Remembering Larry Harlow, El Judio Maravilloso

August 23, 2021

The Jewish experience is shaped by many facets of culture. At the passing of Larry Harlow (1939-2021), an influential architect of New York salsa music, we are reflecting on the rich and complex histories of the Latin American and Jewish musical exchange.

We at Reboot had the great fortune to learn from Harlow and collaborate with him on live experiences and unique recordings. In 2012, we visited Harlow in his New York home to record an oral history of his life and career. 

Born in Brooklyn as Lawrence Ira Kahn (his mother sang opera, his father helmed the band at The Latin Quarter), Harlow became an omnipresent pianist and bandleader with the legendary Fania Records label. In Cuba, he devoted himself to Santería and studied the deep traditions of Afro-Cuban music. In New York, he merged those legacies with experiments in jazz alongside some of the biggest names in Latin music (Tito Puente was an early mentor) and across dozens of his own albums, as well hundreds he shepherded as a producer. Nicknamed “El Judio Maravilloso” (The Marvelous Jew), he wrote a salsa opera (Hommy, inspired by The Who’s Tommy) and, with Rubén Blades, a sweeping, orchestral homage to the history of Latin American music (La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite).

Harlow join us for Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos concerts at Lincoln Center in 2009 and Yoshi’s in 2010, and was featured on our 2013 compilation It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba, celebrating the rich and complex histories of Latin American and Jewish musical exchange.

Zikhrono livrakha – May his memory be a blessing