"Since I was a kid, my father, a classical tenor who loved jazz, introduced me to the music of Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson. Later on I grew up listening to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Max Roach, Ella, Sara, Carmen, Dave Brubeck, The Heath Brothers, Gil Evans, Clark Terry and Jackie McLean. Now, 50 years after my first public performance, it feels like an incredible dream, to share the NEA Jazz Masters distinction with these giants that gave my life meaning."
The winner of several Grammy Awards, Paquito D'Rivera is celebrated both for his artistry in Latin jazz and his achievements as a classical composer. Born in Havana, Cuba, he performed at age 10 with the National Theater Orchestra, studied at the Havana Conservatory of Music and, at 17, became a featured soloist with the Cuban National Symphony.
D'Rivera co-founded the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna and served as the band's conductor for two years. In 1973, he was co-director of Irakere, a highly popular ensemble whose explosive mixture of jazz, rock, classical, and traditional Cuban music had never before been heard. The band toured extensively and in 1979 was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Ensemble.
In 1981, while on tour in Spain, D'Rivera sought asylum in the United States embassy. Since then he has toured the world with his ensembles -- the Paquito D'Rivera Big Band, the Paquito D'Rivera Quintet, and the Chamber Jazz Ensemble.
His numerous recordings include more than 30 solo albums. In 1988, he was a founding member of the United Nation Orchestra, a 15-piece ensemble organized by Dizzy Gillespie to showcase the fusion of Latin and Caribbean influences with jazz. In 1991, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Carnegie Hall for his contributions to Latin music. That same year, as part of the band Dizzy Gillespie and the United Nation Orchestra, he was featured with James Moody, Slide Hampton, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Arturo Sandoval, Steve Turre, and others on the Grammy Award-winning recording, Live at the Royal Festival Hall.
He has appeared at, or written commissions for, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Library of Congress, the National Symphony Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Costa Rican National Symphony Orchestra, Simón Bolivar Symphonic Orchestra, and Montreal's Gerald Danovich Saxophone Quartet. He serves as artistic director of jazz programming at the New Jersey Chamber Music Society and is artistic director of the Festival Internacional de Jazz en el Tambo (Punta del Este, Uruguay) and the Duke Ellington Festival in Washington, DC. His memoir, My Sax Life, was released in 2005.
He has become the consummate multinational ambassador, creating and promoting a cross-culture of music that moves effortlessly among jazz, Latin, and classical. D'Rivera received the National Medal of Arts in 2005.
Blowin', Columbia, 1981
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal