Harlow is a son of the late Rose (née Rose Sherman; 1910–1975) and Buddy Kahn (né Nathan Kahn; 1909–1981) and the brother of Andy Harlow (né Andre H. Kahn; born 1945). His mother was an opera singer with the stage name Rose Sherman in New York. His father was the bandleader at the Latin Quarter (nightclub) in New York under the name Buddy Harlowe. The young Harlow, is affectionately nicknamed el Judio Maravilloso (The Marvelous Jew). Harlow is a noted salsa bandleader and multi-instrumentalist, although he primarily plays piano. He produced over 260 albums for Fania Records including his brother Andy’s four albums on the Fania stable mate Vaya Records between 1972 and 1976: Sorpresa La Flauta, La Música Brava, El Campesino and Latin Fever. The first garnered a gold disc and spawned "La Lotería", the company’s biggest selling 45 rpm to date. Larry recommended that Andy adopt a trombanga sound for the album and eschew his main instrument, the sax, to play flute in the band’s two ‘bones and flute frontline, after which his brother's career was significantly enhanced.
Larry Harlow excelled at an early age at various instruments. The music and culture of New York’s Latino community led him to Cuba where he began an intense study of Afro-Cuban music. Harlow, who is known for his innovative blend of Afro-Cuban and jazz styles of piano playing, studied music in the 1950s in Cuba but was unable to complete his degree before the Cuban Revolution forced him to leave the island. Larry and his orchestra, Orquesta Harlow, was the second orchestra signed to the Fania label. Harlow also produced over 106 albums for various artists and over 50 albums on his own besides the ones he produced for Fania. One of the artists he produced was responsible for pulling Harlow out of retirement (Chino Rodriguez) who also became the agent for the Latin Legends of Fania which Larry Harlow continues to perform with. Among his most popular albums were Abran Paso and Tributo a Arsenio Rodriguez with Ismael Miranda as the lead singer. Larry's opera Hommy (inspired by the Who's Tommy) was credited as integral to Celia Cruz's comeback (from an early retirement). In other firsts, Harlow was the first piano player for the legendary salsa group known as the Fania All-Stars, generally regarded as the seminal and most-important Salsa group to date, and Fania's first record producer. He also appeared with the Fania All-Stars in the movies Our Latin Thing (Nuestra Cosa), Live in Africa, and Salsa. One of the highlights of the film Our Latin Thing is the Orquesta Harlow 1971 performance of Abran Paso in front of an exuberant and dancing audience in East Harlem with a baby faced Ismael Miranda on vocals.
Among Harlow's further contributions to music was his insistence on creation of a Latin Grammy Award (before the category merged in 2010 with less-specific Jazz ones. A year after the Trustees who oversee the Grammy Awards cut 31 categories in May, 2011, they drew fierce protests from Latin jazz musician Bobby Sanabria, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon and Herbie Hancock among others, and the Grammys Trustees Board voted to reinstate the award for Best Latin Jazz Album in June, 2012.) Larry Harlow’s 1977 salsa suite La Raza Latina, an ambitious history of the Latin music musical genre created with singer/songwriter Rubén Blades, was nominated for a Grammy Award. Partially in recognition of his early efforts to establish the Latin Grammy categories (which for some years were awarded in a separate ceremony) as well as for his impressive career contributions to the tropical dance music genre (and Harlow's jazzified pianistic approach to it), in November 2008 Larry Harlow was presented with the Trustee's Award by the Latin Recording Academy.
The Latin Legends Band aka Latin Legends of FANIA
In 1994, he teamed up with Ray Barreto, Adalberto Santiago, and cuatro guitar virtuoso Yomo Toro (rip) to found the Latin Legends Band, with the aim of both educating Latino and American youth about Latin music heritage and pioneering new ideas in the music, resulting in Larry Harlow’s Latin Legends of Fania Band 2006. This was an Idea from Ray Barreto, and Chino Rodriguez, Chino became the Agent for the Latin Legends of FANIA band and even had FANIA's president take note and brought back the FANIA All-Star concerts.
In 2008, Larry Harlow was presented with a Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Harlow currently resides in New York with his wife, and regularly continues to lead and perform with Larry Harlow and the Fania Latin Legends.
Resto Max La salsificación de Israel, El Nuevo Día, October 31, 2007
Larry Rohter, "From Jewish Roots in Brooklyn, a Sizzling Salsa Star", New York Times, August 13, 2010.
[!Musica!, Sue Steward, ISBN 0-8118-2566-3]:
- Larry Harlow official website
- Harlow on YouTube
- Info on Harlow's Latin Opera - Hommy on YouTube
- More on Larry Harlow
- Descarga.com interview
- Salsa Central interview
- Larry Harlow on Fania
- Video interview with Larry Harlow