Gato Barbieri, a saxophonist whose highly emotional playing helped expand the audience for Latin jazz, and whose music for the film “Last Tango in Paris” won a Grammy Award, died on Saturday in New York. He was 83.
His death was confirmed by Jordy Freed, the vice president for marketing and communications at the Blue Note Entertainment Group, parent company of the Blue Note nightclub in Greenwich Village, where Mr. Barbieri often performed. Mr. Barbieri’s wife, Laura, told The Associated Press that the cause was pneumonia.
Mr. Barbieri recorded dozens of albums in a career that began in the late 1940s in his native Argentina, and continued recording and performing into the 21st century.
Although he was heavily influenced by John Coltrane and other saxophonists, his big, lush sound was distinctly his own and instantly recognizable.
Reviewing a performance by Mr. Barbieri in 1983, Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that he “makes some of the most raucous sounds ever to emerge from a tenor saxophone,” adding: “His horn screams, grunts, honks, bleats, groans. Even in ballads, he works up to a hefty, throbbing tone that sounds like it could burst at any moment.”
Early in his career Mr. Barbieri was a prominent member of the jazz avant-garde, making records with the trumpeter Don Cherry, the pianist and composer Carla Bley and others that challenged the music’s harmonic and rhythmic conventions. He later developed a more melodic approach that acknowledged his Latin American heritage, and that won him a large and loyal worldwide audience.
His first taste of international fame came when he was asked to write and perform the music for “Last Tango in Paris,” the director Bernardo Bertolucci’s sexually explicit 1972 film starring Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider. Mr. Barbieri’s theme won a Grammy Award for best instrumental composition.
“It was like a marriage between the film and the music,” Mr. Barbieri said of his soundtrack in a 1997 interview with The Associated Press. “Bernardo told me, ‘I don’t want the music to be too much Hollywood or too much European, which is more intellectual. I want a median.’”
He went on to write several more film scores.
Leandro Barbieri was born on Nov. 28, 1932, in Rosario, Argentina, and moved to Buenos Aires in 1947. He earned the nickname Gato (Spanish for cat) in the 1950s because of the way he scampered from one Buenos Aires nightclub to another with his saxophone to make it to his next gig.
Drawn to music at an early age, he studied clarinet as a child and played alto saxophone with the Argentine pianist and composer Lalo Schifrin before switching to tenor.
“Music was a mystery to Gato, and each time he played was a new experience for him, and he wanted it to be that way for his audience,” Laura Barbieri told The Associated Press.
The success of his “Last Tango” soundtrack led to a contract with Impulse Records, the label for which John Coltrane had made some of his most celebrated recordings. His four Impulse albums, titled “Chapter One” through “Chapter Four,” blended jazz with various strains of Latin American folk music and, in the words of the jazz writer Ashley Kahn, “served as a virtual South American tour.” Later albums, for A&M and other labels, maintained the Latin elements of his music while exploring a more commercial, pop-oriented approach.
Despite health problems, Mr. Barbieri, still sporting his trademark black fedora, had been appearing monthly at the Blue Note, where he first performed in 1985. His last public performance was there on Nov. 23, Mr. Freed said.
“He was a worldly free spirit, a really sweet man,” Mr. Freed said. “He really was a pioneer.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Barbieri’s survivors include their son, Christian, and a sister, Raquel Barbieri. His first wife, Michelle, died in 1995.
Last year Mr. Barbieri received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award from the Latin Recording Academy. The citation credited him with covering “virtually the entire jazz landscape” in his long career and with creating “a rebellious but highly accessible musical style, combining contemporary jazz with Latin American genres and incorporating elements of instrumental pop.”
Looking back on his recording career in 2006, Mr. Barbieri expressed pride in his embrace of different styles.
“In those days,” he said, referring to the 1970s, “the jazz people they don’t consider me a jazz musician. If I am Latin, they don’t consider me Latin. So I am here in the middle.”
“It’s a good thing,” he added. “You know why? Because they say, ‘What do you play?’ I say, ‘I play my music — Gato Barbieri.’”