The pianist's middle name was "Valentine" and someone could certainly take a nice swim through the French words in the surname of
. This is all quite suitable musically in terms of a playing career that evolved from the church to the cocktail lounge and then went back to the church, inspired by the combination of sentimentality and magic fingers so important to the music scene's prominent jazz-based pianists,
, who created about ten recordings under his name since the '50s, ventured into Latin jazz in 1953. The Rooster side entitled
introduced his take on salsa and he hung with the direction long enough to be considered something of a specialist.
He began performing in public at various Harlem churches while he was still in school. Bonnemere
served in the army until 1945, then began establishing a reputation on the New York scene. Bandleader Claude Hopkins
, a superb pianist himself, hired Bonnemere
in 1946 for a lively stint at the Zanzibar Club. But soon Bonnemere
would be headed back to school -- he garnered a scholarship to study jazz piano on a radio station contest and went on to achieve a Master's degree in music education from New York University. Up until 1954, teaching music was his main livelihood; the success of his Latin-flavored band and recordings helped him focus more on performance after that.
There are critics who might fling the "those who can't do, teach" cliché, considering him a pianist who is fairly light in substance. Yet his accomplishments seem substantial. At one point, his band was doing well enough to play the Apollo on a bill headlined by doo wop stars the Ravens
; at that time, Bonnemere
was being hyped as the "new king of mambo." The Latin audience was more than happy to be introduced to one of this king's subjects, a percussionist named Ray Barretto
his first professional gig. Curiously, the pianist seems to have spent most of his time leading his own bands, making what seems like no appearances as a sideman. In the '60s he landed a session with Prestige that featured Kenny Burrell
on guitar and the powerful drummer George "Funky "Brown
continued to challenge himself after that. Following several years of being basically relegated to cocktail lounge status, he began working in the controversial area of the jazz mass in the early '70s. He released three albums from these projects including Mass for Every Season, and has worked in the jazz ministry at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in New York City for more than 30 years.