Puerto Rican-born pianist, bandleader and composer Noro Morales (1911-1964) is admired for his hip and groundbreaking piano and rhythm style. From a large musical family, he initially studied trombone and bass, but fared better on piano. In 1924 the Morales family were invited to become the official court orchestra for Venezuelan dictator President Juan Vicente Gómez. Noro took over leadership following his father’s death. The family orchestra disbanded after returning to Puerto Rico in 1930. After freelancing with Ralph Sánchez, The Midnight Serenaders, Carmelo Díaz Soler, Rafael Muñoz and others, Noro relocated to New York City in 1935. There he worked with Alberto Socarrás, Augusto Coen, Leo Marini and Johnny Rodríguez (Tito Rodríguez’s older brother). In 1937 he organised the successful Hermanos Morales Orchestra, including his brothers Esy (Ismael Morales, 1916-1951) on flute, drummer Humberto and Pepito (José Morales, a.k.a. "Gandinga") on baritone sax, and recorded for Columbia. The band was renamed Noro Morales and his Orchestra in 1938 and soon became the band of choice for East Harlem dance halls and Midtown supper clubs, including a five-year residency at the famous El Morocco.
He formed a big band in the early ’40s and became one of the top mid-’40s orchestras, rivalling Machito, Miguelito Valdés and Marcelino Guerra. His "Bim Bam Bum" (recorded in 1941 for Decca with vocals by Machito) was an early crossover hit, popularised in 1942 by Xavier Cugat, sung by Tito Rodríguez (included on the CD Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra 1940-42 ‘91 on Tumbao). His 1942 hit composition "Serenata Ritmica" became his theme and clinched popularity with non-Latinos: beginning that year his band was hired to play many times at the celebrated annual NY Daily News Harvest Moon Ball. Another well-known Morales tune was "Oye Negra". Noro developed a hip combo style during the ’40s, which copycats diluted. He also made commercial concessions, but the quintet for piano and percussion was highly regarded. Some of Noro’s most revered piano and rhythm sides for Gabriel Oller’s Coda label (formed 1945) are collected on the CD Rumba Rhapsody (Tumbao, 1994).
He took the arrival of the mambo during the ’40s in his stride. Fine examples of his big band work 1945-50 (including the classic 1949 MGM mambo cuts "Ponce" and "110th Street And 5th Avenue") are compiled on the 1993 Tumbao CD Rumbas And Mambo. His Piano And Rhythm (Ansonia, 1960; reissued 1991) includes his captivating "Maria Cervantes". He relocated back to Puerto Rico in 1961 and became one of the island’s major attractions as the resident band at the Hotel la Concha. He died from chronic diabetes, which had made him nearly blind. Noro employed various arrangers, including René Hernández, Joe Loco, Chico O’Farrill, Ray Santos, Ben Pickering and Charlie Diamond (a.k.a. Carlos Diamante). He worked especially closely with latter two, who transcribed his ideas. Numerous prominent Latin names passed through his band, including percussionists Tito Puente, Ray Romero, Sabú Martínez, Johnny "La Vaca" Rodríguez Sr. (father of Johnny "Dandy" Rodríguez), Manny Oquendo and Willie Rosario; singers Machito, Tito Rodríguez, Pellín Rodríguez, Vicentico Valdés, Dioris Valladares and Vitín Avilés; bassist Julio Andino; and Santos on sax. Jazz trumpeter Doc Severinsen was a sideman in 1950-1. Other worthwhile reissues include Recordando Los Exitos De Noro Morales, Vol. 1 ‘92 (recorded 1953-6) in the RCA Tropical Series, Mr. Babalú ‘93 (recorded 1949-51) on Tumbao, the latter with Miguelito Valdés, and Live Broadcasts & Transcriptions 1942-48 ‘96 on Harlequin. – John Child