Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 5 June 1949, Bronx, NYC; d 30 September 2018, Madrid, Spain) One of Latin music's most powerful and innovative congueros, as well as a trumpeter (also flugelhorn), bandleader, vocalist, arranger, composer, producer. Raised in a musical household in the Bronx (his father sang in various local Latin bands during the '50s, his uncle played guitar); began listening to his father's jazz records at age ten; commenced playing trumpet at age twelve at junior high school in the North Bronx; during his teens began playing conga in rumbas (percussion and voices jam sessions) on tenement rooftops, in the streets and in parks, particularly Central Park. Classically and partly jazz trained at NYC's Music and Art High School '64-7; scholarship to New York College of Music '67, where he met jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham (there to get his doctorate). Co-founded Latin Jazz Quintet '64 with bassist younger brother Andy González (b 1 January 1951, Manhattan; d 10 April 2020); worked with Pupi Legarreta, Monguito Santamaría (son of Mongo Santamaría, a major influence); toured with the Beach Boys on trumpet and performed with Kenny Dorham, Dizzy Gillespie (six months), Orquesta Flamboyán (two years), Clifford Thornton Quintet, Tony Williams's Lifetime, Eddie Palmieri (playing conga for over two years), Jeremy Steig, Larry Young, George Benson, Justo Betancourt, Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorquino, Totico, Carlos 'Patato' Valdés, Kip Hanrahan, Tito Puente's Latin Ensemble, Hilton Ruiz, others. Original member of Libre, co-founded '74 by revered timbalero Manny Oquendo and Andy. Made LP Ya Yo Me Curé '80 on American Clavé with Andy; led his own Fort Apache Band on The River Is Deep on Enja, recorded at Berlin Jazz Festival '82 where Libre also played.

He left Libre to concentrate on bandleading in the '80s, releasing albums Obatalá on Enja (made at Zurich International Jazz Festival '88) and Rumba Para Monk on Frenchman François Zalacain's NYC-based Sunnyside label; the latter won the French Grand Prix de l'Academie du Jazz. The Fort Apache Band made their UK debut '90 at London's Empire Ballroom. Further Fort Apache Band albums on Sunnyside were Earth Dance '91, Moliendo Café '92. He won the down beat magazine International Critics' Poll Award '91 for 'Talent Deserving Wider Recognition' in Percussionist, World Beat Artist and World Beat Group categories. Signed with Milestone for Crossroads '94, nominated for a Grammy in the newly created Latin jazz category. The Fort Apache music is described as González's own personal vision, a mixture of progressive aspects of jazz and Latin music, 'the only group that sounds like a jazz group, and at the same time, never stops sounding Latin', wrote musicologist René López. In addition to Jerry, Fort Apache personnel from '89's Rumba Para Monk to '94 included the ever-present founder member Andy on bass; Steve Berrios (b 24 February 1945, NYC; d 25 July 2013), trap drums/other percussion/arr.; Larry Willis, piano/ composer/ arranger; Carter Jefferson (1945-1993), tenor sax; Joe Ford, alto and soprano sax/ flute/ composer/ arranger (joined '90); John Stubblefield, tenor sax (replaced Jefferson '94; Stubblefield performed on Obatalá). Jerry made instructional video Conga Drumming And Afro-Caribbean Rhythms '94 featuring Fort Apache rhythm section of Andy on bass and Berrios on timbales and traps. Pensativo '95 on Milestone, also nominated for a Grammy, was a sextet with Andy on bass and Jerry overdubbing himself; Billy Strayhorn's 'A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing' is lovely, and the CD ends with T. Monk's 'Ruby, My Dear', a duet of Jerry's trumpet and Larry Willis's piano. Fire Dance '96 was made live at Blues Alley in Washington DC with Stubblefield, Ford, Willis, Andy and Berrios, each a seasoned soloist and each supporting all the others.

In 2000 Jerry went to Madrid to find a new collaborative excitement with flamenco musicians; he made an album not yet released in the USA as of 9/2003, but he was scheduled to play in NYC with Los Piratas del Flamenco in October, brother Andy leading the Fort Apache Band on the same bill.

In 2018 there was a fire in his building, and he died in hospital of cadiac arrest.