Paquito D’ Rivera The Legend

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In this episode, CLACLS Associate Director, Mila Burns, talks to musician and composer Paquito D’Rivera. Born in Cuba in 1948, he has won a combined 11 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards. Although we tend to associate him to Latin Jazz, it is hard to put him in a box. Paquito D’Rivera recorded more than 30 albums, wrote several books, and is acclaimed for his classical compositions, as well as his witty sense of humor.

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Please find a slightly edited transcript below:

Mila Burns 

I am Mila Burns, associate professor at the dept of Latin American and Latino Studies at Lehman College. I am also associate director at the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center, located, you guessed right, at 34th street and 5th Avenue, in New York City.This is the CLACLS podcast and we decided to create it because we have so many fantastic events with incredible speakers that we wondered: why not share these conversations with as many people as we can?Of course, our events are always free and open to the public and you are welcome to stop by if you are in NYC, but here we have a little bit of what happened.Today, I have the honor to share my conversation with musician and composer Paquito D Rivera. Born in Cuba in 1948, he has won a combined 11 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards. Although we tend to associate him to Latin Jazz, it is hard to put him in a box. He recorded more than 30 albums, wrote several books, and is acclaimed for his classical compositions, as well as his witty sense of humor.I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did..

John Gutierrez 

Good evening, when again, my name is John Gutierrez and as director of the Center for Latin American Caribbean and Latino Studies. I’m very happy to welcome you all to the CUNY Graduate Center. For for what I know will be a great evening of conversation and Music featuring the inimitable, Paquito D’ Rivera. Tonight’s program is made possible thanks to the incredible work of the Graduate Center’s office of public programs, especially our friend and colleague, Karen Sander, and the support of the Elebash Global Voices fund. Just as importantly, however, I want to note that the idea and inspiration for this event came from the remarkable students here at the GC. For a couple of years now the student led Cuban Studies Group has been organizing lectures and conferences, featuring Cuban writers, photographers and others to our home here at 34th and fifth. Cuban studies are stronger than they have been a long while here at the GC. And much of the credit for that goes to the student leaders of this group: Michel Mendoza and Lidia Hernandez Tapia.

John Gutierrez 

Just Just as a brief aside, Lidia also serves as Administrative Director of the CLACLS, so we’re especially proud of her this evening. Finally, a word of thanks to the incredible mighty Antonia Cabrera who helped make this evening’s event happen. Okay, so, enough, enough, thank you. I’m a historian by training and a Cuban American by birth. That means I have a lot to say about, well, everything. So, but but not tonight, trying to introduce tonight’s guest, and do justice to his career as a musician, as a composer, as a defender of artistic freedom is virtually impossible, so I won’t even try. What I can say is that a good part of the history of Cuban jazz indeed, the history of jazz itself, can be appreciated by simply listening to his recordings, whether with the guitar one or the music, I’m a learner, or a decade, or as a member of Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations orchestra, or his most recent, beautiful and Grammy nominated by the way, collaboration, which which of our days, I missed you, too. We’re all going to do a lot of listening tonight. And that starts with a conversation between bugging door and my colleague and partner in crime here at the Graduate Center, the wonderful historian and journalist Mila Burns. Finally, finally, for tonight’s performance, we are lucky and thankful to have Alex Brown and accomplished composer and musician in his own right. accompany our guest of honor. Damas y caballeros, Mila Burns y el Maestro Paquito D’Rivera.

Hello, hello, hello. Hello. When I notice it’s such an honor to be here with you. So 11 Grammys and Latino Grammys so far, so far? Four nominations? Four nominations? So maybe we’re gonna be talking about 15 Very soon, who knows, but the four nominees shouldn’t send the 11 Grammys are very different. If you look at them, like different styles, different projects, I was exchanging emails with Brenda, your amazing soprano wife. And she was telling me about oh, I keep talking about talk now because he’s in Columbia. And he has this project with an Indian group, big band, a jazz and ensemble, and I was like, What? What do you mean? Like you’ve been doing so many different things in so many different avenues of music and exploring that? How important it is for you to be involved with different environments. Is it a challenge? Is it what makes you special? Can you tell us a little more about that?

