Cuban Paquito D’Rivera was born into a music loving family. His father a musical instrument salesman, exposed him to classical music and the jazz of Duke Ellington at an early age. He also took Paquito along on visits to famous Havana music clubs like the Tropicana. It is no surprise that the son began music lessons early, starting to play saxophone at five years old.
By seventeen he was a featured performer with the Cuban National Symphony and at twenty five he was a founding member of Irakere, a group that fused classical, lazz and Cuban music. By 1980 D’Rivera had become dissatisfied with the Cuban government – especially its position that jazz and rock represented “imperialist” music and should be discouraged. While on tour in Spain he sought asylum at the American embassy.
It did not take long for D’Rivera to settle into the US jazz scene, releasing his first two solo albums in 1981 and 82.
After relocating to the US from Cuba, Paquito D’Rivera continued his work towards fusing music of his homeland with jazz and classical by becoming a founding member of the Dizzy Gillespie organized United Nations Orchestra. The ensemble focuses on the influence of Latin and Caribbean music on jazz. In addition to his contributions to jazz, D’Rivera has had a successful career in classical music, appearing as a featured performer with symphony orchestras worldwide. He is also an award winning composer who has been faithful to his roots with music that aims to build bridges between different musical styles.
This long career has brought Paquito D’Rivera many awards including eleven Grammys and a National Medal of the Arts. The National Endowment of the Arts describes his influence this wat “he has become the consummate multinational ambassador, creating and promoting a cross-culture of music that moves effortlessly among jazz, Latin, and Mozart.”