Leandro “Gato” Barbieri, born on November 28, 1932, in Rosario, Argentina, was a legendary Latin jazz saxophonist, known for his passionate and emotive playing style. With a career that spanned over five decades, Barbieri’s music combined Latin American folk traditions, jazz, and avant-garde influences, earning him critical acclaim and a devoted following.
Barbieri began playing the clarinet at the age of 12 before switching to the alto saxophone. Initially inspired by the bebop sounds of Charlie Parker, Barbieri moved to Buenos Aires in the early 1950s, where he became involved in the local jazz scene. In 1953, he formed his own group, playing both alto and tenor saxophones. By the early 1960s, Barbieri’s interest in avant-garde jazz led him to collaborate with musicians such as Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman.
In 1965, Gato Barbieri relocated to New York City, where he became a prominent figure in the free jazz movement. He recorded with artists like Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and Carla Bley, and released a series of avant-garde albums, including “In Search of the Mystery” and “Obsession.” However, it was his return to Latin American music that would define his career and bring him widespread recognition.
In the early 1970s, Barbieri began incorporating Latin American folk music into his compositions, exploring the rich musical traditions of Argentina, Brazil, and other countries. This new direction led to the release of the critically acclaimed “Chapter” series, which showcased Barbieri’s distinctive fusion of jazz and Latin American music. His soulful and passionate playing, combined with his ability to seamlessly blend genres, earned him the nickname “El Gato” (The Cat) and garnered him international success.
Barbieri’s career reached new heights in 1972 with the release of his score for the film “Last Tango in Paris,” directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. The soundtrack, which featured Barbieri’s evocative and sensual saxophone playing, won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition and helped solidify his reputation as a leading figure in Latin jazz.
Over the years, Gato Barbieri continued to record and perform, releasing numerous albums that showcased his unique musical vision. Despite facing health issues in the 1990s and 2000s, Barbieri remained an active presence in the jazz world, often collaborating with younger musicians and continuing to push the boundaries of his craft.
On April 2, 2016, Gato Barbieri passed away at the age of 83. His groundbreaking work as a saxophonist and composer left an indelible mark on the world of jazz and Latin American music. Barbieri’s innovative fusion of genres and his passionate, emotive playing continue to inspire musicians and captivate audiences worldwide, ensuring his lasting legacy in the history of music.
Last updated 3/6/2023.