Ashe: a West African Yoruba word meaning the power to make things happen, to draw inspiration from the realm of the spiritual world, to bring the power of the gods down to earth.
“Ashe! For the first time in the history of the Chubb Fellowship we have someone who already knows what that means,” Timothy Dwight College Master Robert Thompson said at a luncheon Monday. “Eddie Palmieri has been making things happen in the world of salsa for over half a century.”
Two days of events honoring salsa music great Eddie Palmieri culminated yesterday after a Monday night concert by Palmieri in Woolsey Hall and a performance yesterday afternoon of 10 British jazz mambo dancers in Thompson’s African-American art class.
The Woolsey Hall concert attracted Palmieri fans from the New Haven community and beyond, as well as students and faculty members. Palmieri’s salsa orchestra — complete with trombones, trumpets, a flute, a base player, two vocalists and Palmieri on keyboard and vocals — packed Woolsey to the third balcony with Latin beat.
“It rocked. Eddie Palmieri is a legend,” Amelia Shaw GRD ’03 said. “For the old boys of Yale, this must have rocked their socks.”
Palmieri said concerts like the one at Woolsey are the reason he loves to play music.
“The room was electric, it was alive,” Palmieri said. “When I’m able to see the reaction that you saw last night, when I see everybody dancing — those moments are the pulse of my life.”
Palmieri began singing when he was 5 years old. By 8 he was learning the piano and at 13, he said, “I was hitting all the lamps in the house, wanting to be a Tito Puente.”
Tito Puente, the famous timbalero drummer, was one of Palmieri’s many role models, he said. Another one was his older brother Charlie, who Palmieri calls “the best pianist in our genre.”
Palmieri started by playing the timbales in his uncle’s band, “Chino y su alma tropical.” But eventually, Palmieri said, he switched back to his first love, the piano.
“Music runs like sugar from between the black piano keys when he plays,” said Thompson, who was the first one up dancing at Palmieri’s Monday night show.
Jean-Paul Lausell SOM ’03 is from Palmieri’s parents’ native land of Puerto Rico. He said seeing Palmieri Monday night was “like meeting God.”
Palmieri said such esteem from his fans does not come without its challenges.
“I went through a part of my life when fame was ahead of preparation,” Palmieri said. “Only by going to my teacher, Bob Bianco, [did I begin to] look at Eddie Palmieri the reality and not Eddie Palmieri the myth.”
It was at this time when he relied on the mystical power of ashe, which he described as “your protection and preparation against evil thoughts and mental arrows.”
Yesterday afternoon, ten British jazz mambo dancers, who had flown in specially for the show, shook up Street Hall with their break-dancing moves. The dancers used chairs, metal rods, their sweat cloths, umbrellas and the slick soles of patent leather shoes to boogie to Palmieri’s music.
“We’ve come a long way to pay tribute to Eddie Palmieri in the only way that we could — through dancing,” said the dancers’ disc jockey “Snowboy.”
Some of the dancers came because they are “fanatical fans” of Palmieri; others said they came simply because they love to dance.
At Woolsey Hall Monday night, the audience was dancing in their seats and when some of them couldn’t contain the rhythm any longer, they got up and danced in the aisles.
“Once they started playing I was antsy and moving around in my seat and I was waiting for somebody, Master T or [Palmieri] to call us out of our seats,” said Rob Rhee ’04. “My favorite part was that it seemed like they were having so much fun, you just wanted to have fun with them.”