A Latin lesson from the Marvellous Jew
LarryHarlow proves he is a true salsa legend. By DavidLasserson
STANDING TALL among the illustrious names of New York Latin music is Larry Harlow, a pianist, composer and arranger who was born Lawrence Ira Kahn to a American-Jewish family in a Puerto Rican neighbourhood of New York City. His Latin musical colleagues dubbed him “ El Judio Maravilloso” — the marvellous Jew. He has recorded 50 albums for the specialist Fania label under his own name, and collaborated on more than 100 others.
A well-attended Roundhouse gave Harlow and his orchestra a warm London reception, although it no doubt paled against the football stadia he used to sell out in South America in the ’70s. The venue’s boomy acoustics lost some of the detail of Harlow’s distinctive sax-plus-trumpets orchestration, but the ecstatic dancing couples all over the dancefloor hardly minded. Spinning and turning t o infectious favourites like Quitate Tu (Get Lost) and Yo Soy Latino (I am Latino), they could also appreciate the highlevel improvising of an all-star line up, including the occasional surprise violin solo from trombonist Lewis Kahn. Directing from the keyboard, Harlow’s benign presence suggested a man surrounded by his oldest friends, as he coaxed winning solos out of each band member in turn.
Harlow’s Austrian father played in a covers band in New York’s Latin quarter from the 1940s, and the young Larry was sent to high school in the middle of Spanish Harlem, where he heard Latin rhythms every day. Unable to break into jazz (“I wasn’t a drug addict or an African American”), he migrated to the closest music that allowed him to improvise. In discovering each other, he and the world of Latin music did each other a great favour.
Larry Harlow performing at London’s Roundhouse