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NPR Arts & Life

Grammy Winner, Sax Legend Gato Barbieri Dies At 83

In the span of a decade, saxophonist Gato Barbieri went from playing with the likes of Don Cherry and Carla Bley to composing the <em>Last Tango In Paris</em> soundtrack.
In the span of a decade, saxophonist Gato Barbieri went from playing with the likes of Don Cherry and Carla Bley to composing the <em>Last Tango In Paris</em> soundtrack.

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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