Paquito D’Rivera 

Maybe I have to pay my mortgage.Los huevos están carísimos! I don’t know. I don’t believe in their horoscope. I know that. But being a Gemini, I hate doing the same thing every day. You know, except  drinking coffee in the morning. And eating black beans and rice, of course. Well, I will tell you, my father was a classical saxophone player. That sounds like an oxymoron. But he’s not. He was the person who imported the French school from the, from the Paris Conservatory in the 40s. So I grew up he needed he never had the the, the ability to improvise, or that is what he thought, I believe that anyone can improvise this that we’re doing now is improvising. But well, he never learned that he has a complex he No, no, he can only provide. But he loved. All he played was classical and stuff in the sagittal from the French school, but he loved the sound of the Benny Goodman orchestra. Let’s say you understand gets, and I don’t blame him for that. Because that Stein gets sound on that listen to him and Selma. Benny Goodman orchestra is so inspiring. So I remember when he came home with NLP, remember what NLP is. Now they’re back with NLP of Benny Goodman, Big Band recorders and Carnegie Hall in 1938. That recording came out, not only 1956. And then we play that I was like, I don’t know, eight years old, 789 years old. And I was like a stone age. What is that? I told me that a swing. He never very seldom used the word jazz. He loves to swing. That is swing music. That is the city of New York. And that is Carnegie Hall. When you say Carnegie Hall, or younger as to Carnegie Hall,

Mila Burns 

And you’re like, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna do this,

Paquito D’Rivera 

Because I’m using that music made me hungry. Then he is playing for me that when he was very eclectic at home, because having a father and he wasn’t my first teacher, my main teacher having a pressure on that in his turntable, he played from Mozart to Benny Goodman, and Benny Goodman recorded recording in some moment of his career. The Mozart concerto for clarinet. So it was a little confusing for me, this swing player who played the Mozart concerto. So for me, music was just music, the grade you clicked on, say there is only two kinds of music, good music, and the other must have,

Yeah. But it’s fascinating, because you mentioned that and I know you mentioned too, in your book, which I really appreciated reading, that you don’t need to be Austrian to play Mozart. But with that said, because you’re talking about improvisation so much. When you came to New York, to the Carnegie Hall to all this area. What was going on here in the early 80s was very particular, there was a boom of Puerto Rican culture of Latino music at the same time, you were going to meet with Brazilian friends who are producing music here. So I don’t want to go to be too technical about that. But how important was to have this classical background but to always bring this appreciation for rhythm and syncopation?

Paquito D’Rivera 

Well, Buddha you say that and especially you though, that Brazilian I was in love with Brazilian music all my life. My father used to play T co T comma foo bar did every every morning by the buddy Rudy Rubery road, he was had an obsession playing that showing you’re showing you that is the national rhythm of Rio de Janeiro is a very special type of music is such a wonderful, most of them are in three in three parts. And georginia was a very important part of my life, especially Tico Tico. All always I say that they have of my heart in Brazilian, I love the music there. You know, even the music, the food the tank has everything that is fantastic, Jesus Christ. And as I said before, I grew up playing and listening to every type of music. So it’s only to kind of music and stuff is but but

Mila Burns 

when we talk about you today, although it’s hard to define what you are exactly because you’re playing with, you know different genres and with different people. But when we talk about you, we immediately think of Latin jazz. And when you got to New York at that point, that’s that’s what was going on. So how was it you encountering this? It

