Paquito De’ Rivera!

 An artist for all seasons!


A master of reeds

  Paquito De Rivera is one of the greatest musicians in the world!   The firsttime I saw him perform was not long after he landed in New York from Cuba.  He was holding down the saxophone chair in the great Dizzy Gillespie’s band and they were swinging hard…very hard.  Paquito played as if he had been born and raised in Harlem; he was not only swinging but funky too!   With a dazzling virtuosity and bluesy voice it was obvious after listening awhile that he was a master of the art of Jazz Sax.  The tutored ear could hear that Paquito had done his homework; strains of Bird, Cannonball Adderley, Bennie Carter, and Jackie Mac are all referenced in his flights of improvisation.  

                The brother had paid his dues and was schooled by the masters. He is also a composer and arranger, which is a logical outcome of his great admiration for his fellow Cuban Chico O’Farrell – the father of the former leader of the Lincoln center Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, Autro O’Farrell – who was a master of Jazz and Afro-Cuban orchestration.

Later I would learn that Paquito is a virtuoso instrumentalist on a variety of reeds and could speak in three musical languages: European classical; Afro-Cuban Son/Salsa, and Jazz.  This is quite a feat; in the theater it is akin to an actor giving great performances of Shakespeare in English, Moliere in French and Chekov in Russian.  One of the greatest challenges is that each of the musical genres requires a different technique.  In European music proper technique is so critical to performance that an instrumentalist cannot interpret the score without technical mastery of the instrument.  This is because the composers were always looking to challenge the performer by getting the most out of the instrument’s capabilities. 

In jazz the role of the composer is restricted and thus the instrumentalists are afforded such wide latitude to experiment and tell their personal story – which requires a creative imagination on top of instrumental virtuosity – they often invent techniques which will allow them to achieve the unique sounds they hear in their heads.  And Paquito hears plenty. 

                Tonight the JALC Orchestra, with whom Paquito has performed on several occasions, will feature the music of Cuban Composers.  “I have played the music of composers from all over Latin America,” says Paquito, but I chose Cuban composers for this concert because Cubans were the first Latin Americans to incorporate jazz ideas into their compositions.   For instance, the first jazz flute solo ever recorded was by Alberto Sorcarras, who was a Cuban that played with the famous Claude Williams band back around 1927.”  In the present concert we are treated to Paquito’s eclectic approach to music: “Some of the composers whose work I shall feature tonight are not even Jazz composers.  But I have taken their works and arranged it for the Jazz orchestra.”          However he will also be performing the work of some of the icons of Latin Jazz, men who spoke both musical languages without accent like himself.  Most important among these is Chico O’Farrell and Mario Busa.

                Paquito has brought a complete Afro-Cuban rhythm section to the Orchestra, a move which illustrates the central difference between the prototypical Afro-American jazz and Afro-Cuban Jazz.  When these two musical forms cross fertilized in the 1940’s in the “Cu-bop” movement, a style whose classical expression can be heard on the recordings of the Dizzy Gillespie big band featuring the Afro-Cuban congero and composer Chano Pozo, and the records of Machito and his Afro-Cubans under the musical directorship of Dizzy’s great friend and colleague Mario Bausa.  The tutored ear will quickly discern that the principal difference between these two styles of Jazz lay in the rhythm section.  As I have played in both types of rhythm sections I can attest to the fact that the Afro-Cuban section is very busy with it’s clave driven poly-rhythms, beaten and scratched out on congas, bongos, timbales, maracas, and the clave.   In the jazz rhythm section, with its emphasis on swing, the standard instrumentation is piano, drums and bass.  And on some orchestras added a banjo or guitar,  But the addition of a lute like instrument is also a practice of Latin bands; the Puerto Rican Corro and the Afro-Cuban Tres.

Jazz at Lincoln Center is ideally suited for this type of performance because our orchestra prides itself on being able to swing in any style.  “I love this Orchestra, “says Paquito, who is a member of the Lincoln Center Chamber music Society I am a big fan of what Wynton has accomplished here at Lincoln Center.  Finally we have a theater that’s worthy of this great American music…a house of Jazz.

 1)    Mambo a la Kenton… Armando Romeu
2)    Cicuta Tibia… … Ernesto Duarte
3)    I Remember Diz…. Paquito D’Rivera
4)    Danza Característica… Leo Brouwer (arr. by Steve Sacks)
5)    Drume Negrita….. Ernesto Grenett
6)    Mambo Inn……  Mario Bauzá. (arr. by Paquito D’Rivera)


1)    Jim Kuyef….. Chucho Valdes. (arr. by Paquito D’Rivera)
2)    Undercurrent Blues… Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill
3)    Samba for Carmen… … Paquito D’Rivera (arr. by Chico O’Farrill)
4)    Como fue… Ernesto Duarte  (arr. by Chico O’Farrill)
5)    Modo Cubano… Pucho Escalante
6)    Andalucia: … Ernesto Lecuona. (Arr. by Paquito D’Rivera)

Encore:  Sustancia …. Ernesto Duarte


 There are very few musicians in the world who are great performers in thre musical languages, and among these Afro-Cuban musicians are disproportionately represented. Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval; Bassist Carlos del Pino; Pianist Chucho Valdez, and Paquito de Rivera are a few who have distinguished themselves – which is to say that they are world class performers in each genre.  Paquito is rooted in a Latin Jazz tradition that began in the Late forties when the Afro-Cuban Son Montuno cross fertilized with Be-bop and produced Cu-Bop – a musical style that was epitomized in the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and Machito and his Afro-Cubans, both were big bands with the principal distinction between the two orchestras being the instrumentation and diverse approaches of the rhythm sections.  Paquito has labored mightily to expand that tradition.

Paquito often engages in a kind of musical ecumenicism during his performances, urging musicians to check out the music of several genres.  I once heard him issue this plea while performing the music of the gifted Afro-Cuban composer Tanya Leon – who for many years composed music for the innovative ballets of the Dance theater of Harlem, where she was Director of Music.  On this occasion, a concert at Carnegie Hall where Paquito played clarinet brilliantly, he told the audience: “I want to introduce lovers of Theolonius Monk to the music of Mozart, and lovers of Bach to the music of Bird.”

As a stalwart member of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society Paquito has ample opportunity to exercise his Classical chops, but when he wants to swing…do Bird and Dizzy’s thing, he has to come on home to Rose Hall: The House of Swing!  Tonight Paquito de Rivera will perform with the inimitable Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Marsalis.  When they strike up the band I expect to witness a cultural happening that the critics shall debate and the bards shall sing of far into the future.



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