Jazz legend Leandro ‘Gato’ Barbieri passed away recently. The entire music community mourned and I felt that the jazz scene would never be the same again. There are always those that leave an indelible mark in the society: sounds can be dipped in satin or tar, but every once in a while, we hear tones that are iridescent. As these melodies enter our ears, we subconsciously feel our heart contract, knowing full well we will never be the same again. That was what Gato’s music meant to me. That was what – I would like to believe – he meant to jazz.
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This award-winning jazz saxophonist was the heart behind the beautiful and incredibly sensual score of the 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris” starring Marlon Brando and Marie Schneider. I remember that scene completely, the trademark tenor saxophone sound during the steamy scene. There is no other word to describe other than sensual, for that is precisely what it was. Only a truly insensitive person would fail not to be touched by it. This marked the start of his popularity and he was able to record 50 albums in his career. His last one, “Shadow,” was released in September 2002 and won the Billboard Latin Jazz Album of the Year award.
His contributions to jazz extended beyond his talent. I think it was his ability to use his saxophone as an extension of his heart. Somehow every album was able to touch my heart with the depth of emotions he was able to place. But more importantly, Barbieri’s musical style was highly accessible, being able to combine contemporary jazz with Latin American genres and instrumental pop. He was truly a music icon and I, along with many jazz enthusiasts, will miss him greatly.
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