It's all in a week's work
Here in Nueva York, the past few weeks have been busy albeit exciting for Latin music lovers in general and myself in particular. I have been traveling around to lend support to the promotion of my book Desmitificación de una Diva, La Verdad sobre La Lupe. But outside these necessary interactions with publicists and marketers, I still simply had to find time to follow my passion, Live Latin Music.

I recently traveled to Puerto Rico for the first-ever ASCAP convention on the island. The ambiance at the music affair, celebrated in the majestic environs of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Isla Verde, provided a beautiful backdrop to talk to some of the most celebrated artists in the Latin Beat from all over the globe. It was the perfect opportunity to hang out with Victor Manuelle, Tego Calderon, Ednita Nazario, Nydia Caro, Ismael Miranda, Bobby Valentin, Gilberto SantaRosa and many of the true stars of the Latin music firmament.

Of particular interest was watching Salsa icon Johnny Pacheco receive the Silver Pen Award, an award that recognizes excellence for composers. This great Dominican had never before been publicly recognized for his dynamic influence on the creation of some of the best classics in the Latin genre like "Mi Gente", a tune popularized by the late crooner Hector Lavoe.

I have always believed that we should reward our great ones while they are still alive. To be able to spend time with my friend Johnny whose music I have followed since being a little boy was surely a thrill I shall never forget. This, perhaps, is one of the good things about the Classics - their music is ageless. I always marvel at how musicians like Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Ruben Blades, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco and so many others were the idols of my youth to later in life became my friends. Classics never die or grow old. Rather, I prefer to think that they waited for me to grow up so they could share their incredible passion with me.

Back from Puerto Rico, I went to the LQ in New York -- without a doubt the hottest club this side of the Copa -- to celebrate Pacheco's birthday. It was a great evening. Everyone who is someone in the New York Latin Scene made sure to be there. The music was great and we were able to listen and watch a good trio from Puerto Rico by the name of Guarayson. They surely will make a solid name for themselves in the trade. Of course Pacheco y su Tumbao Añejo made sure that the dancers had a good time. Johnny's birthday cake was one of the largest I have ever seen, with symbolic candles since the Fire Department did not allow a proper candle per year - something about a fire hazard. Pacheco really demonstrated that his music knows no age. He is both a true classic and a respected icon.

Next I saw the pride of Colombia Grupo Niche perform live at the LQ. The group is definitely one of New York's favorites. Under the direction of Alberto Barros, they packed the house. I spoke with many of the band members who shared their difficulties in securing a tourist visa to visit the United States - this from a group that has traveled to North America hundreds of times during their thirty-year career. It's sad to realize how the current state of world affairs has affected every path of life including music which is non-political. Our is definitely a new age in more ways than one.

Last week El Gran Combo from Puerto Rico was visiting for an opportunity to really get the dancing shoes out and enjoy the most popular band in the Caribbean do their thing. After 45 years in the business, the popularity of the Combo has continued on a steady crescendo. Whenever they play, people not only listen, they dance. Watching El Combo refuse to get old reminded me of being five years when I first enjoyed their music about twenty years ago. If you believe that one, here's some more.

After a lot of dancing and live sound, I was sitting at home doing some writing when I got a phone call from Alberto Barros. Yes, that's the same Barros I previously mentioned as the Musical Director of Grupo Niche, one of the best to ever have come out of Colombia. He wanted to meet and discuss music. Next thing I knew, he was at my apartment. Our music chat turned into two hours of philosophical discussions over the state of the Latin music genre. Barros agreed that the music establishment had stopped the growth of the genre and turned its fire into a soft commercial sound that really isn't selling. It was this that had him abandon the traditional record label route and concentrate on creating his own music, which, by the way, is quite special. He has remained on top of his game and recently even recorded with Ricky Martin, quite a statement to his versatility.

Needing some food, we decided to take a haul into Upper Manhattan, the heartland of Mangucity or Dominican turf where you find music and good food at any time. We decided to check out a new restaurant by the name of El Mariachi, located on 3856 10th Avenue and owned by Oscar López, a singer who happens to be a friend. He had invited me on a few prior occasions and I thought this was the time to accept. I was right. At El Mariachi, we found a nice atmosphere, TexMex food and live music. Actually, some very good-looking girls were present as well. We promptly attacked a plate of shrimp and tostones, a neighborhood staple that we quickly drowned with some frozen margaritas. Oscar then brought some fajitas and quickly thereafter, the music started with a presentation of Yamis Polanco, a sexy bachatera who has good potential. Oscar, always the showman, grabbed the microphone and did his thing. A cool evening was unfurling.

As we say in New York, now we were ready for Freddy. Needing to show my friends around, we headed for Greenwich Village and into my regular watering hole, Barrow's Pub. Located at the corner of Barrow and Hudson streets, the pub is one of those places where everybody knows your name. On this evening, the joint featured an Elvis impersonator directly from Vegas. We walked straight into urban music shock but quickly acclimated within friends and of course Blue Suede Shoes.

A lot of dancing followed as designer Diana, a tall and sexy brunette who is also a good pool player, led the dancing party which included yours truly. At Barrows, you can play pool, sing, tell jokes or become the butt of some sordid jokes, all in clean fun. It is mostly a Jets/Mets type of joint so if you are a Yankee fan like myself, get ready for the wrath of Sal, one of the owners. Larry, another owner, is always nice to maintain a healthy balance between partners. But beware of Pete - he treats the dogs in the neighborhood better than his costumers. I mean it. He feeds every single neighborhood dog biscuits every single day. Not much Latin music here though. The jukebox covers one Tito Puente and Celia Cruz number each, that's it. Instead, prepare for plenty of Elvis, Patsy Cline and Sinatra. Well, what the hell else can you expect from an Italo-Irish joint? The place is way cool and its people great. Old-timers like former Latín percussionist Tato, Eddie the actor, one-armed Billy, Cooper, Bill Wall and Tommy Kelly form the crew of characters who make this place one of my favorites in the city. As old-timers go, be on the lookout for Captain Jack, a former priest and actual capt'n who is also a walking encyclopedia.

If you're a salsero, nothing is better that a live salsa concert. The Legends of Salsa concert made my day. Justo Betancourt, Ray Reyes, Orchestra La Solucion, Marvin Santiago, Cano Estremera, Andy Montañés and Mr. Pacheco himself graced the audience at the United Palace in New York during a concert that went well past midnight. Here Pacheco received a silver apple in recognition for all his years as a central cog in the city's salsa movement. The fans recognized the special occasion with a long standing ovation, quite an emotional moment for all present. Show producer Jay Peña must be congratulated for a great endeavour. His productions are always first class and he is one of the new cadre of musical producers to whom the genre has been entrusted for the next generation. Good work, Jay!

The week ended with an interview of dancer/choreographer Vergi Rodriguez. A beautiful and talented dancer from Queens, Vergi moved to Los Angeles two years ago. After working with all the top names in the field, she finally got her big break as a choreographer for the new MGM film Soul Plane which is to be released in June. This lady is sweet, beautiful and sexy. She is also extremely talented and sure to go far in the competitive Hollywood landscape.

Hey, I gotta run now. I've got a book to finish, a script to deliver and more music to review. It's all in a week's work here in the city that never sleeps. Thinking about that, I better get some shut eye. You never know what tomorrow will bring.