With the title of this album (his last for Fania), Larry Harlow re-affirmed his cultural allegiance to the musical genre known as salsa. Born Lawrence Kahn on March 20, 1939 in Brooklyn, New York, Harlow was raised in a musical family. His father, Nathan “Buddy” Kahn, was a respected bassist at the famed Latin Quarter. His mother, Rose, sang in the chorus of the Metropolitan Opera and also played piano. “My father got the name Harlowe from a doctor who had saved his life in a car accident. I dropped the “e” and hence my stage name.” Harlow began studying piano at 5 and would soon enter the prestigious High School of Music and Art in Manhattan at age 12 where he would also learn oboe and English horn. By the age of 15, he began working in small combos in the Catskill mountain resorts and would frequent the famed Palladium Ballroom.
“Music and Art was located in a neighborhood with a lot of Latinos, so I heard the music coming out of bodegas, homes, etc.,” recalls Harlow. But I didn’t get into it seriously until I asked an Italian trumpet player, Dominic Lauria, to show me about clave. Dominic used musical notation, showing me how the rhythms of the horn lines, percussion, etc. should all interlock at the clave and make the music swing. It was a revelation, I was hooked.” Harlow eventually would go to Cuba in 1957. “It was incredible, you could see groups like Orquesta Aragón playing for free right on the street! I eventually came back to Cuba and brought with me a huge Webcor tape recorder and began my studies in earnest.”
On his return to the States, Harlow worked with famed flautist Johnny Pacheco. Up until then, the format for groups playing Cuban-based music would be a conjunto (a small combo with trumpets), charanga (flute and strings) or big band (saxes, trumpets, trombones). But Harlow formed a group that would give Cuban music a uniquely New York sound—utilizing two trumpets and two trombones—becoming the model for today’s contemporary salsa groups. Then Harlow found out that some of his brass players could also play violin, which enabled him to incorporate the charanga sound with the powerful conjunto sound into his arrangements. Harlow was the second artist signed to the Fania label in 1964 after Johnny Pacheco, who vice president at the time. Harlow also would become a devotee of Santería, the West African-based religion, and began incorporating the batá drum into his music. “Being Jewish and getting involved in Latin music, I experienced a lot of reverse racism. But I love this music and its culture, and I’m deeply devoted to it. No one can take that away from me.”
Harlow would go on to produce a slew of hit recordings and incorporate new trends, technological developments and rhythms into his music—eventually becoming a chief producer of other artists at Fania. Recorded in 1978-1979 but released in 1983, Yo So Latino is rooted in the Cuban son but with some modern twists, like the funk elements in the bass playing of Sal Cuevas in the title cut. If you experience Harlow’s orchestra today, it’s his closing anthem that always features his percussion section. Mike Guagenti’s Ametralladora is done again in the son style with Nestor Torres soaring over the band and guitarist Bob Crawford using elements of be-bop and blues in his solo. Guajira Simale is from the repertoire of one of Harlow’s favorites, Orquesta Aragón, and features Torres’ dynamic flute work. Harlow’s piano solo is the highlight of this recording, complete with modern dissonances, típico elements and a quote from the Brazilian classic Mas Que Nada. Mango Del Monte, which harkens back to the Palladium Ballroom, is a Tito Rodriguez mambo with the brashness of a native New Yorker. Amor Que Soñe, is an up-tempo guaracha that was a pre-curser to the salsa romántica movement. It then suddenly cuts into a funky modal vamp announcing Bob Crawford’s soulful guitar solo over rock rhythm mixed with Brazilian partido alto. It sets up some nice tension that is finally released as the band goes back to the montuno (solo section). It’s a Harlow trademark that would soon be copied by other groups. Yo Soy Así is yet another up-tempo Ortiz original and is yet another feature for Crawford’s lyrical guitar work. Desencanto is a Brazilian samba performed to the rhythm of Puerto Rican bomba xicá, exemplifying Harlow’s experimentation and genre mixing. Anoche Aprendí features strings and Torres in a pure bolero setting. The album closes with two more Guagenti original up-tempo guaracha’s.
“El Judio Maravilloso” (The Marvelous Jew), as Harlow is known worldwide, is an affirmation of the love and respect that his fans, particularly Latinos, have for him. His rich and successful musical career is a testament to his endurance as an artist and his commitment to Latino culture and music. That’s why it’s not a stretch for this Jewish kid from Brooklyn to say, “Yo soy Latino.”
Larry Harlow Yo Soy Latino
All tracks recorded in 1979 except for Mango Del Monte and Chiquita y Gordita, which were recorded in 1978.
Original mix by Harlow lost by Fania, finally re-mixed for release by Johnny Pacheco in 1980. Album eventually released in 1983 by Fania Records.
Original cover art by Ron Levine.
Produced by Larry Harlow
Executive Producer – Jerry Massuci
Recording engineer – Jon Fausty
Yo Soy Latino, Anoche Aprendí, Yo Soy Así, Desencanto – Marty Sheller
Ametralladora, Amor Que Soñe, De Pescado Nada – Louis Cruz
Guajira Simale – Sonny Bravo
Mango Del Monte, Chiquita y Gordita – Steve Guttman
Larry Harlow – piano, musical director
Nestor Sanchez – all lead vocals and maracas
Adalberto Santiago – guiro
Julio Romero – ampeg baby bass
Sal Cuevas – electric bass on Yo Soy Latino
Bob Crawford – electric guitar
Pancho Roman – timbales
Tony “Wampo” Jimenez – timbales on Mango Del Monte and Chiquita y Gordita percussion
Frankie Malabe – congas
Frankie Rodriguez – congas on Mango Del Monte and Chiquita y Gordita
Nicky Marrero – bongó and cencerro
Pablo Rosario – bongó and cencerro on Mango Del Monte and Chiquita y Gordita
Steve Berrios – drums on Ametralladora, Yo Soy Así, Desencanto, De Pescado Nada
Nestor Torres – flute on Guajira Simale
Sean Mahoney – trombone
Barry Rogers – trombone
Papo Vazquez – trombone
Charlie Camileri – trumpet
Tony Cofresi – trumpet
Steve Guttman – trumpet
Pete Nater – trumpet
Strings on Guajira Simale and Anoche Aprendí
Lewis Kahn, Alfredo de la Fe, Harry Max
Backround vocals/coro – Tito Allen, Adalberto Santiago, Nestor Sanchez