Paquito D'Rivera: Jack of All Trades

Marcia Hillman By

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Jazz is a very open style that accepts ingredients from different cultures and this is because of the multi-national and multi-cultural character of its country of origin.
Paquito D'Rivera, Cuban-born alto saxophonist, clarinetist, composer, bandleader and author is a "jack of all trades" and master of all.

He is a winner of several Grammys and other prestigious awards, has recorded over 30 albums as a leader and is constantly working. He took time out to speak with All About Jazz.

All About Jazz: With the exception of your early life in Cuba, your career has involved a lot of traveling all over the world. Can you talk a little bit about the difference in the reception of your performances, if any, in different countries?

Paquito D'Rivera: Every country has different ways to express their feelings about a performer. The Japanese, for example, are pretty quiet during the performances, but if they really liked what you did, they won't let you go before you play a couple of encores. On the other hand, Spaniards and Latin Americans are more open and expressive. They participate.

AAJ: The music you play has managed to combine your Cuban roots with American jazz. Was that always your aim or has that evolved over the years?

PD: I used elements, not only Cuban, but from many regions of Latin America, like Brazil, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia. Jazz is a very open style that accepts ingredients from different cultures and this is because of the multi-national and multi-cultural character of its country of origin.

AAJ: You also manage to do a balancing act between performing and composing. Composing, especially larger works of music, requires time and privacy. How do you manage with all of your touring?

PD: Usually, I block certain periods of time to compose an extended work, like I did with my flute concerto or my "Conversations with Cachao," a double concerto for contrabass and clarinet/alto sax commissioned by the Caramoor Music Festival 2007. I'm a fast writer, but usually I take a couple of months off the road to concentrate on composing, while taking a few little gigs not too far from New York.

AAJ: How did your non-music writing side come about?

PD: I have two books out: "My Sax Life," a novel [in Spanish] called "Oh, La Habana!" and I'm preparing a book of travels called "Portraits and Landscapes," but still looking for some time to write more. Also I write articles for newspapers and liner notes for people like Eddie Daniels, William Cepeda, Yo Yo Ma and Jane Bunnett. It is a great vehicle of communication.

AAJ: Out of all the Grammys you have won, which one means the most to you and why?

PD: Probably my last one Funk Tango, mainly because it was the first self-produced CD by our working quintet and the first in my Paquito Records catalog.

AAJ: Speaking of your own record label, did you start it because of the creative freedom it lets you enjoy? And since Funk Tango has been out since last year, what are your plans for future releases?

PD: I was just curious and wanted to learn more about this crazy and ever-changing industry of ours. I have a wonderful band, musically and personally, and they all agreed to come aboard this adventure; so we got lucky. We all recoup our investment and even got that award. Not bad, isn't it?! About future releases, I want to record some duets with my young and talented pianist, Alex Brown.

AAJ: There are other awards you have received such as the NEA Jazz Master designation. Which one is the most important to you and why?

PD: The National Medal of the Arts that I received along with Robert Duval, Wynton Marsalis, Ray Bradbury and Tina Ramirez, among other very selected personalities of the American arts. It was a great honor for a proud Cuban-American—a black bean gringo—like me.

AAJ: You have performed in the classical field, as other famous clarinetists have done. You have also composed in different forms as well. Have you ever toyed with the idea of writing a concerto for saxophone and orchestra?

PD: One day I'll write a concerto for saxophone, clarinet or even both. All I need is time and money, which according to Ben Franklin, is the same.

AAJ: Talk about other Latin jazz musicians; i.e. Claudio Roditi and Arturo Sandoval?

PD: Claudio Roditi is a great Brazilian trumpeter and composer. He is a very dear friend and a key figure in my jazz life in New York City since the early '80s. We play together once in a while. Sandoval, although having a common history with [Cuban jazz band] Irakere and recording on my CD Reunion many years ago, we rarely see each other.

AAJ: As to the future of jazz and Latin jazz, who do you see in the younger group of artists coming up as the next innovators in the field?

PD: Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon is great, as well as pianist Manuel Valera and percussionist, dancer, actor and singer Pedrito Martinez.

AAJ: How do you feel about jazz education in the United States and with the demise of the IAJE, the future of developing new jazz artists and audiences?

PD: The disappearance of the IAJE has been a heavy loss for the international jazz community. But it is our duty to continue our labor of preserving the tradition and stimulating young audiences and creative players and composers to keep the flame of this wonderful art form through organizations like PBS, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the NEA Jazz Masters Tours programs, Berklee, Juilliard and other music schools in the USA and around the world. We are not going to give up so easily!


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