking in the street and trying to draw foot traffic to his gigs. That meant luring away dancers en route to the nearby Palladium Ballroom, where famous acts like Machito, Tito Puente and his own brother, Charlie Palmieri, performed. “Not there, folks!” he remembers hollering. “Over here, folks!”

The pianist had been gunning for a gig at the Palladium with his eight-piece band, La Perfecta, but the venue’s owner dragged his feet, so Palmieri adopted a guerrilla strategy. “La Perfecta was hot; people knew about the band. So I started drawing people,” he says. “Any people I took away from [the Palladium] was hurting them.” It wasn’t long before he had the attention of the ballroom’s owner, who finally buckled and booked Palmieri for 90 dates over the following year. It was his Rubicon.

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