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Paquito D'Rivera On JazzSet

One of the most promising sights in jazz is Paquito D'Rivera, coming your way with his clarinet bag over his shoulder. Chances are he's smiling and going to make you happy, too. Yet joyful and funny as he is, D'Rivera takes his hard-won musical freedom seriously.

D'Rivera was born in Havana on June 4, 1948, and grew up a musical prodigy in a devoted family. His father -- also a performer -- eventually became D'Rivera's full-time manager. When the younger D'Rivera was 10, however, Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government. Twenty years later, D'Rivera left Cuba for the U.S., and has sharply criticized Cuba's government ever since.

In 1977, trumpeter and talent scout Dizzy Gillespie visited Havana, went into D'Rivera's neighborhood and left a signed message at the young saxophonist's door. The attendant at the corner bodega described this exotic visitor: "There was a black guy dressed like Sherlock Holmes, with a pipe and everything, here looking for you!" D'Rivera realized, "Wow, that can't be anyone other than Dizzy." The two missed that encounter, but later met at a jam session with Stan Getz, David Amram and a few Cuban musicians.

Though Gillespie died more than 15 years ago, he remains on D'Rivera's mind. He dedicates "Manha da Carnaval," an early Brazilian bossa nova, to Gillespie, with solos by Diego Urcola on trumpet and Andy Narell on steel pans.

D'Rivera loves to introduce his audiences to South American music one country at a time. He plays an Astor Piazzolla tango (Argentina) arranged as a danzon (Cuba) by Oriente Lopez, and merges "Caravan" by Juan Tizol from Puerto Rico with "La Jumba" by Cuba's Osvaldo Pugliese, featuring bandoneonero Hector del Curto from Argentina. In our Web extra song, "Vals Venezolano," D'Rivera incorporates a Venezuelan rhythm into a jazz waltz. And there's also his blues work, "Borat in Syracuse," inspired by that crazy movie character from Kazakhstan.

Paquito's Latin Side of Jazz comes from the Alternate Routes series at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Our leader says good night, furiously riffing on a song from a Brazilian LP that he heard in the 70s; it has become his theme.

Credits: Baraka Sele creatively masterminds and produces the Alternate Routes series at NJPAC in Newark, N.J. Joshua Jackson produced our recording with engineer David Tallacksen and Simon Rentner of WBGO, the jazz source for 30 years. Surround Sound remix by JazzSet's Duke Markos. Recording engineer is Ginger Bruner at KUNV in Las Vegas. JazzSet's producer is Becca Pulliam, and its executive producer is Thurston Briscoe III.

Copyright 2009 WBGO

Becca Pulliam