Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 20 March 1939, NYC; d there 20 August 2021) Classically trained third-generation multi-instrumentalist, playing piano, vibes, bass, reeds, also composer and arranger: the Jewish-American bandleader began in jazz, found a passion for Cuban music and spent almost three years in Cuba researching the music and culture. He took eight months to form Orchestra Harlow; its first album Heavy Smokin' '66 on the then-new Fania label produced by label boss/bandleader Johnny Pacheco included five Harlow songs in various Cuban rhythms, including lead trombonist/ co-arranger Mark Weinstein and Cuban veteran trumpeter Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros in a horn section of two trumpets/ two trombones, lead vocalist Felo Brito. Next came Bajandote -- Gettin' Off '67 with lead vocals by Monguito and female vocalist Vickie Berdy; in July that year he began a partnership with 17-year-old Puerto Rican singer Ismael Miranda (b 20 February 1950, Aguada, Puerto Rico: he had sung with Harlow's brother Andy's band; Larry also produced Andy's LPs Sorpresa La Flauta, La Música Brava, El Campesino and Latin Fever on Vaya '72 to '76). El Exigente '67 had boogaloo hits in title track (written by Harlow and Miranda) and 'Freak Off' (co-written by Weinstein), the era's flower-power imagery on the sleeve. Orchestra Harlow Presenta a Ismael Miranda '68 included 'La Contraria', cover of Hugh Masekela's hit 'Grazin' In The Grass'. The following albums included his first gold disc Me And My Monkey -- 'Mi Mono y Yo' '69 with Beatle cover title track and Cuban-style Latin hits like 'El Malecón'; Electric Harlow '70 had Harlow on electric piano.

He contributed to the process of modernizing the Cuban sound '70s, leading to the salsa boom: title track of Abran Paso! Ismael Miranda con Orchestra Harlow '71 was 'new wave salsa' hit written by Miranda. Tribute To Arsenio Rodríguez '71 (celebrated Cuban son composer, master tres player) featured four songs by him and hit 'Arsenio' written by Harlow/ Miranda in his style: the album included Puerto Rican virtuoso guitarist Yomo Toro on tres (but his main instrument was cuarto, a small ten-stringed guitar; both increasingly came to be used in salsa. Yomo Toro b Victor Guillermo Toro Vega Ramos Rodríguez Acosta, 26 July 1933, in Ensenada, Guánica, PR; d 30 June 2012, Bronx). La Oportunidad -- Ismael Miranda con Orchestra Harlow '72 included hits 'Confidencia', 'Las Mujeres Son' and 'Señor Sereno'. Miranda went on to front Orquesta Revelación on the highly regarded Así Se Compone Un Son '73, disbanded after about a year due to problems in the band and returned to PR for a successful solo career, releasing 16 albums '74-94 and collaborations with Harlow '76, Willie Colón '80, Sonora Matancera '84, with a new Orquesta Revelación '86 and Junior González '95. Harlow retired to work on Hommy -- A Latin Opera (version of the Who's Tommy), premièred at Carnegie Hall March '73. Harlow produced the album; the show starred Celia Cruz, Cheo Feliciano, Justo Betancourt and Harlow's new lead singer, Puerto Rican-born Junior González, as Hommy. Salsa '74 with González was Harlow's most important and successful LP: epitome of new electric salsa sound, recognition of his arrival and Cuban influence throughout (four Arsenio tracks included 'La Cartera'); it marked a return to the charanga sound with the electric violin of Lewis Khan (b 1 July '46, L.A.; an Orchestra Harlow stalwart and leading session musician who principally plays trombone) on 'La Cartera' and 'El Paso de Encarnación'. As a governor of NARAS he was a driving force behind the introduction of a Grammy category for Best Latin Recording, first won '75 by Eddie Palmieri. El Judio Maravilloso '75 ('The Marvellous Jew') included Rubén Blades in the chorus, also violinist Pupi Legarreta. A reunion with Miranda for Con Mi Viejo Amigo '76 marked the beginning of a relatively static period, but notable LPs incl. El Jardinero Del Amor '76 (González departed after this LP and released a series of nine solo albums '77 to '94), Grammy-nominated La Raza Latina '77 (attempted history of salsa with Rubén Blades and debut of González's replacement Nestor Sánchez (b NYC; worked previously with Ray Rodríguez, Tony Pabón and Conjunto Candela and later with Julio Castro, Grupo Fascinación and as a solo artist), El 'Albino Divino' '78 ('The Divine Albino': Sánchez's nickname) spotlighting Sánchez, and Rumbambola '79 with Harlow on full array of keyboards, updating classic Noro Morales title tune. A Harlow/ González reunion Our Latin Feeling '80 saw the band joined on 'Nada, Nada' by the exhilarating five-string electric violin of Alfredo de la Fé.

With the decline of Fania and NYC salsa '80s, Harlow's recorded output became sporadic: Yo Soy Latino '82 was his Fania finale and Sánchez's last with him; the unexceptional Señor Salsa '85 on Tropical Budda featured new lead vocalist Ray Pérez; Salsa Brothers/The Miami Sessions '88 on Songo Records was made with brother Andy (b '46, Brooklyn, NYC) in Miami, who'd moved there '77; Mi Tiempo Llegó/My Time Is Now '90 on Cache, with Ray Pérez, was a miscalculated comeback effort. During the '80s he diversified into recording studio ownership, work in jingles and as head producer of K-Tel. Harlow was an original member of the Fania All Stars: he worked on all their LPs '68 to '76 (plus Habana Jam '79, recorded in Cuba) and appeared with them in the films Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa) '72, Live In Africa '74 and Salsa '76. He produced numerous albums for Fania and its stablemates '71 to '78, incl. the magnificent twosome Brujeria '71 and Beethoven's V '75 by Mark 'Markolino' Dimond, Pa Bravo Yo '72 by Justo Betancourt (the Miranda-penned title track became the singer's signature tune) and recordings by Roberto Roena, Frankie Dante and Orquesta Flamboyán, Sonora Ponceña (see Papo Lucca), Lebron Brothers, Wuelfo, La Terrifica, Junior González, Tito Gómez, the female group Latin Fever and others. He formed the Latin Legend Band '94 Ray Barretto, Adalberto Santiago and Toro to educate youth in the roots of Latin music and to experiment with the form; he guested on Miranda/González Cantar O No Cantar '95 on Asefra. He taught Afro-Cuban music in the NY state schools and lectured at Yale and Columbia.