no doubt that Richie Gajate-Garcia is one of the
most successful and esteemed percussionists performing
today. He is also a wonderful teacher with a knack
for being able to inspire others to pick up an
instrument. Back at the beginning of the 90's,
when he was teaching at PIT in Los Angeles, he
met Martin Cohen and made an instructional video
for LP®. It was not only the first ever released
by the company, but, largely due to Richie's talents,
one that acquired cult status over the years.
This collaboration between a talented individual
and a forward thinking corporation was a strongly
positive move for both. LP® is a company whose
products more or less define an entire market.
And the number of people who have been turned-on
to the Latin sound through their educational efforts
is hard to estimate. But anyone who fails to realize
how important such collaborations and instructional
products are is not seeing the big picture. Since
that first effort, Richie has done hundreds of
LP® sponsored percussion clinics all over
the world. He combines a user-friendly teaching
sensibility with an entertaining and unique style
of expression. The result is something that cuts
across race, economics, and geography to communicate
Cohen caught up with Richie after the Latin Grammy's
and asked him to talk a bit about his background.
was born in Queens, New York and raised on East
110th Street not far from where Tito
Puente grew up. I remember my aunts and my
uncles used to be very active in whatever Latin
events happened in those days. Then my family
packed-up and went back to Puerto Rico, and I
stayed there until I graduated from high school.
My stepfather whose name I have, is the one who
influenced me music wise because he used to play
congas in San Francisco. The big gig he did was
once playing with Xavier Cugat. But at that time
he met Armando
Peraza and helped him get work. He gave him
half his salary so he could work with this particular
band in San Francisco. It's something to ask Armando
about, how my dad helped him until Armando got
known. Then the rest is history."
high school Richie came back to the States and
enrolled at Springfield College in Illinois.
I came to Springfield, Illinois, I was the only
one who spoke Spanish. Even the Spanish teacher
was an American and so I didn't understand his
Spanish. And people would make fun of the accent
and make fun of me when I talked. So I started
taking the tape recorder and recording myself.
And my buddy Hal, who I lived with in Springfield,
helped me with the pronunciation. So as time went
by things just got better. At first I studied
Business Administration because my father was
a big businessman in Puerto Rico. He was the Director
of Tourism there. And one of the things I learned
that I think helps me in my clinics, is I saw
him give speeches all the time. And I know I picked
up a lot from him. But business was not my thing.
So I transferred to Chicago to the American Conservatory
of Music and that's where I got my BA in Music
graduation he hooked up with Frankie Valli and
the Four Seasons and went on tour. The band ultimately
relocated to southern California where Richie
has remained. After leaving Frankie Valli he began
to work locally, quickly making a name for himself
. Twenty years later he can look back on a career
that has already encompassed everything from soundtracks
to education to the highest-profile gigs.
of the most unusual was a tour last year with
Phil Collins organized around the release of Walt
wasn't an extensive tour for long periods, we'd
only go out for 2 or 3 weeks. We went to Japan,
we went to Germany, we did special venues in the
States because they were geared towards, for example,
all the theater owners in the country, or all
the radio programmers. And these people didn't
even know we were there. Supposedly they were
coming to see the movie before it was released.
And as soon as it was over they raised the curtain
and we were there to play all the music. So it
was really a great experience."
he'd struck a rich vein, Martin asked Richie about
other highlights in his career.
on the VIDA Awards I got to back up Celia Cruz,
and that was incredible. Another time on another
TV show, I backed up Tito Puente playing bongo.
And when I played drums on the Paul Rodiguez show,
I got to play with a lot of great Latin stars.
Another gig that stands out was when I played
with Juan Gabriel at the Universal Amphitheater, unbelievable
the talent this man has."
there was the tour in France with Veronique Sanson
where he and Martin were being driven to Paris
at 110 mph and stopped by the gendarmes. And then
there was the seeming incongruity of playing Latin
percussion with John Denver.
I first started playing with John we'd do a 2
hour show and the majority of the songs were written
by him. Other people had the hits with them but
he wrote them. I didn't know that. The ecological
things that he was involved in made it an honor
to be around a man who was trying to save our
environment. Another thrill for me was doing a
fundraiser for the Democratic Party. I got to
sit in on a panel and speak directly with President
Clinton and Vice President Gore. I got along great
with President Clinton. I then got to play for
them. I was sitting on stage next to Art Garfunkel
and the President was sitting in front of the
stage. He leaned to the side, ignored Art and
waved to me. I again spoke with President Clinton
after the performance and got pictures. He spoke
to me like I was an old music buddy. But really,
I have to say that doing the clinics has been
one of the most rewarding things for me. I went
to Columbia to do the first clinic there and 600
people came. And I'm thinking, Why are all these
people coming to see me? They have all the music
they could ever want. And they said, Richie, thanks
to you and your video, I was able to start. And
so it's amazing if you can reach people and inspire
them, even if it's just to play a cowbell you
know you've reached them and that's the great
reward of the videos. They've been out a long
time and they've just kind of stood on their own."
[lpmusic.com to order].
started its educational efforts back in the early
70's with the release of "Understanding Latin
Rhythms Vol. One" which gave people who weren't
from the culture something to hang on to. Since
that time it has been the leader in this area
and is gearing up to address a whole new generation
of young players. Martin asked for Richie's thoughts
on the future of these educational projects.
now the Latin players are getting more and more
mingled with the American market. So not only
do Latin players have to learn to use the instruments,
they have to learn to use them in an American
environment. So now the learning of Latin percussion
instruments has to be geared towards both worlds.
Actually, I have a book out on Warner Bros. That's
going in exactly that direction. I'm covering
all the foundation and basics that anyone would
need to play, but also getting into how to apply
that to the American environment and make it valid
in the context of more modern music."
commented that doing both, growing the traditional
audience for more traditional sounds and informing
the pop sensibility with a Latin influence, was
the right combination to keep everything evolving
and vital. In light of his experience did Richie
see channels coming together?
the one area that I've seen all this come together
is in the dancing aspect. I've been playing more
Latin music lately than I have for awhile because
people of all races are getting into the dancing.
Every dance I play now, always has a dance class
before the band goes on. And in every club I play
I see as many Anglo-Americans as I see Latinos
dancing and dancing great. With some of the dance
steps these people do, I'm gonna have to go and
and Richie Garcia-a tried and true combination
that makes the future of Latin music look a little
quotes taken from an interview conducted by Martin
Rights reserved. 2000.
by Jim McSweeney.
learn more about Richie Gajate-Garcia, CLICK