There was something off with the picture. On one side, there were about 50 of the greatest salseros on the planet waiting to have their group photograph taken: Johnny Pacheco, Ismael Miranda, Joe Bataan, (a skinny!) Tito Nieves, Bobby Sanabria, my favorite “Marvelous Jew” Larry Harlow, the list goes on. And on the other side stood the staff of a New York City daily paper that’s been boycotted by many, including myself, since its publication of a racist cartoon depicting of our president. It was great to see all these men gathered together in one room at Montana Studios on 56th Street: the electricity, for someone whose been reared on salsa and the Fania sound, was almost overwhelming. However, it was strange to see that the honor of shooting these titans was given to someone painfully oblivious to who they are. This wasn’t just another gig. And what made it even more off-kilter was that photographer Joe Conzo, whose shot many of the men in the room, was standing on the sideline. If it weren’t for his homeboy Joe Bataan, he may have missed the session altogether. My favorite awkward moment, though, came when all these men were told by the photographer to scream, “Viva la Salsa” (now, picture someone like, say, George Bush, Jr. demanding Tito Puente to say that in lieu of “cheese” and you’ll overstand what I’m getting at). To her credit, the photog succeeded in quieting the room down. You could hear a pin drop for like five whole seconds. Joe Conzo is someone so rooted in the currents of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s music and nightlife scene in New York City—his dad, Joe Conzo, Sr., was the late Tito Puente’s “confidant and historian”— that it was almost blasphemous not seeing him man the shoot. Art Kane shot A Great Day in Harlem. Gordon Parks shot A Great Day in Hip-Hop. So why wouldn’t we treat our salsa legends with the same respect? Go figure. Here are some of the moments Joe captured (and gave me permission to post).
Johnny Pacheco sharing a story with me about performing in Abidjan. Incredible.
Bobby Sanabria and Joe Bataan