Paquito D’Rivera

The music of Latin America echoed vibrantly and passionately off the walls of the chapel as nine-time Grammy award-winning Cuban composer and Jazz musician Paquito D’Rivera performed for the Phillips Academy community. Last Friday night, the chapel was packed with teachers, students and members of the Andover community who were all eager to hear the music of an international celebrity. D’Rivera’s concert followed two days of workshops and lectures with students, especially members of the Phillips Academy Jazz Band. The charming personality of this musical genius made his visit entertaining and memorable. The concert began with one of D’Rivera’s original compositions, a Latin American string quartet with many unique and complex rhythms entitled “Wapango,” performed by Katie von Braun ’09 and Gina Kim ’07 on the violin, James Larson ’07 on the viola and John Heroy ’08 on the cello. Von Braun noted that the piece gave her a new perspective on music, as the style greatly differed from classical string quartets. Jazz Band pianist Maxwell Meyer ’08 added, “He’s gregarious and exceptionally outgoing.” He explained how many musicians consider the concept of improvisation foreign and scary. “But when you think about it,” he mentioned, “We are improvising in our lives every single day.” The Jazz Band followed in the concert with a performance of the Venezuelan folksong “Alma Llanera.” The band had performed this piece with D’Rivera conducting himself. Finally, the Paquito D’Rivera quintet took the stage. This quintet is a diverse group of talented musicians including Argentinean trumpet player Diego Urcola, Israeli pianist Alon Yavnai, Peruvian bass player Oscar Stagnaro and drummer Mark Walker from Chicago. Cuban clarinetist D’Rivera led the group. The band played music from all parts of Latin America, including Brazilian music, which D’Rivera appreciates for its “perfect balance of rhythm, melody, and harmony.” This theme song was followed by “The National Dance of Cuba,” which received the most applause and audience enthusiasm for its vivacious and powerful rhythms. At the end of the performance, the audience burst out of their seats to give the band a standing ovation. Cirelli and the Jazz band presented the musicians with gifts before sending everyone downstairs to the basement for a packed reception and celebration of D’Rivera’s music. Von Braun said, “I wish [the concert] could have gone on for hours and hours.” “I really admire the longevity of this guy,” said Max Meyer. “He’s played with everyone from Tito Puente to the Turtle Island String Quartet.” Born in Cuba, D’Rivera was recognized as a child prodigy from a very young age. He played with the Cuban National Symphony and went on to found numerous ensembles of his own. He has won nine Grammy awards for albums ranging from “Portraits of Cuba” to “Brazilian Dreams.” Music lovers recognize him as the only recipient of awards for both classical and jazz albums other than trumpet player Winston Marsalis. Among numerous extraordinary experiences, including recording with Yo-Yo Ma and receiving the National Medal for the Arts in the White House in 2005, the celebrity says his most memorable experience was his 50th Birthday Celebration at Carnegie Hall. The show included guest performers ranging from Bill Cosby to the New York Voices. While he doesn’t like to compare himself to anyone else, he most admires the work of composer Stravinsky. When asked which of his contributions to the music world he values the most, either his playing, composing, writing or organizing of international festivals, he said, “It’s like different pretty ladies. Each is beautiful in her own way- how can I pick just one?”