Paquito D’Rivera 

was a fantastic, reliable music I have to pay a credit to give credit to a lady called Werner Gillis. When Gillies has a place, a loft called soundscape. And in that place is 10 Avenue and 40 What 4050 feet per second or something like that. Then then then Avenue 52nd This love sound escape. Mario Rivera. Live on solid brothers Hilton Ruiz Jorge doll to my two first pianos in New York. I was lucky enough I have Hilton Ruiz used to play with Roland Kirk and Jorge doll to you to play with George Benson. They will buy two first pianos. I have been very lucky for good pianist. And the one that we have for you guys. Tonight is very special to Alex Brown. And there was a revival of that type of music that they called Latin Jr. Today, that is mainly of Afro Cuban years, but also the the elements of the music from Brazil, late and later on. Also the Argentinian tango is the the contribution of Latin American people to the indigenous music of this country, which is jazz music. So it’s we are part of of the culture of this the music culture of this country. No, no member they will take omocha No. We are here to stay. You know. Yeah. We cannot go back. So really was it was a fantastic atmosphere in those days in Salem escape and all around the city. And that stay like that. Only today.

Mila Burns 

Yeah. You you like to be surrounded by people. We see that all the time. You’re rarely alone. You’re always surrounded, surrounded by musicians from all over. And John mentioned in his opening remarks, Dizzy Gillespie. Chicha. Valdez, yo, yo, Ma, we can mention like a list of legends of Roald Musik. Not, but but but there are also musicians and groups that I only got to know personally, because you played with them. I had never heard of them before. And I can even include I’m a Brazilian person and I only learned about new code changes. Because if you bet federal has the Paraguayan accomplished guitar player, we can I can stay here over and over again. So can you please let me know if it feels any different playing with that legend and playing with people for whom you might be the legend? How does it create or impacts your music?

Paquito D’Rivera 

Especially in New York, you find some such a creative group of people around young people that come to this city to do music. And then it’s very interesting. When you play different styles of music you have all where you had to do some some time of adjustment. Some people have the facility to do it. Some other people have less facilities to do it. You know, but I have always been interested in learning about different styles of music. But when you play with with Yo Yo Ma or the New York voices is a totally different experience. I’m totally different but you have to adapt yourself to that thing, the same way that they are loved to what you do. How different is it? Oh, it’s very ethereal he said theory is hard to explain. Oh my lord like not enough because you know, let

Mila Burns 

go a jazz according to Herbie Hancock what what is jazz? You don’t know until you listen to it como poquito ks poquito you don’t you can define it but once you hear it, you know what it is right? You

Paquito D’Rivera 

know that, even before Herbie Hancock, Herbie Hancock say, the jazzy something impossible to define and very easy to recognize. But Louis Armstrong, somebody asked him, What is young and say, if you have to work, you will never learn it. So he’s, you can feel it. What it is, is that that’s why sometimes they because there’s the sound or the body or the, or the word is so nice. Jazz is happening. They can call jazz anything these days. That is don’t jazz. How do you know it? But it’s easy to recognize, you know, when this jazz is, is the way you’re living is a way of improvising, the articulation. The the even when not to play the great Bach late on the trombone player, for for Bayesian. Ellington is a the most important notes and not the one you play. They know that you live out. It’s important to know when not to play a good jazz player, a good improviser is that that know when to cheer up? If you have nothing to say, say nothing. Even a simple you know, that’s

Mila Burns 

impressive. And because we are in an academic environment, and you mentioned improvising. I think musicians and you say that a little bit. You write about that in your book are very, it’s like soccer players somehow or maybe baseball players too. When you you have that myth that if the person is just gifted was born with that doesn’t need to practice that much. You’re born amazing and talented. And with musicians. There’s one specific tale too, which is you don’t really need to study music. You don’t need to read music. It’s there. You’re born like that, and you’re proud of not reading music. You’re very much against that. Right? Absolutely. What is the importance of the formal reading, besides making money because you’ve also talked about that as part of it? Right?

