As I have mentioned on these pages before, a group of us who had become buddies while attending a class at City College all shared this passion for Afro-Caribbean music in its many forms. The great thing about this group, which included Mike Mena, Alfie Alvarado and myself as the main stalwarts, was the research each would do in finding new venues to explore. Around 97-98 a little Cuban spark plug of a woman had begun a Latin Jazz/Folkloric live music series at a place called the Taller Latino Americano. Her name is Mappy Torres and you will see her in action in future videos. The facility for this non-for-profit organization located on the South East corner of 104th St and Broadway in Manhattan, rapidly became the in place to go to hear the cutting edge Latin Jazz musicians, many of which had recently arrived from Cuba. Stellar performers such as Yosvanny Terry and Dafnis Prieto were seen by American audiences for the first time in that humble space provided by the Taller. The concerts were held in a room perhaps 400-500 square feet in size. One corner was dedicated to the stage area for the performance. There were an assortment of couches, chairs and stools to sit on. Nothing matched and that was the best part. It was like being in your living room and having a great live band playing for you and your family and friends.
Soon after the Taller got rolling, the newly renovated Planetarium, part of the American Museum of Natural History, opened to rave reviews for its design. Dubbed the Rose Center, the Museum began a Jazz series called Starry Nights in which some of the true luminaries in Jazz were featured in this wonderful setting. It was common to find people like Ray Barretto, Dave Valentin or Danilo Perez playing the room. So here we were, Friday night in NY....Starry Nights, two sets of music between 5:30PM and 7:30PM and Mappy's kicking off about 10PM. What to do with those extra 2 1/2 hours; El Malecon! Now the Rose Center is on 81 St. and Amsterdam and the Taller, 104th and B'way. El Malecon is on 97th St and Amsterdam Ave. Now we never use these pages to really plug any establishments, but for the sake of this tale, I'm going to plug the Malecon. It is perhaps one of the finest restaurants, featuring Caribbean cuisine, in the city. The place is small but lively, the service is great, the food is even better and a wonderful time is always had by all.
Several videos, one featuring Ray at the Rose Center and another featuring Mark Weinstein at the Taller have already been posted in the blog. Expect much more in the future. These Friday night outings of ours lasted for several years and we were thrilled by many spectacular performances by a myriad of artists of the highest caliber. The Taller has long since ceased their series and Starry Nights continues in an abbreviated form. We were lucky to catch it in its hey days. Willie