Pianist and composer Michel Camilo was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1954. Fascinated with music since childhood, he composed his first song at the age of five, then studied for 13 years at the National Conservatory. At 16, he became a member of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Seeking to expand his musical horizons, he moved in 1979 to New York, where he continued his studies at Mannes and Juilliard School of Music. His composition Why Not? was recorded by Paquito D'Rivera as the title tune for one of his albums, and The Manhattan Transfer won a Grammy Award for their vocal version in 1983. His first two albums were titled Why Not? and Suntan/In Trio.
Camilo made his Carnegie Hall debut with his trio in 1985. Since then, he has become a prominent figure performing regularly in the United States, the Caribbean, Japan and Europe. December 1987 marked his debut as a classical conductor when the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic invited him to conduct a recital featuring the works of Rimsky-Korsakoff, Beethoven, Dvorak and Camilo’s own composition, The Goodwill Games Theme, which won an Emmy Award. That year, he became the musical director of the Heineken Jazz Festival in his native Dominican Republic, a post he held through 1992.
November of 1988 marked his debut on a major record label with the release of his self- titled album, Michel Camilo (Sony). The album became an instant success and held the top jazz album spot for ten consecutive weeks. His next recording, On Fire, was voted one of the top three Jazz Albums of the Year by Billboard, and 1990s On the Other Hand was a top-ten jazz album. All three releases reached the number-one position in radio airplay.
Camilo’s list of compositions, recordings and other achievements throughout the '90s is vast. His composition Caribe was recorded by pianists Katia and Marielle Lebeque, and by the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, in 1991. His Rhapsody for Two Pianos and Orchestra, commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra, premiered a year later at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1993, Gavin and Billboard magazines picked his Rendezvous as one of the top jazz albums of the year.
Camilo performed a series of piano recitals in 1996 as part of Copenhagen’s Cultural Capital of Europe celebration, and also debuted at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and Carnegie Hall in New York. That same year, he performed in Israel, Spain, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Switzerland, where he debuted at Zurich’s prestigious Tonhalle concert hall as part of the Jazz Piano Masters series.