To say that I knew Gato Barbieri in a personal way would be an exaggeration—I spent some time with him one afternoon, poolside in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We were both there to perform at the Heineken Jazz Fest. It was June 2004, and I was playing with a salsa artist, the trombonist Jimmy Bosch. Gato was to perform the next day, and he was relaxing by the pool, though not in a very relaxed way; he was dressed in his classic attire—full black suit and hat.
Gato is one of the most misunderstood figures in the saxophone world. In fact, among the current generation of saxophonists, his legacy is sometimes relegated to the image of the hugely successful creator of pop hits such as “Europa” and the theme to Last Tango in Paris. These songs, and others like them, became the instrumental saxophone hits of his generation and paved the way for many pop-saxophone idols to follow. But then there is the other Gato.