Mystical yet fiery, passionately romantic yet supremely cool,you hear those first few notes from that instantly recognizable tenor and know you're in the unique musical world of Gato Barbieri. Beginning professionally as a teenager playing alto sax in several different Buenos Aires clubs, Barbieri's five decade career has covered virtually the entire jazz landscape, from free jazz (with trumpeter Don Cherry in the mid-60s) and avante garde to film scoring, and his ultimate embrace of Latin music throughout the 70s and 80s.
Barbieri officially took up the clarinet at age 12 when he heard Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time,” and even as he continued private music lessons in Buenos Aires, he was playing his first professional gigs with Lalo Schifrin’s orchestra. “During that time, Juan Peron was in power,” he recalls. “We weren’t allowed to play all jazz, we had to include some traditional music, too. So we played tango and other things like carnavalito.” In Buenos Aires, Barbieri also had the opportunity to perform with visiting musicians like Cuban mambo king Perez Prado, Coleman Hawkins, Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie, and João Gilberto.
He began playing tenor with his own band in the late 50s and moved to Rome with his Italian-born first wife Michelle in 1962, where he began collaborating with Cherry. The two recorded two albums for Blue Note, Complete Communion and Symphony For Improvisors, which are considered classics of free group improvisations. While collaborating with Cherry in the mid-60s, the saxophonist also recorded with American expatriate Steve Lacy and South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, then known as Dollar Brand. Other associations during Barbieri’s free jazz days included time with Charlie Haden, Carla Bley and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, as well as dates with Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Chico O'Farrill and Lonnie Liston Smith. Barbieri recorded a handful of albums on the Flying Dutchman label in the early 70s and then signed with Impulse where he recorded his classic Chapter Series Latin America, Hasta Siempre, Viva Emiliano Zapata and Alive in New York.
In 1972 Barbieri composed the score to the controversial Bernardo Bertolucci film Last Tango in Paris, an unexpected phenomenon that catapulted him from well known jazz musician to the realm of international celebrity. He later parlayed his Last Tango success into a career as a film composer, scoring a dozen international films over the years in Europe, South America and the United States.
From 1976 through 1979, Barbieri released five popular albums on A&M Records, the label owned by trumpet great Herb Alpert. Most of Barbieri’s A&M recordings of the late 70s --including the brisk selling 1976 opus Caliente!--featured a softer jazz approach, but early 80s dates like the live Gato…Para Los Amigos had a more intense, rock influenced South American sound.
After many years of musical inactivity due to the passing of his wife Michelle (also his closest musical confidant) and his own triple bypass surgery six weeks later, Barbieri returned stronger than ever with the 1997 Columbia offering Que Pasa, the fourth highest selling Contemporary Jazz album of the year.
Barbieri's global legend continued on The Shadow of the Cat, his long anticipated Peak Records debut and 50th album overall. The Shadow of the Cat resonates with the unmistakable feeling of sensual celebration, and features Alpert playing trumpet and trumpet solos on three songs.