music is very much alive and well and living
at the Harbor Conservatory for the Performing
Arts. The conservatory, is a small
thirty-year old school, located in El Barrio,
a neighborhood in New York City, which is
considered to be the home of Latin music.
Conservatory not only attracts local children
from the projects and walk-up apartments,
but also older students from all professions
and all countries with a desire to study
Latin music. The students are the best and
brightest and the uniquely talented faculty
is dedicated to professionalism and preserving
an art form. I was privileged to visit the
school and speak with many of the teachers
devoted to encouraging the folkloric and
commercial African-rooted musical forms.
As I walked through the halls of the conservatory,
I was surrounded by vintage photos of great
Latin musicians and seized by the sounds
of various rhythms dancing out the classroom
doors. It appeared to be a very exciting
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is the Director of the Harbor Conservatory.
He is also a co-founder of Raises
(which means "roots"), a comprehensive archive
and library of materials describing and
documenting the history of popular Latin
music in New York. It is the
largest collection of Latin New York
magazines, recordings, photos, books, and
articles about Latin music or a Latin performer
anywhere in the Unitied States. The culture
of a people as well as their musical expression
is recorded and honored through Raices.
The assemblage traces the history of Latin
music from Africa through the various regions
of the Caribbean. Bauzo is also the
co-founder and curator and believes that
without a place like Raices, the
history of Hispanic music would disappear
in the United States Unfortunately, it is
not accessible to the general public right
now. Last year Harbor began negotiating
with the Smithsonian Institute in order
to become one of the Smithsonian Satellites.
Everyone is looking forward to that day.
being technically educated, the talented
teachers are also musical masters.
These are the experts "who have learned
from the original pioneers."
requirements to attend the school are simple.
All a student needs is interest, and a little
bit of money. A 45-minute private
lesson cost $25 for adults and $23 for children;
a very modest amount for such great teachers.
basic, musical philosophy of the school
is one teacher to one student. Instruction
is available on all instruments in the Latin
style. Drum students may choose to
specialize on conga, timbales, or bongo.
If a drum student wishes to learn the basics
of all three instruments, a year course
entitled "Exposure to Latin Percussion"
is available. All students are encouraged
to learn to read music. When the student
gets to the intermediate level, group classes
are offered. Then the student may
join different workshops and ensembles,
including rhythmic reading, basic musicianship,
theory, harmony, composition, and arrangement.
addition, a 21 piece Latin/Jazz Big Band
is offered every Monday night to teach the
skills of playing in an ensemble setting
and also to keep the Palladium big band
era alive. The students perform big band
charts from some of the great leaders, like
Tito Puente, Machito, and Tito Rodriguez.
Two Historical Perspective concerts
a year are performed by the band honoring
some of the forerunners of Latin music.
whole conservatory has about 1,200 students
a year. The Latin percussion program has
about 450 students a year. Among
the Latin percussion students, you can see
many exchange students from abroad.
While we were at Harbor, we met Jerome Goldschmidt
teaching bongos to a student. Originally
he was a student of Louis Bauzo and Jose
Madera. Although Goldschmidt had some
previous training, he came to Harbor from
Luxembourg to study six months at a time.
When he wanted to move here, the conservatory
offered him a job as student teacher under
the direction of Louis and Jose. Now he
is a teacher.It is important to discover
new talent in order to develop student teachers
who later can teach. Ramon believes
that many of the old time musicians are
afraid to teach despite the world of experience
and information they have to give.
is also a rehearsal facility providing a
positive, well-lit, well-equipped, rehearsal
space for musicians.
For 20 years Louis Bauzo has been a
teacher at Harbor Conservatory.
As the son of a guitarist, Louis was always
involved with music. Louis believes
the most challenging thing for a teacher to
do is to remain a student and have an open
mind to new ideas. He said, "things
are constantly changing with all the new rhythms
coming out and different perspectives so you've
got to stay on top of it."
spoke of technically trading lessons with
a student he had from the Dominican Republic.
The student wanted to learn how to play
bongo in the salsa tradition, yet he was
an expert in his folklore. There are
so many mixtures of different music, so
many influences. His takes greatest
pride in teaching someone and eventually
seeing the person fulfill his dream of playing
with the bands. "We have the full
package here," said Bauzo. Some success
stories are: Alameras Rojas who toured
the world with Johnny Pachecho, and Jimmie
Delgodo who has played with everyone.
Bauzo also has had a long-standing relationship
with Johnny Almendra. He remembers
Johnny coming around and hanging out with
him when he was playing with Johnny Colon.
Now Johnny Alemendra has been at Harbor
for 20 years and has a great band of his
own called Los Jovenes del Barrio.
1970, Louis Bauzo studied composition and
orchestration at Juilliard School of Music.
There he received discipline and learned
how to analyze music. He has also
studied in Africa, Puerto Rico, and Cuba
as well as performed with Tito Puente, Machito,
and Charlie Palmieri. In August Bauzo
will be going to Japan with the Larry Harlo
Drums of Thunder. He believes that
by teaching folklore, he perpetuates the
culture. His two main influences are
Puerto Rico and Cuba.
Director of the Harbor Stage Band, he is
trying to revive the big band culture.
He feels the only time the students have
a chance to perform big band music is in
the repertory orchestras of colleges.
