Home Profiles Remembering “Markolino” Dimond, Titan of the Keyboard (1950-1986)

Remembering “Markolino” Dimond, Titan of the Keyboard (1950-1986)

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The tune Te Estan Buscando (They’re Looking For You) was included in Willie Colon’s third album titled Guisando. Composed by Ruben Blades and interpreted by Hector Lavoe, it depicted street life so accurately, the running joke was, the album reeked of marijuana.

They are looking for you, the police

I told you Markolino

To be more careful

The “Jara” is looking for you,

you are stewed.

Always walking with “bolitas” (cocaine)

One day they are going to catch you,

I told you Markolino

To be more careful

Always with the same story

you never want to work,

I told you Fu Man-Chú

Hide the bamboo paper

The lyrics “call out” Mark Alexander Dimond aka”Markolino,” a gifted pianist, composer, arranger whose punishing montunos (vamps) and progressive solos drew from Cuba’s piano masters, jazz icons Randy Weston, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and his idol, Eddie Palmieri.

Dimond grew up in the “Loisaida” section of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the son of a Black Cuban father and an African American mother. How he gravitated to the piano is unclear, but, according to several sources, Dimond was self-taught and could play a tune, note-for-note after hearing it once.

According to Andy Harlow, in the mid-60s, a teenage Ismael Miranda and Markolino Dimond approached him about forming a quartet. Two years later, Dimond joined Willie Colon’s band and appeared on the albums,sdsd The Hustler (1968) and Guisando (1969).

Guisando’s success led to a contract with the manager, booking agent Richie Bonilla: “I was the first manager for Willie Colón and Hector Lavoe. At the time, Willie Colón was eighteen years old. He had the first album, El Malo (1968), but he was just another kid struggling. To make matters worse, the group was riddled with drug addicts. The piano player was great, a beautiful guy, his name was Marc Dimond, but he was a drug addict. So I started helping them by changing their musicians.” Bonilla replaced Dimond with Professor Joe Torres.

BRUJERIA
(Witchcraft, 1971)

One year later, Fania Records Executive Producer Harvey Averne and Producers, Music Directors Larry Harlow and Johnny Pacheco proudly presented Brujeria.

Larry Harlow’s Liner Notes: “The day has come, Conjunto Sabor is Mark’s band. He has written all the music, lyrics, and arrangements for this album. It’s all Mark Dimond! His piano playing is a cross between typical Cuban and Progressive jazz, is superb. He has chosen Angel Canales for his singer. Although it’s Angel’s first recording, you would have to look very far to top his performance. The members of the band are all friends and grew up in lower Manhattan. I’m sure Mark Dimond and Conjunto Sabor will inspire you with their “Brujeria.'”

The “friends” included trombonists Richie Montañez and Fudgy Torres, trumpeter Danny Reyes, bongo player Louie Rivera, conga player Antonio Tapia, and bassists Eddie “Gua Gua” Rivera and Andy Gonzalez. The backup singers (Coro) were Ismael Quintana and Justo Betancourt

Today, Brujeria is a classic and collector’s item, but when the album came out sales were tepid. Still, it turned heads, heralded Dimond’s arrival, and was one of the most exciting salsa recordings of the era.

BEETHOVEN’S V
(Cotique, 1975)

Aaron Levinson’s Liner Notes: “From a compositional standpoint, the album is mainly a Mark Dimond affair, with five of the eight tracks composed by him. The remainders are Cuban titles, and the final track, the phenomenal Tite Curet Alonso, wrote ‘Por Que Adore.’ It was an astute choice to sequence this album with Tite having la palabra última (the last word). Likewise, starting the album with the Markolino original ‘Sabroson’ perfectly sets the stage for the loose and super funky vibe that permeates this album. The two Cuban songs included remind us of the debt everyone owes Cuba and captures the zeitgeist of the típico movement in New York that honored that tradition. It’s a shame that Markolino and Frankie did not make more records. Still, it also makes albums like Beethoven’s V seem all the more magical because of their rarity. In a style that Puerto Ricans and Cubans dominated, this pairing of a Dominican singer and an African American.” Suffice it to say; Dimond and Dante were a dynamic duo!

