He formed the band with his bassist brother, Andy, in the blighted Bronx of the late '70s. "We see ourselves as warriors against the negativity, surviving in the middle of that mess," Gonzalez says. "There were lots of positive things there, artists and creative people, not just junkies, murder and criminals."
"Fort Apache" was an improvisation, made up on the spot for a German concert promoter who wanted a name to announce them by. It comes from the nickname of a notorious precinct where racism, corruption and even murder sparked a community response. "The cops in the Bronx were just like the cavalry out west trying to put down the Indians, only they had the Puerto Ricans and the blacks," Gonzalez says. "The people rose up and stormed the station."
Two decades later, the neighborhood has been cleaned up and the band is still going strong. "We have been together for a long time," Gonzalez says. "It's rare and creates an ESP and telepathy in the playing. Now everyone is a leader in their own band, and everyone's musical concept is different. But when there is an Apache gig, we all stop whatever we are doing and go."
The band's history is documented in a series of critically acclaimed recordings, most of which can be found with a bit of effort. They include Gonzalez' debut "Ya Yo Me Cure," which ranged from Billy Strayhorn to the theme for "I Love Lucy" and "Rumba Para Monk," a groundbreaking Latin reworking of Thelonious Monk compositions.
The prominence of Gonzalez and the Apaches in last year's Latin music documentary "Calle 54" introduced them to a wider world audience. "It made me famous," said Gonzalez, who moved to Madrid following a tour promoting the movie's European release. "Everywhere I go the place is jam-packed. One of the surprises of being in Spain is that I haven't looked for anything, everything came to me."
Gonzalez continues to transcend boundaries in his new base, recently introducing the trumpet into the tradition-bound world of flamenco. "I'm playing with the real gypsies, master players," he says. "And it's flipping people out because I am making it work."
While he looks forward to bringing his new flamenco home to New York, Gonzalez is equally excited about coming to Richmond to play with brother Andy, saxophonist Joe Ford, pianist Larry Willis and drummer Steve Berrios. "It's like a reunion, [it's] really intense, [it's] really happy," he says. "They are strong musicians who can expand horizons. We're coming to burn, that's for sure."
Talk of burning from a man introduced in "Calle 54" as "the poete maudite [cursed poet] of Latin Jazz, the last Caribbean pirate," might raise alarm. But the flames are all refiners' fire, not destroying the old but transforming it into something strong, new and true. S
The Fort Apache Band performs at the Camp Concert Hall at the University of Richmond, Monday, Feb. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $5-$24. Call 289-8980.
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