National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri is a great pianist, composer and bandleader. However, in his early teens Palmieri developed a yen to play timbales in his piano-playing older brother’s band.
“When Tito Puente made the instrument so popular I was a young man, and by 13 I started to play timbales. I wanted to be my brother’s drummer,” Palmieri said. “That didn’t work out; my mother bought me a metal case that weighed more than maybe two or three pairs of timbales, and then she would wait for my uncle to hit the horn in his car, the station wagon, to go to the gigs, and when I would pick up that box, it was made out of tin, you know, heavy, and when I used to pick it up she would tell me in Spanish, ‘Don’t you see how beautiful your brother looks when he goes to work, and he doesn’t have to carry an instrument? When will you learn, Eduardo?’ And I said, ‘I’m learning Ma! I’m learning!’”
Palmieri went back to the piano at 15 and has never left. His mother, it turned out, was not his only source of wisdom.
“My teacher had taught me four criteria,” he said. “He who knows not, and knows he knows not, can be helped. He who knows not and thinks he knows is just a plain old muddlehead. And then the third one, which she put me in, was, He who knows, and knows not that he knows. And the last one is, He who knows, and knows he knows, that’s wisdom. Very few humans ever reach that, apart from the great philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and etc.”
The smokin’ hot Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra, featuring New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr., plays Jazz Fest Saturday, April 27.