Song of the Day: Peruchin Justiz “Mamey Colorao”
Peruchin! What can I say? This man is one of my favorite instrumentalists ever, hands down, done. Every time I hear his music, I am utterly astounded by every aspect of his ingenious piano artistry. Rhythmically, melodically, harmonically and dynamically: Peruchin Justiz took the piano to places it had never been before. With absolute virtuosic command of his instrument, he tells the some of the most impassioned and compelling musical stories that I have ever heard anyone tell on any instrument.
No matter what composition he playing, in whatever tempo or style, he never ceases to surprise and amaze me. From his 1954 album entitled, Peruchin: His Piano and Rhythm Accompaniment, “Mamey Colorao” (one of his own masterful compositions) is no exception. This tune is as delicious and as rich as the Mamey Sapote fruit (native to Mexico, Central America, and Cuba) that inspired its title. Fusing traditional Afro-Cuban musical traditions, a distinct Jazz influence and European Classical techniques, Peruchin exemplifies boundless innovation with equally powerful deep roots.
Pedro Nolasco Justiz Rodriquez was born in Banes, Holguin, Cuba, on January 31st in the year of 1913. Amidst a family of musicians, he began piano lessons with his mother at 10 years old and joined a family band while still a teenager. He continued his musical studies with his grandfather, and moved from the saxophone to the piano due to his asthma. After his family’s move to Santiago de Cuba in 1933, he began working with more and more well-known and highly-regarded groups. An unstoppable musical force, he became one of the most sought after pianists, composers, and arrangers in the realm of Cuban Popular Music throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Peruchin Justiz was, and is still regarded as an absolute master of the structural backbone and heartbeat of the breadth of Afro-Cuban music: the clave! Along with a few other pioneers of Afro-Latin piano playing such as Noro Morales and Lili Martinez, he forged a new sound and style which profoundly influenced future generations of musicians who became even more widely popular and influential themselves. Pianists such as Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Bebo Valdes, Chucho Valdes and Papo Lucca have all built upon Peruchin‘s great musical achievements and advancements. He released his final album “Piano Y Ritmo” in 1975 and died two years later, as the preeminent musical godfather that he was. He left us with a body of work that is simply awe inspiring.
On a personal note, I had the privilege, pleasure and honor of meeting and spending an afternoon with the great master’s son Peruchin Jr. (also a fantastic musician), at his sunny apartment in Havana in 2001. I was living in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana at the time, studying music pursuant to a general license for professional research. We sipped coffee, ate guayaba, and talked about music, about life, about his father, and about the unfortunate barriers between the places we each called home. Perhaps one day the doors will completely open between our respective countries and great artists such as Peruchin will become more well known and appreciated up here in North America. Viva Peruchin Justiz!