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Latin Jazz Saxophonist Gato Barbieri Dies at 83

Best known for Grammy-winning “Last Tango in Paris” soundtrack

Gato Barbieri
Gato Barbieri
Gato Barbieri in 2006

Gato Barbieri, a pioneering Latin jazz saxophonist and composer, died April 2, in New York City. The cause was pneumonia. He was 83.

Best known for his soundtrack to the 1972 Bernardo Bertolucci film Last Tango in Paris, which won a Grammy the following year in the category of Best Instrumental Composition, Leandro Barbieri was born November 28, 1932, in Rosario, Argentina. He acquired the nickname “Gato,” Spanish for cat, during the 1950s and it became his professional name for the remainder of his career.

Barbieri began playing music at age 12 after hearing Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” at first playing clarinet, then alto saxophone, before settling on the tenor sax as his primary instrument, having been influenced by the free jazz movement and saxophonists such as John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders in particular.

Barbieri began leading his own bands in the late ’50s and performed in the band led by fellow Argentinean Lalo Schifrin during that decade as well. In the ’60s he worked in Europe with trumpeter Don Cherry while furthering his own career as a leader. He contributed as a sideman during his early years to recordings by Cherry (including two albums for Blue Note, Complete Communion and Symphony for Improvisers), Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim), Gary Burton, Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and others.

Barbieri’s debut publicly released recording as a leader was 1967’s In Search of the Mystery, for the ESP-Disk’ label. A 1969 release, The Third World, brought him further attention. Following his early flirtation with free jazz, he settled into a more measured, less frenetic style and a bold if considerably smoother, softer tone. He ultimately released more than 30 albums (his website claims 50) under his name during his lifetime, for labels including Impulse!, A&M and Flying Dutchman. He recorded prolifically as a leader into the early 1980s, then more sporadically after that (2002’s The Shadow of the Cat won Billboard‘s Latin Jazz Album of the Year). His final release was New York Meeting in 2010. He continued to perform concerts until recently, however, always wearing his trademark fedora hat.

Barbieri received a Latin Grammy lifetime achievement award last year.

Originally Published