Eddie Palmieri, Grammy-Winning Latin Jazz Pianist, Leads Master Class for Rutgers Musicians

Eddie Palmieri, Grammy-Winning Latin Jazz Pianist, Leads Master Class for Rutgers Musicians

Mason Gross jazz students improve their sound during master class with Latin music legend

Grammy-winning musician Eddie Palmier teaches master class at Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Mason Gross School of the Arts
Photo by Nick Romanenko

Media Contact
Cynthia Medina

Each Monday, jazz students at Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Mason Gross School of the Arts get to perfect their work with the help of a musical master. Often, that master is Eddie Palmieri, the Grammy Award-winning pianist, bandleader and composer who transformed Charanga and other musical genres with his swinging, innovative sound.

Palmieri’s visits are a part of Jazz Assembly Days at Mason Gross, which run from September through December. The Jazz Assembly Days consist of the Monday "Studio Day" series and periodic Wednesday Visiting Artist Series, which feature weekly lectures and clinics from top artists. Palmieri visits on a weekly basis.

Palmieri has won nine Grammy Awards for blending the rhythms of his Puerto Rican heritage with the complexities of his jazz influences, including Thelonius Monk and Herbie Hancock. He speaks with Rutgers Today about the opportunities for jazz students at Mason Gross.

Q. How did you discover jazz as a career?

I was born in 1936 in New York from parents who were raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and I started playing the piano at 13. I loved it so much that I then began studying the piano at Carnegie Hall. I originally wanted to become my brother Charlie Palmieri’s drummer who was nine years older than me, but my mother wouldn’t hear of it. She wanted me to play something more sophisticated, like the piano. She eventually succumbed to the idea of me getting timbales (a shallow single-headed drum), but I eventually went back to the piano on my own.  I still love playing the timbales, and I got into the percussion and drums a little, but piano has become my passion. I am always learning on it, and I will never stop learning.


Hear the sounds of students in the group F18 Chamber Jazz 3 perform for Palmieri during his master class at Mason Gross


Q. What do you teach during your visits to Rutgers?

I teach a master class that is typically focused on just the piano, but also included a workshop where about 150 students came in and played songs for me, and I helped them learn what they can do to make the songs even better.  Three bands at Mason Gross – the Jazz Afro-Caribbean Ensemble, led by Bill O’Connell, who teaches jazz composition and arrangement, and Jazz Chamber 2 and 3 – played a few pieces and I gave them my take on what they could do to improve. I discuss the musical dynamics, and how to make it more exciting. After all the different bands finish playing, then we'll play some records and we'll talk. It becomes a very interesting class.

Q: How long have you been teaching at Rutgers?

I’ve been coming to Rutgers for the past four years. I started because of Conrad Herwig, the head of jazz studies at Mason Gross who plays the trombone.  We’ve known each other for about 30 years. When he recommended that I come in to help students, I loved the idea and I have been coming back ever since. They have managed to create something amazing here. With faculty like Herwig and O’ Connell, the students have the greatest jazz instructors to learn from.

Q: What are your next steps with Mason Gross?

I have plans to work on a symphonic pop project with Marc Stasio, the jazz studies coordinator. The symphonic pop project will blend a lot of Latin history that mixes different cultures in Puerto Rico. There is the Spanish and the African infusion that happened in the history of Latin America that has put the world to dance with the most exciting and complicated rhythmical patterns.  Then, I take the religion of Santeria as the visual backdrop, and when you blend that together with anything like Latin jazz, it creates something very exciting.

Q: What advice do you have for students who want to make a career performing jazz music?

I have one word for them: preparation. There is no guess work if they prepare. The more you prepare yourself, the better you’ll perform. If you want to make it a career then you’ve got to really dig deeply into whatever genre you want to do. Comedian Steve Martin said it best when he said to “be so good, that you can’t be ignored.” That will lead to creating your own signature as an artist. Also, make sure to take care of your body and your mind, so that you will be able to one day go on tours and share your music with the world.

Media Contact
Cynthia Medina