Basic Background Info
For Richie Gajate-Garcia, percussion was the natural choice. He says, “I’m Puerto Rican, and percussion instruments are found all throughout our culture.” Richie Gajate-Garcia was born in Queens, New York, and raised just blocks away from Tito Puente’s childhood home, until his family moved back to Puerto Rico. Richie Gajate-Garcia stayed in Puerto Rico until he graduated from high school. Richie Gajate-Garcia moved back to the U.S. and enrolled at Illinois’s Springfield College.
Richie started out as a business administration major in emulation of his businessman father. Richie credits his father with teaching him how to deliver effective speeches, a skill that would serve him later as a clinician. Eventually, Richie discovered that business was not for him, so he transferred to Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music and earned his BA in Music Education. While he studied in Chicago, Richie also dedicated himself to playing music full time.
Following graduation, Richie got together with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to go on tour. When the band relocated to California, Richie went with them. Richie left the band, but stayed in California, where he easily made a name for himself as a session musician.
Over the next twenty years, Richie worked on everything from soundtracks, to educational materials, to huge career-defining gigs—including a tour with Phil Collins performing music for Walt Disney’s “Tarzan,” a gig backing Celia Cruz at the VIDA Awards, another one backing Tito Puente, playing drums on the Paul Rodriguez show, accompanying Sting, performing with Juan Gabriel at the Universal Amphitheater, traveling through France with Veronique Sanson, touring with Diana Ross, Don Henley, Hiroshima, Patti LaBelle, and performing Latin percussion with John Denver. Richie also got the opportunity to sit on a panel at a fundraiser for the Democratic Party and speak directly with President Clinton and Vice President Gore. Of the experience he said, “I got along great with President Clinton. I then got to play for them. I was sitting on stage next to Art Garfunkel, and the President was sitting in front of the stage. He leaned to the side, ignored Art and waved to me. I again spoke with President Clinton after the performance and got pictures. He spoke to me like I was an old music buddy.”
However, of all his experiences as a musician, Richie says, “I have to say that doing clinics has been one of the most rewarding things for me. I went to Columbia to do the first clinic there and 600 people came. And I’m thinking, ‘Why are all these people coming to see me? They have all the music they could ever want.’ And they said, ‘Richie, thanks to you and your video, I was able to start.’ And it’s so amazing if you can reach people and inspire them, even if it’s just to play a cowbell, you know you’ve reached them and that’s the great reward of the videos.”
Latin Percussion began its line of educational videos in the early 70s. The first video, Understanding Latin Rhythms Vol. 1, featured Richie Gajate-Garcia teaching Latin percussive techniques. Over thirty years later, the series still endures all around the world. More recently Richie has seen Latin music becoming more integrated in the American music market. Of the trend, Richie says, “…in every club I play, I see as many Anglo-Americans as I see Latinos dancing and dancing great. With some of the dance steps these people do, I'm going to have to go and take lessons.” A newer series of instructional DVDs focuses on how to learn Latin percussion and perform in the American music industry.
In addition to everything else, Richie Gajate-Garcia has also performed on several high profile film soundtracks including Maid in Manhattan, I-Spy, and The Mummy Returns. He also has a catalogue of solo albums, including the critically acclaimed Entre Amigos. In regards to his amazing genre blending career, he says, “I constantly look for new sounds and I’m not completely partial to any one instrument, which I feel adds color and appeal to my playing.”
Instruments of Choice
Pics & Clips