Grammy Winner, Sax Legend Gato Barbieri Dies At 83

Apr 4, 2016
Originally published on April 7, 2016 3:11 pm

Jazz saxophonist Gato Barbieri, known for his ever-present black fedora, was 83 when he died Saturday. Best known for the soundtrack to the controversial 1972 movie Last Tango In Paris, starring Marlon Brando, Barbieri won a Grammy for his efforts.

He was born Leandro Barbieri, but earned the nickname "Gato" — the "cat" — in his native Argentina as he came up in the Buenos Aires jazz scene. Barbieri was easily identifiable for his big, earthy tone on the tenor sax, as well as for his restless musical exploration.

Throughout the late '60s and '70s, he created a catalog of music that swayed from the avant-garde — playing on Don Cherry's Complete Communion, released in 1966 — to early world-music explorations featuring folk music from Latin America.

It was Gato Barbieri's 1976 album Caliente! that, for better or worse, influenced a movement known as smooth jazz. One radio staple from that album was his cover of Carlos Santana's song "Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile)."

In trying to explain the origins of his music — its mix of styles and influences — Barbieri once told The Tavis Smiley Show that it was like looking up at all the many stars in the sky. "My music is the same," he said. "I play Gato."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now let's remember a jazz and saxophone legend.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATO BARBIERI SONG)

KELLY: Gato Barbieri is best known for the music we're hearing now, part of the soundtrack for the provocative and controversial 1972 movie, "Last Tango In Paris," starring Marlon Brando. Barbieri won a Grammy for his work. He was born Leonardo Barbieri, but he earned the nickname Gato, the Cat, in his native Argentina as he came up in the Buenos Aires jazz scene. Barbieri was easily identifiable by his big earthy tone on the tenor sax, also for his restless musical exploration.

(SOUNDBITE OF GATO BARBIERI SONG)

KELLY: Throughout the late '60s and '70s, he created a catalog of music that swayed from the avant-garde, like the song here with trumpeter Don Cherry, to folk music from Latin America. It was Gato Barbieri's 1976 album "Caliente" that for better or worse influenced the movement known as smooth jazz. One radio staple from that album was his cover of Carlos Santana's song, "Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile)."

(SOUNDBITE OF GATO BARBIERI SONG, "EUROPA EARTH'S CRY, HEAVEN'S SMILE")

KELLY: In trying to explain the origins of his music, its mix of styles and influences, Gato Barbieri once told the "Tavis Smiley Show" that it was like looking up at all the many stars in the sky. My music is the same, he said. Gato, the Cat, Barbieri was 83 when he died over the weekend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.