Paquito D’Rivera 

You know how, when you know how to read music, the telephone rings more. You’ll know why it is like Benjamin Franklin say time is money. And if you don’t know how to read, you have to spend three hour reading and he’s talking about $150 an hour. So it’s good. Some people insistent saying that when you read music you don’t play with your soul that has nothing to do the eyes with the soul. Nothing to do, I think is important. Both thing is important to read music and it’s important to learn how to improvise is no circumcising in English, no targeting either local nacimiento you cannot you can never be considered better to knowing less because that doesn’t make any any sense. People People don’t go to the to the university to miss learn. Well, that doesn’t happen very often. But it’s not the intention

Paquito D’Rivera 

I think it’s gonna be no you to have it is important to have the to be eager to learn you to have the A friend of mine piano from Finland Eskalene a ballet and he’d say when you think you’re you are a finished musician. You want to finish Yeah, you have one of the examples is people like like Daisy Gillespie or James moody. Two big stars. And they many kinds. Jonas, how do you do that? Sometimes they made me feel bad you know? Because such big names. How do you make How do you do that? Come on, Murray. You know how to do that. No, tell me how is that thing with the cloudy and all that they want to learn all the time? That isn’t that should be an example for all of us. Not to I don’t need that is a great Cuban composer. We went to school together called Tanya lane. And Tonya told me you know what is a mistake of many teachers they For many of them, that is the ego is when you think what they don’t teach you, you don’t need it. That is such a very stupid to say. I’m very insensitive. That’s why I consider my father a great teacher, because he didn’t know how to improvise. But when he saw He saw me interested in that type of activity, he took me to some of his friends who knew how to do the thing. You call that a great teacher? A teacher that knows how to cheer up, bring you to some people who know what, what you need to know. And they will log in for that.

Mila Burns 

Are you capable of saying today or are giving yourself a label in terms of nationality? Having been all over the world, but still being identified as the icon of Cuban music? And having lived in New York for so long? Heavy married a Puerto Rican soprano who brings so much of Puerto Rican music to your life? Being connected with us music and jazz exists? Is it possible for you to tell you how you feel

Paquito D’Rivera 

you can take a Cuba a Cuban out of Cuba but you can’t take Cuba out of the hood of a Cuban

Paquito D’Rivera 

that way I hate when they say he’s of Cuban origin. What do you mean Cuba in order to use Eagle winery magic? Sometimes especially people from you know, we said time mentality they use Oh, he’s he’s of Cuban origin see? Alladhina Maria now. You’re thinking Wow. And they are very proud to be a Cuban American, you know, because this this city, I don’t even especially the city of New York has Allah accept me and part of the society? That is that is something raved about the this the New York area, you know, la here, everybody’s avoiding you’re here. Everybody’s an illegal alien here. So he’s a lot of fun because you can do your contribution other than taxes to the culture, you know, and you’re accepting here I the same thing to me in Brazil. Oh, really? Yes. We are always I say that they have Oh, my heart is Brazilian, because I love the music of Brazil. And he was a little nervous. The first time I play in Brazil, I play with the wonderful Linnaean rally in in San Paulo. And, and the people of course, I learned and I studied the music and I did my homework. They call it here. But they accept me. They’re Brazilians are very open. You know, with people that pay respect to the music. And New York is something like that.

Mila Burns 

Lily would even cook for you. That’s how much she appreciated.

Paquito D’Rivera 

She was very special for all of us.

Mila Burns 

She was amazing. And I’ve heard that although you are absolutely like Cuban American. A New Yorker you have your own little Cuban square Cuban neighborhood where you play Lodi. Tomas, can you share with us a little bit of how important this home inside your home is for you? Well,

Paquito D’Rivera 

we say we because he’d like your family, their riders painted bamboo. They’re taller than him. Have, we have a group in New York, New Jersey, you know, it’s an area of New Jersey that is a black being land. So he’s wonderful, because you can learn a lot from those. These guys do, and especially the writers. We have very good writers and painters and sculptors. It’s really wonderful. That area is different towns. Every time block they change the the going to say something No, no, no. They change the mayor. Not begging Union City, West New York. We’re talking though, every Sunday. They go to play ball terrible, but they have a lot of fun. They baseball. It’s