As usual, Dimond surrounded himself with the best musicians: Nicky Marrero, Eddie “Gua Gua” Rivera, Frankie Malabe, Barry Rogers, Mike Collazo, Lewis Khan, Randy Brecker, Renaldo Jorge, Lew Soloff, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Yayo El Indio and Ismael Quintana. Today, Beethoven’s V is a salsa classic for the ages.

THE ALEXANDER REVIEW
(Vaya Records, 1975)

Despite the impressive lineup, The Alexander Review was a commercial failure. Nevertheless, it is significant for several reasons. The personnel included the sons of Randy Weston (Azzedin Weston) and Thelonious Monk (TS Monk). This raises the question, did Dimond meet and interact with his jazz idols through their children?

One year later, Dimond appeared on Andy Harlow’s Latin Fever and Frankie Dante and Orquesta Flamboyan’s Los Salseros De Acere (Cotique). Afterward, he dropped out of sight for nearly a decade. Part of the time, he was in and out of rehab.

In a revealing interview on Radio Gladys Palmera’sLa Hora Fanatica,” Andy Harlow recalls the last time he saw Dimond. “In 1984, he (Dimond) showed up at my house. He was in a bad way. I paid him in advance to arrange three tracks (Decide Tu, Nadie de Nada, and Mortifica) for the album The Miami Sessions. Also, he ‘borrowed’ an electric keyboard. I never saw him again.” According to Harlow, Dimond went to California to search for his father. Also, he acquired a job selling pianos. One year later, at 36, he died.

What to make of Mark Dimond today? In an interview with Radio Gladys Palmera, the pianist and former musical director of Hector Lavoe’s band, Gilberto “Pulpo” Colon, cites Dimond as a primary influence. “I’m a Mark Dimond fanatic. Though some won’t admit it, Markolino influenced many of the pianists of his generation. Lest we forget, he was an African-American! He loved Latin music and played with more “Sabor” (feeling) than many Latinos. And he played jazz!”

In Andy Harlow’s opinion, “Dimond could have been the Prince of his generation.” Even Richie Bonilla, who fired Dimond from Willie Colon’s band, referred to him as a “beautiful pianist.”

While conducting the research, I stumbled on several videos that attempt to pit Dimond against Eddie Palmieri by posing the question, “Who was the better pianist?” Other videos refer to Dimond as “El Enigmatico de la Salsa,” and “El Phantasma de la Salsa.” A die-hard fan writes, “I’m a Mark Dimond fanatic. I have his name tattooed on my back. My dogs, ‘Markolino’ and “Dimond,” are named after him.”

Which is to say, thirty-five years after his death, Dimond’s music is still relevant. It’s time for a new generation of listeners to experience the full range of Markolino Dimond’s artistry.

REFERENCE

  • Gonzalez, Eric – El Senor Booking Agent: Richie Bonilla (2001)
  • Harlow, Larry – Brujeria Liner Notes (Fania, 1971)
  • Kent, Mary – Salsa Talks! (Digital Domain, 2005)
  • Levinson, Aaron – Beethoven’s V Liner Notes
  • Radio Gladys Palmera, La Hora Fanatica – The Alexander Review
A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Markolino, toca como Beethoven!
    Markolino, toca como Beethoven!

    Thanks for this great tribute to a legendary player, gone too young. I just stumbled upon this blog, but it looks like a lot of interesting material here.

  2. YES INDEED!!! Very well written tribute to the “Mac the Knife” of the keys!!! One of the unsung heroes of our Music who sadly was taken away much too soon by his own hand. Imagine the Music he would’ve created if he were still around today!!

    • That’s exactly what I was thinking when I wrote the piece. “Markolino” would have given Eddie Palmieri a run for his money!

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