Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
See the latest RNC updates from NPR

Jazz Caliente: The Thelonious Monk Of Cuba, Emiliano Salvador

statue of Emiliano Salvador in Puerto Padre, Cuba

Emiliano Salvador is perhaps the most overlooked of Cuban jazz pianists.  His intensity and focus drew comparisons to Thelonious Monk, he had the sensitivity of Bill Evans, and his innovative approach echoed McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock.

Salvador was born into a musical family in Puerto Padre, and attended the prestigious Escuela Nacional del Arte (National Art School) in Havana.  

His peers called him the most original Cuban pianist, a master of blending Afro-Cuban rhythms with American jazz.  He recorded five albums, only two or three of which have been available in the U.S.  A couple of collections were released after his death in 1992, about a month after he recorded "Ayer y Hoy (Yesterday and Today)."  He was 41.

Emiliano Salvador's success was obstructed for a number of reasons.  Introverted and insecure, Salvador could not get on stage without several alcoholic drinks to steady his nerves, and his drinking grew progressively worse.  He also suffered a hand injury that sidelined him for several years.  

His most active years were during the re-instated embargo of Cuba by Ronald Reagan, so his music couldn't get to potential new fans and producers in the States.  He was twice denied a visa to perform in the U.S.

Luckily, author and champion of Cuban music Ned Sublette was able to lease the rights to "Ayer y Hoy" for his label, QBADISC, and released the album in the U.S. in 1994.  He also was able to do a U.S. release of Salvador's first album, "Nueva Vision."

Listen for Emiliano Salvador's "Quinta Avenida" from "Ayer y Hoy" this week on Jazz Caliente.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.