Home Reviews Remembering Mark Alexander Dimond, Titan of the Keyboard (1950-1986)

Remembering Mark Alexander Dimond, Titan of the Keyboard (1950-1986)

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The tune Te Estan Buscando (Loose translation: (The Cops are Looking for You) was a track on trombonist, bandleader Willie Colon’s Guisando. Composed by Ruben Blades and interpreted by Hector Lavoe, the running joke was, it depicted street life so accurately the album reeked of marijuana!

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

Dimond grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with his single mother and sister. His mother was a social worker and a university student. His estranged father was a Black Cuban.

How Dimond gravitated to the piano at such an early age is not known, but, according to several sources, he was self-taught, had instant recall and could play a tune “by ear” after hearing it once.

In the mid-60s Dimond, singer Ismael Miranda and Andy Harlow formed a sextet. Two years later, Dimond joined Willie Colon’s band and appeared on the albums, The Hustler (1968) and Guisando (1969).

Guisando’s success led to a contract with the booking agent, manager Richie Bonilla. According to 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 fired several musicians, Dimond included and replaced him with Kent Gomez and later, Professor Joe Torres.

In 1971, Fania Records Executive Producer Harvey Averne and Producers and Music Directors Larry Harlow and Johnny Pacheco presented Brujeria (Witchcraft).

According to 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 the bassists Eddie “Gua Gua” Rivera and Andy Gonzalez. The backup singers (Coro) were Ismael Quintana and Justo Betancourt.

Today, Brujeria is a classic, but when it was released sales were tepid. Still, it heralded Dimond’s arrival as a leader, composer, and arranger and was one of the most progressive, and exciting recordings of the era. It’s worth noting, in 1977, at the height of Angle Canales’s popularity, Alegre Records reissued Brujeria under the title, Angel Canales, Mas Sabor and blatantly attempted to erase Dimond’s contribution.

In 1972, after the departure of its pianist, Dimond performed with the Dicupé Orchestra. According to the orchestra’s bongo player, “Markolino played a lot with us but it was a problem because he was always late. During that time many played with us but Markolino was the one who stayed the longest.”

In 1974 Markolino was invited to record on Hector Lavoe’s debut as a soloist, La Voz (1975). On the tune, Rompe Saraguey Dimond performs one of his most popular solos. Also, in 1974 he participated in Ismael Quintana’s first album as a soloist. Also, there is speculation that Dimond sat in with the Fania All-Stars when Larry Harlow was not available and before Maestro, Papo Lucca became the orchestras regular pianist.

In 1975, Cotique Records released Mark Dimond and Frankie Dante’s BEETHOVEN’S V.

According to Producer, Aaron Levinson, “From a compositional standpoint, the album is mainly a Mark Dimond affair. Five of the eight tracks are composed by him. The remaining are Cuban titles and the final track, titled Por Que Adore, is composed by the phenomenal Tite Curet Alonso. It was an astute choice to sequence the album with Tite having La ultima palabra! (the last word). Likewise, starting the album with the Markolino original, Sabroson sets the stage for the loose and super funky vibe that permeates the album. The two Cuban songs included remind us of the debt everyone owes Cuba and capture 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. Suffice it to say; Dimond and Dante were a dynamic duo!”

As always, 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. Beethoven’s V is a salsa classic for the ages.

In 1975, Vaya Records released The Alexander Review. Despite the impressive lineup, the recording did not live up to the record record company and the public’s expectations. Still, it is  significant for several reasons. It was Dimond’s first attempt at connecting with his African American roots and the personnel included the sons of Randy Weston (Azzedin Weston) and Thelonious Monk (TS Monk), two of Dimond’s primary influences.

One year later, Dimond appeared on Andy Harlow’s Latin Fever (1976) and Frankie Dante and Orquesta Flamboyan’s Los Salseros De Acere (1976).

Shortly after that, Dimond dropped out of sight for roughly nine years. Part of the time, he was in and out of rehab.

Later, Andy Harlow received a telephone call from Dimond’s mother, who, at the time, was retired and living in Augusta, Georgia. According to her, Dimond moved to the Bay Area, successfully reunited with his father, and acquired a job as a piano salesman. Shortly after that, at 36, Dimond collapsed and did not recover. The official cause of death was cerebral syphilis.

What to make of Mark Dimond’s today? In an exclusive interview with Radio Gladys Palmera, the pianist and former musical director of Hector Lavoe’s band, Gilberto “Pulpo” Colon, praises Dimond and cites him 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 who loved Latin music and played with more ‘sabor’ (feeling) than many Latinos. And, he played jazz!”

In Andy Harlow’s opinion, “Had Mark’s life taken a different turn, he could have been the ‘Prince’ of his generation.”

REFERENCE

  • Blondet, Richard – Research
  • 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
  • Photo: Mark Dimond and Andy Gonzalez.

Photo: Mark Dimond, Andy Gonzalez courtesy: (C) TONTXI VÁZQUEZ/JAVarchivoArticle Updated: February 2022.

13 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!

  3. Gracias, por que acabo de descubrir quien fue Markolino Dimond 🎹🎹. Ahora oyendo “MARKOLINO DIMOND & FRANKIE DANTE: Beethoven’s V”, definitivamente en mi libro, Eddie Palmieri paso a un segundo lugar.

  4. Every few months, I Google Dimond for something, anything about his life! All I ever saw made him sound like some footnote to Willie Colon’s career. As your research confirms, Dimond was a GIANT of music, period, and he could play ANYTHING. His small body of work is solid, but I especially enjoy his solos. Think of Tatum-level improvisation—complete with quotes from Tin Pan Alley songs and classical works—plus a giant dose of soul/R&B.

    Playlist is a great resource. But a properly remastered wax reissue program should be initiated!!!

  5. A great and informative piece of writing..I have only just discovered him and am inspired to delve deeper into this undoubtedly super talented artists catalogue of work. Many thanks

    • Thank you. I enjoyed immersing myself in Mark Dimond’s life and music. I’m glad you enjoyed it and found the piece informative. More to come!

  6. Hi Tomas,

    Thanks for remembering Mark Dimond.

    With all due respect to Mr. Bonilla, his claim of replacing the musicians as a result of their drug use/addiction rings hollow. There is a gap between Mark Dimond being the pianist and “Professor” Joe Torres becoming the regular pianist. It’s possible he forgot as it was so long ago. Sandwiched in between Dimond and Professor’s tenures with the WAC Band was pianist Kent Gomez. Who was the pianist when Mr. Bonilla booked the band on their first West Coast tour, preceding the “Cosa Nuestra” LP. Not to fuel any aspersions towards anyone but few, if any (who came after Mark Dimond, others, and replaced them) avoided recreational drug use. However, from what I understand, Dimond was known to be in much more severe dire straits with his habit than the average musician. Eventually LaVoe himself would catch up to Dimond’s level of struggle with his addiction. Which, by 1975, gripped Hector financially.

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