Mila Burns 

fun, right? It’s a lot of baggage. To end this conversation. I just wanted to ask you about your future projects because I know that once you leave us here today you’re going to Miami because he has not had enough of experimenting with new things with a ballot. And then you have a new piece to present in Barcelona that you have the four Grammy nominations. So what else? What about the writer? Career too? Are you exploring new avenues there? Are there new books coming out. Can you tell us about future and for

Paquito D’Rivera 

Booba you know, I love writing. So I know you read my my sex life. Oh, yeah,

Mila Burns 

it’s really good everyone. It’s great. It’s really good.

Paquito D’Rivera 

I used to write in Cuba never published anything there. Yes, I love writing. But once I remember that I send, like, like, what’s the route or the beginning? Oh my sad life, I send it to my friend Guillermo Cabrera in front. And then he wrote me in English, I knew that poquito can write a resume the to correct people see, you have to, when you like to write, you have to write, the only way to start writing a book is to start thing. So instead of writing that thing, you’re by satellite, and I have so much fun writing remember what? What happened? What could happen? You know, sometimes you have to invent the things that happened before, because maybe it’s not true. But it’s fun. You

Mila Burns 

messed up with me a little bit with that book, because there’s so many fascinating stories that I wanted to ask you about each one of them one page, I was like, I’m gonna ask about this. And then No, I’m gonna ask about that. No. And then I’m like, I can’t ask about any of those things. Otherwise, otherwise, we’ll be talking forever. So I’m looking forward to reading the next adventure. Well,

Paquito D’Rivera 

I Charlie’s another book out in English, and it’s called Letters to your Ito. It’s a very interesting book. My friend, my friend, the wonderful writer Ilan Stevens, call me and say, I want you to write an educational book for for students who want to be a musician. There are people that weren’t that crazy. No, they wanted to be musicians. Okay. And then I remember that once in Santa Clara, I will play in the outro careers that I was playing there. And I received a note from a guy. So I assume it’s a guy. I say, pocket. I was 1718 years old. Getting one at the museum, Elena, say, poquito. I am an A student was saxophone student. Do you think is good to pursue a career as a musician? Year? By year you don’t have any any return address? Nothing. Say Yeah, Ito but Well, I was 80 years old, having a lot of fun with a bunch of girls around that orchestra and say what can I tell you this guy? Of course, I’m playing wonderful music. Well, wonderful musician. We were able to eat in a continent there was no food. You know, in the hotels, I know that. So it wasn’t I been in paradise in the middle of the Elio Ville. Now, of course, if I had to do this again, I would love to be a musician, but I didn’t it didn’t have any, any return on race. And then Elana staff and gave me the opportunity to write this book, answering that letter to your Ito. So don’t meet the ball because it’s a lot of letters to your ego. And I hope that you eat or read the book because if the answer to him, of course, it is worth it to be a musician. I love the provision or

Mila Burns 

maybe he just became the ghetto Maradona. Who knows you never know. Hopefully funkita Thank you so much. I really appreciate this conversation. Really appreciate you all being here today.

Mila Burns 

Do a quick reset here and poquito we’ll be right back with what do you really expect and I’m looking forward to music Thank you

Paquito D’Rivera 

This one’s compulsive of all over the place. And one of my favorite composers one of the My Favorite musician that I met in New York I saw I liked him teaming up yeah that’s cool Carlos was at composer and Yang is on trend and he wrote this piece years ago and I have been playing this piece for him for the year from the because I cannot stop playing that is a combination of different types of music he’s very eclectic also shows the combination of Argentina Milonga with Brazilian Geremia with the Cuban contrasts after and I think you will love it is originally originally for fruit and setting up my father used to say that’s what we know how about the rest? Fue un montoneo verdad? Or when you I say that you don’t have to be Austrian to play Mozart. Of course. Good week I know that helps you know. I like it from Maryland. So glorious. So can you tell me how you get involved in all the montoneo ese stuff and you play something and you confess.

