Salsa with Caribbean Express

I recorded an interview last week with the great trombonist Conrad Herwig. If you don’t play trombone, and don’t know Conrad, he is one of the very few trombone players who has played with Miles, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Richie Beirack, Dave Liebman, the Brecker Brothers, Jack DeJohnette, and a long list of other true masters.

But it is his career-long association with Afro-Cuban and Afro-Caribbean music that took me down memory lane. We talked about his musical and personal relationships with Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Paquito D’Rivera, and many other masters of this great music. Listening to him felt like someone talking fondly about one of my past girlfriends with whom I’m still in love.

I so miss performing that music late at night in front of hundreds of gyrating Latin lovers dressed to the nines! My work with Lalo Rodriguez, Frankie Ruiz, Ray Barretto, and others was a highlight of my musical life.

So this morning I pulled out the cassette tape of my 80’s Massachusetts-based salsa band called Caribbean Express

This group of great Puerto Rican musicians and friends was my introduction to salsa. Four trombones (or three depending on the gig), three singers, percussion, piano, and bass. We performed throughout New England for about five years, but the highlight for me was the opportunity in 1987 to finally record the music we loved. A&M Records had just formed a Latin division and was looking for a band for their first album. So armed with A&M’s original Latin producer José Quintana we recorded the best of our book. Later that year we were nominated for a Grammy but it would be Julio Iglesias who would walk away with the honors.

Far more important was the absolute joy I experienced performing with that band. And listening to Conrad this week talk about Afro-Caribbean music reminded me of how much I miss those smoky clubs, the wild and enthusiastic dancers, and blasting the rhythms and energy of that music through my little alto trombone!

Here’s a sample of our music and my style at the time of blowing over the beat. It’s called Caramba Carambita.

7 thoughts on “Salsa with Caribbean Express”

  1. Avatar
    Bob Pilkington

    Ah, I remember Caribbean Express well. It was also my introduction to Afro-Caribbean music. The study of Afro-Caribbean music did a lot for me on several fronts. As the copyist for the band I was able to learn from the master arrangers that the band hired. It has influenced my writing ever since. It also reformed my thinking about how time is perceived. As a writing, ear training, and ensemble teacher, the lessons I learned from that tradition play a big part in my instruction. I encourage all my students to explore this deep music as well as other S. American, African, and Asian traditions.

    1. Honestly, Bob, I don’t remember you doing copy work. But I do remember you playing your mightly trombone with us from time to time. Those terrific gigs, all of us stuffed in a van driving out to Framingham and Worcester playing our brains out until early morning!

      1. Avatar
        Bob Pilkington

        The copy work was more after you left. The style became more romantico, which had become popular. The band hired top arrangers in Puerto Rico who would just send scores. What an education.
        I still have the books by the way. – another story, not appropriate here.
        There were a number of players who are very well known now. The gigs were lots of fun. The trombonists that came through made that section golden.

      1. Yes, Tom, it was Saoco. You were before my time. So sorry to hear that Tommy died. I never met him but he was a terrific arranger!

        Those were some great times for me, musically.

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Michael Lake

Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, composer, marketer

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