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Dafnis Prieto: About the Monks

By Published: December 22, 2004

AAJ: As venues go, the Jazz Gallery remains the exception to the rule.

DP: You know how it is with most jazz clubs, it is all about money. . .

AAJ: Yes, money talks and ----- walks! (Laughter). On another note, let' s discuss your debut as a leader and your new recording About The Monks.

DP: About the Monks is dedicated to the many people and artists who have inspired my soul. To my way of thinking, they are Monks. Meaning, they are dedicated, disciplined, and are giving persons with a lot of willpower and a mission in life. That is the meaning of this title.

AAJ: When I first heard your album I thought, this is definitely not a run-of-the-mill, commercial recording. Obviously there were little or no creative restrictions. I should also mention that you composed all of the tunes for this recording. Let' s begin by going track by track. About the Monks (track #1) is self-explanatory. How about (track #2) Tumba Francesa?

DP: The idea comes from Tumba Francesa. French/Haitian percussion with voices. This the music that emigrated to the eastern part of Cuba from Haiti. I was listening to this tune where there was singing on top of the rhythm. So I actually grabbed some of those melodies and arranged them in a different rhythmic structure.

AAJ: I noticed that your music goes through a lot of rhythmic changes (sections). The arrangements are quite complex. How about (track #3) Ironico Arlequin?

DP: (Laughs) Before I go any further, I want to mention two artists who have influenced me as a composer. Hermeto Pascoal and Egberto Gismonti. Back when I was listening to Chick Corea, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, then I was introduced to the music of Pascoal and Gismonti by Carlos Maza, a Chilean pianist who resides in Cuba. He was into the avant-garde scene and was combining avant-garde jazz with Latin American rhythms. You cannot imagine what its like when you only know one color and all of a sudden you see (and hear) another color! You keep wondering how it is possible that something could be so different. Listening to Coltrane, Ornette, Miles and Chick Corea, then listening to Pascoal and Gismonti. It was completely different from anything I had ever heard before. Pascoal and Gismonti really inspired me. At the time my dream was to perform with them, I actually memorized all of their tunes . . .

AAJ: Have you ever had the pleasure of performing with Pascoal or Gismonti?

DP: The second time I met Hermeto was three months ago. I was playing with Steve Coleman and we performed a double-bill with Pascoal in Brazil. He is a lovely guy.

AAJ: Back to Ironic Arlequin . . .

DP: It' s very Latin because it includes cascara and clave. It has kind of a tumbao feel inside then it opens up. I prefer not to stay in the typical Latin mode . . .

AAJ: Danzon Santa Clara (track #4) is a homage to your home, Santa Clara, Cuba. How about (track #5) On and on?

DP: This tune has various sections. It reminds me of people you meet that never stop. It could be in a good way or a bad way but they never stop having something to say. The tune starts out one way then goes in another direction. The solo section is harmonically related but not rhythmically related.

AAJ: Mechanical Movement (track #7)?

DP: The tune is dedicated to my wife, Judith, I had the idea of this music from a dance piece that we were working together. I started writing the tune and at the same time there was a composer¹s competition in Spain. I finished it, submitted the piece and it won an award. One of the artists who influenced me to write this type of material is Henry Threadgill. It is very polyphonic, one melody against the other, sort of contrapunto,

AAJ: Interrupted Question (track #8)?

DP: Interrupted Question and Tumba Francesa are two of my early compositions. Interrupted Question revolves around the interruption of idea's. The tune goes in one direction, is interrupted, then goes in another direction.

AAJ: How about Conga En Ti (track #9). I am really enjoying this tune.

DP: It is all me. I over dubbed the percussion, played the keyboards and the voices mine. I also play the recorder.

AAJ: What about the band members? What did each particular musician bring to the table musically speaking?

DP: I got to know Luis Perdomo and Hans through Yosvany Terry. They have the ability to interpret my music. They can play anything: swing, Latin, straight-ahead jazz.

AAJ: Collectively, your generation seems to be thinking a step ahead of the general public. In your opinion, has your music caught on with the general public?

DP: It is not a new phenomenon. We saw this happen with Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Their music was misunderstood. In my opinion, musicians have the opportunity to educate the public and that is what they should be doing. However, we need the media to help us educate the public as well.

AAJ: Add to this the fact that radio (for the most part) is out of touch . . .

DP: When I was a kid I used to like Julio Iglesias because it was all I knew. It was all I heard on the radio...

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