The tune Te Estan Buscandois a track on trombonist bandleader Willie Colon’s Guisando (1969). At the time, the running joke was the song depicted street life so vividly that it reeked of marijuana. The song mentions “Markolino” Dimond, a gifted pianist, composer, and arranger whose punishing montunos (vamps) and progressive solos were inspired by Cuba’s piano masters, Randy Weston, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and his idol, Eddie Palmieri.
How Dimond gravitated to the piano at such an early age is unclear. Still, the prevailing theory is he was self-taught 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 Hustler (1968) and Guisando (1969) albums.
The success of Guisando led to a contract with the booking agent, manager Richie Bonilla. Bonilla said, “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, and 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, including Dimond, and replaced him with Kent Gomez and Professor Joe Torres.
In 1971, Fania Records Executive Producer Harvey Averne and Producers and Music Directors Larry Harlow and Johnny Pacheco produced and presented Brujeria(Witchcraft). According to Larry Harlow’s Liner Notes, “The day has come, Conjunto Sabor is Mark’s band. He has written this album’s music, lyrics, and arrangements. It’s all Mark Dimond! His piano playing is a superb cross between typical Cuban and Progressive jazz. He has chosen Angel Canales as his singer. Although it’s Angel’s first recording, you must look far to top his performance. The band members are all friends and grew up in lower Manhattan. 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, 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 blatantly reissued Brujeriaunder the title Angel Canales, Mas Sabor.
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 Rompe Saraguey, Dimond performs one of his most popular solos. Also, in 1974 he participated in Ismael Quintana’s first album as a soloist and there is speculation that Dimond sat in with the Fania All-Stars when Larry Harlow was unavailable.
In 1975, Cotique Records released Mark Dimond and Frankie Dante’s BEETHOVEN’S V.
Producer Aaron Levinson said, “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, Por Que Adore, is composed by the phenomenal Tite Curet Alonso. Sequencing the album with Tite having La ultima palabra was an astute choice! (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 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, it failed to meet the record company and the public’s expectations. Still, The Alexander Review is significant for several reasons. It was Dimond’s first attempt at connecting with his African American roots. Also, the personnel included the sons of Randy Weston (Azzedin Weston) and Thelonious Monk (TS Monk), whose parents were Dimond’s primary influences.
One year later, Dimond appeared in 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 facilities.
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 became a piano salesman. Shortly after, 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 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 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.”
Blondet, Richard – Contributor (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