"Big band music is like a dying breed,"
said Bauzo. Because there is no current
demand for big band Latin music, Harbor
Conservatory is trying to maintain that
culture and save an art form.
to Bauzo, the big band is comprised of two
kinds of students. The first kind
of student is the one who comes through
the school, who goes through different levels
of workshops to the ultimate experience
of the big band. The second
kind of student is the professional.
"You know, when you think of student everybody
thinks of kids. Of course, as a musician,
you're always a student," said Bauzo.
The band consists of many musicians who
come to Harbor in order to get the opportunity
to play big band ensemble music. The
big band will be playing at Battery Park
City beginning August 3rd on Tuesday evenings.
Madera is not just a teacher at Harbor
but he is also a working professional with
knowledge that comes from years of experience.
Presently, he is percussionist and arranger
with the king of Latin music, Tito Puente.
Madera has taught Latin percussion and arranging
at Harbor Conservatory between 15 and 20 years.
He teaches bongos, congas, and timbales to
beginners and takes them up as far as three
I first met Madera at Harbor for this interview,
he was teaching conga to a Baptist Preacher.
First Jose teaches the mechanics and then
the sound. Half the work is in doing
it the proper way; the other half is in
making the right sound. Advancement depends
on the ability of the student. The
student's assignment for the week is whatever
they do in the class. "If they come
back and they don't do it correctly, then
we do it again until it gets correct."
students who study arranging with Madera
are given assignments to do for the big
band workshop that meets every Monday night.
This is the only place in the world where
students play some of the authentic arrangements
taken from Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez and
Machito's books. He claims that some
of the transcriptions are 95% close to the
to Jose Madera, Harbor tries to do it as
authentically as possible. "You can
have all the flash in the world but if you
can't play time in a band and play right
and have the right sound, what is it worth?"
has a very high regard for percussionist
Giovanni Hidalgo. He said, "when you
talk about Giovanni, you're talking about
Michael Jordan. It's very hard to
reach that level."
asked about people who have given time,
energy and money to Harbor Conservatory
and all the people who depend on it, Jose
advised us that the great Tito Puente performed
on behalf of Harbor. He also pointed
out the many percussion instruments donated
to the school by Latin Percussion.
There were plenty of timbales, conga drums,,
bongos, and cow bells. There were
also some vintage LP congas that were re-painted.
The drums are put to a real test at the
school with such constant use; nevertheless,
even a twenty-year old pair of LP
bongos were in excellent condition.
Almendra is passionate about teaching.
You can hear the exhilaration in his voice.
He has been teaching percussion at the Harbor
Conservatory since 1977. He also teaches
at Hartford University. Almendra spoke
lovingly about three young Harbor students
studying with him. He spoke the way
a father would speak about his children and
one can tell that he really enjoys working
with them. He said that if a child is
willing and able, he is there for him.
Many talented children are referred to him
from public schools. For six years Almendra
was a part of Marco Rizo's group performing
an anthology of Afro-Caribbean music in the
used to play at the Third Street Music School
Settlement with Ramon Rodriguez in 1974,
right around the time LP came out with their
album Understanding Latin Rhythms which
Jose Madera was involved with. He
learned a lot at that time and he claims
to still learn.
said he learn to read music by reading a
book 100 times. Then he took some drum lessons.
He also learned his craft by copying scores
and making mistakes.
believes Harbor is very special is because
it is a place where he could give back all
the beauty of the culture, the rhythms,
and all that God gave us. "That's
why we're here. We don't make a lot
of money but I feel rich already by enjoying
all the talents."
Almendra leads his own Charanga band called
Los Jovenes del Barrio. The band started
as a workshop at Harbor. Almendra
taught students how to get all the different
colors out of the timbales. His students
began to sound so good that Johnny created
a small Charanga group. To get experience,
the band played for the door at the Poets
Café where the people liked the music
and the band took off. Los Jovenes
del Barrio ended up doing three albums.
Almendra produces the records himself and
then sells them. Although he is taking a
chance, he always has faith. The band
did 91 gigs last year. In addition
they have worked every Wednesday for almost
five years at Gonzales.
band plays the same rhythms in New York
as they play in Cuba, however, the tempo
is different here than in the Islands.
"In Cuba it's real laid back. Here
we have a nice energy that we bring to the
music." Almendra says that they not
only try to be respectful to the Cuban music
and play it the best they can but also try
to do the New York thing. The Cubans
respond very positively to the New York
style. "One of our tunes, 'Telephone,'
was number one on the radio in Cuba for
4 years, Jovenes del Barrio had 400 tunes.
"We want to learn more. Things are
different these days. Years ago we
did 3 gigs a day when I used to work with
Charanga '76." For 30 years, Amendra
has worked as a musician and instructor.
He has played with such musical giants as
Willie Colon and Mongo Santamaria.
He humbly says, "I was very spoiled to play
with great musicians. I was very lucky
to learn from them."
talks fondly Tommy Lopez, one of the founding
fathers. "That was a great charanga.
I think he's one of the greatest drummers
because with one drum he says so much."
the McCoy Tyner's All Star Tour last year
Johnny Almendra said "that was one
of the greatest tours I've ever done."
He played with some of the greatest musicians
such as Giovanni Hidalgo and others.
Almendra is dedicated to keeping the music
from Puerto Rico going. He believes
it is important to tap the resources of
the people and keep it alive in New York.
"The kids sometimes think it's old fashioned
but I think it's like classical music.
It's always good. It's something beautiful.
It's like a painting."
of a day at Harbor Conservatory of Music.
One of the few places in the world where
you can learn to play authentic Afro-Carribean