Alex Brown 

I don’t know what happened actually was. I was just drawn to this music and when I was in about eighth grade, this wonderful DVD documentary was released called Chi 54 and a profile of many wonderful musicians, including yourself. So at the time, I was really a big fan of the pianist, Michel Camilo and I saw this DVD he was featured on and then through that DVD, I was already a fan of yours, but I discovered all these other musicians to check out Dez that Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache band channel Dominguez Eliana Yes. So that was really a pivotal moment for me it was that that DVD,

Paquito D’Rivera 

the same thing happen with us, but in a manner in the 50s and 60s. We love the music of Charlie Parker. I remember when my father came again, with a this time was NLP of Charlie Parker with this he was playing the piano. that was the beginning of the Bebop era. And so it’s called me Ba, ba ba. I say you like it and say no.

Paquito D’Rivera 

I don’t like it but but the good news is you Yeah, but they trade Sucherman saying stuff or say Well, I think you should go and understand and investigate why they are doing that. And we learn the language and now we make a living out of playing that language the language of the Bebop. You don’t have to be Austrian to play Mozart. You don’t have to be from New York to play Bebop. So the same thing with with with Alex he plays so beautiful our music won many style because he was curious to know and talking about Mozart. The most fantastic piece I will read them for the for the clarinet What’s the Mozart concerto for most at Winchester in a for clarinet and orchestra? We don’t have the orchestra here because, you know, Immigration Service was around but we will try to do the second movement or that piece. They have been playing that sacral movement wrong. Yeah, I am sorry. But the second movement of the mosaic when cero is a blues. Wynton Marsalis told me that they did the research and Moser really was from New Orleans. So this is our version of the Mozart, seven movimento the Mozart concerto for clarinet, even a, an orchestra. You can imagine the orchestra

Paquito D’Rivera 

One of my main influence my entire career was a pianist by the Remo tutor this his father was a fantastic man, we want this record to him after 32 years without entering the studio. And then the first piece that I record with YouTube is, is called mumble influenced reality. Of course it was influenced by the music of Viva viva, the first time I shop tutor was, it was a pain in the club. In Havana, it was probably 2023 years or something like that, mainly in the style in the style similar to the great old Scott Peters. It is impossible to build that age brain approached affinity later on in the middle of his own style of music, but he influenced me and many others a lot. And then I want to play this piece. That was the first bit of a record with him. Mambo influencia. And these pieces he brought a new CD that we recorded after he decided not to go back to we sold to our own land. He told me I can go back there and sell and then I say Okay, let’s start playing together again. We’re gonna call it a call. I miss you too.

Paquito D’Rivera 

cannot talk about my career as a musician without mentioning one of the greatest musician ever great comedian too. But the name of John Burks also known as Dizzy Gillespie when this he died in 1993 was a very sad event for everybody. Because this was really special for all of us. It was a great help in the career of many of us. And that man was an inspiration even the day of his death. Because I feel inspired to write a bossa nova for him. It’s a combination with you know, bossa nova. Bolero you know how much this he loved the music or the illegal aliens. So this is called I remember DC or a night in Inglewood.

Paquito D’Rivera 

We are going to close our performance with a couple of compensation we’re going to improvise around the music of who is probably the most representative of all the Cuban musicians of all times. Unless you’re a lover you’re the one our corner and you will know it is in the name of this monstrous composer pianists. intrapreneur was a little like Warner. And in order to play the music of network Warner was a great piano. You need a great pianist

Paquito D’Rivera 

Let’s go here. We’re going to do like improvisation around until it’s Korea and then the title god of his famous suite and then Lucia. Thank you for coming to see you and hope to see you soon again.

Mila Burns 

That was 34th and 5th, with me Mila Burns, and musician Paquito D Rivera and I hope you enjoyed this podcast. If you did, please share it. Follow CLACLS GC on Social media, subscribe to our mail list and join us in person or online for our events. See you again soon. Até a próxima!

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