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Saxophonist Marcelo Peralta Is First Jazz Musician to Die of Coronavirus

The Argentine musician, who had lived in Madrid for more than two decades, was 59

Marcelo Peralta
Marcelo Peralta (photo: Mariano Guttiérez)

The jazz world has suffered its first COVID-19 casualty. Marcelo Peralta, an Argentine saxophonist renowned for his innovative approach to the avant-garde and South American musical traditions, died March 10 at a hospital in Madrid, Spain. He was six days past his 59th birthday.

His death was first announced by his friend, fellow countryman and musician Guillermo Bazola, on Facebook, and confirmed by the Buenos Aires newspaper Perfil. A resident of Madrid since 1996, Peralta was hospitalized on his birthday with what was initially believed to be influenza. He later tested positive for coronavirus.

Peralta dabbled in multiple jazz idioms, from bebop standards to avant-garde creative music, but his most distinctive approach involved a hybrid of free improvisation with Argentine and other Latin American folk forms. In addition to the tenor, alto, soprano, and baritone saxophone, he played piano, accordion, quena (an Andean cane flute), aerophone, and several other instruments, which he used in interpreting his native musical traditions—and in adapting the jazz repertoire to those traditions.

Marcelo Peralta was born March 5, 1961 in Buenos Aires. His first instrument was piano, which he studied at the capital city’s prestigious Antiguo Conservatorio Beethoven. He received a teaching certificate from the conservatory in 1979 and began teaching in elementary and secondary schools before being hired as an instructor at Buenos Aires’ other principal music school, the Conservatorio Municipal de Manuel Falla.

By that time, Peralta was teaching saxophone, which he had only begun playing at 18—on baritone, though he soon learned to play tenor, alto, and soprano as well. (Tenor would become his primary instrument.) A relentless experimenter, Peralta later taught himself trumpet, tuba, violin, and clarinet, as well as various Latin American instruments. As a forum for his sonic adventures, he became a freelancer, working in Buenos Aires with such musicians as jazz bassist Bucky Arcella, pianist Eduardo Lagos, and singer/songwriters Fabiana Cantilo and Litto Nebbia. He also was a saxophone soloist in the orchestra of the LRA Radio Nacional, Argentina’s state radio.

Peralta eventually became a member of the saxophone quartet Cuatros Vientos, and, in 1985, co-founded the Grupo de Improvisación Tercer Mundo (Third World Improvisation Group) with guitarist Jorge Mancini, saxophonist Mariana Potenza, and percussionist Victor Da Cunha. However, it was when working with Lagos in 1988 that he became intrigued with the possibilities of fusing Argentine folk music with free jazz. This became Peralta’s focus, first at the head of his own quintet, then in the early 1990s with his Saxópatas Big Band.

After resettling in Spain, Peralta formed his own quartet and continued exploring Argentinian and Latin music. He was a perennial performer at festivals in Spain and toured regularly through Europe and back to South America, recording several albums that set Argentine and Andean musical forms and rhythms within innovative soundscapes. He also continued his teaching career; at the time of his death Peralta was a professor of saxophone, improvisation, and jazz ensemble at Madrid’s School of Creative Music.

Survivor information for Peralta has not been released.

Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.