Dafnis Prieto: About the Monks
AAJ: At some point you got involved with Jane Bunnett & the Spirits of Havana and traveled to Canada and the U. S.
DP: I got involved with Jane Bunnet and traveled to Canada a bunch of times. However, my decision to leave Cuba occurred when "Columna B" traveled to Spain. My wife Judith, who is a professional dancer, had a contract to perform in Barcelona, Spain for two years. I decided then and there that I would not return to Cuba. So I stayed in Spain for one year. Consequently, Jane Bunnet invited me to tour with her in Canada and the U.S. During that time I applied for a visa to return to Barcelona and my request was denied. The situation forced me to consider living in New York. I had visited New York with "Columna B" and we performed at the Knitting Factory and the Zinc Bar . . .
AAJ: I am sorry I missed out on those performances. "Columna B" is one of my favorite Cuban bands. What year was that?
DP: 1996. Those were good times . . .
AAJ: with respect to "Columna B," who were the original members? Any chance of a reunion and/or a recording at some point in the future?
DP: I would like that. "Columna B" had a very revolutionary sound. The original members were Roberto Carcasses, Yosvany Terry, Descemer Bueno and myself. "Columna B" was a quartet, however, we featured special guests such as Don Pancho Terry and Miguel Anga. The first album was recorded in Cuba and released in Barcelona, Spain, however the album is currently unavailable.
AAJ: A pity. I have searched high and low for Columna B's first album with no success.
DP: Getting back to New York. At first, I didn't like it at all.
AAJ: Its understandable. You hail from a small town environment . . .
DP: Yes, at the time even Havana was a bit too much for me. However, it's funny the way things turn out. I remember saying to myself, "New York is the last place I ever want to live." Three years later I was not only living in New York but enjoying it (laughter).
AAJ: Despite your feelings, you can not deny the fact that you were well received here . . .
DP: Yes, that is true. In the end I am really glad that I made the decision to live in New York.
AAJ: New York Times journalist Ben Ratliff described the timing of your arrival (in New York) as "perfect". Do you agree with that statement?
DP: Well, I started feeling that something was pushing me to stay in New York so I just went with the flow. I also felt that it was time for me to make some important decisions about my career.
AAJ: How do you feel about New York now?
DP: I feel good. I am doing what I like to do. I am playing with people I admire. I am performing avant-garde jazz, straight ahead jazz, Latin music, classical music and I also compose music for dance, etc. All and all, it has been a great experience.
AAJ: Let¹s discuss your style of drumming. Eddie Palmieri referred to you as "a rhythmic stimulus who comprehends the two most incredibly difficult rhythmic genres, Cuban (Latin) music and jazz." What is the difference between drumming in a jazz context and in a Cuban (Latin) context?
DP: In my opinion, drumming is mostly about attitude. I have all of the rhythms internalized. When I play, I use different methods to motivate myself. For example, when I think of swing I think of Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Jeff Tain Watts and Jack DeJohnette. However, for me there is little or no difference between the two styles. In the end its all about attitude.
AAJ: Undoubtedly, there are drummers who are highly proficient in one area yet weak in another area. . .
DP: Perhaps they feel more comfortable playing in a certain context. I don't feel that way.
AAJ: Obviously, you have mastered the rhythms to such a degree that they have become second nature. How do you feel when you hear it said that you are revolutionizing the art of drumming? Do you feel that you have created something that has never been done before?
DP: Let me put it this way, I worked something out and this is the consequence of my actions. I always wanted to do something different with the drums. I never wanted to be (sound) like anyone. You know, as a composer I like to study and listen all kinds of music. That gives me a lot of different strategies to work with when I am in front of the drum set. I guess whatever you said about revolutionizing the art of drumming is the consequence of what I have been working on over the years. There is nothing that comes to you and says "this is what you are going to be." You have to work for it and decide how you want to sound. It is a conscious choice not to be like anyone else. After all, life is about making choices. For example, do you want to smoke or not? Do you want to have a drink or not? Do you want to go out or not? It is all a matter of making choices and deciding what you want to do with your life.
AAJ: In hindsight, how important has the Jazz Gallery been in the development of your career?
DP: It has been one of the most important, if not the most important place in New York for me. It is a venue that has always opened its doors to me and given me the artistic freedom to do whatever it is I want to do.