D’Rivera, Paquito, leading Latin American bop alto saxophonist, clarinetist, b. Havana, Cuba, June 4. 1948. If there is a singular musician carrying on the legacy of Dizzy Gillespie, it is bandleader and reed player Paquito D’Rivera. Inspired at a young age by the music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and Lee Konitz, he added rhythms from his native Cuba and melded them into bopped-up, romantic, salty, and sensuous sounds. In Cuba he was influenced by his father, a classical saxophonist who introduced his son to the recordings of Charlie Parker. D’Rivera was a prodigy who was playing professionally by his mid-teens. He entered the Havana Cons, in 1960 to pursue classical studies, joined the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna in 1967, and, with some of the members of the Orquesta, formed Irakere, an 11-member band that played a sizzling mixture of jazz, rock, classical, and traditional Cuban music from 1973–80. Irakere performed in the United States during 1978 at the Newport Jazz Festival as well as at others worldwide, causing a sensation that resulted in an historic March 1979 concert in Cuba featuring an array of American pop artists who performed along with the best musicians of the contemporary Cuban music scene. The event was documented on two albums, Havana Jam and Havana Jam II. Albums with his group Irakere followed in 1979 and 1980.
While on tour in Spain with Irakere in 1980, he defected. He eventually settled in N.Y. and within three years was playing in the most prestigious clubs and concert halls and touring Europe with Dizzy Gillespie. Throughout the 1980s D’Rivera continued performing, recording, and touring globally with his own groups. After performing regularly in Gillespie’s United Nation Orch. (UNO), which Gillespie founded in 1988, D’Rivera took over leadership of the band following its leader death in 1993. His first albums as leader, Paquito Blowin’ in 1981 and Mariel in 1982, solidified his reputation in the United States, and numerous albums as leader and sideman have followed. As well as recording as sideman with McCoy Tyner, Hendrik Meurkens, Claudio Roditi, Arturo Sandoval, Bobby Sanabria, Richie Cole, the Caribbean Jazz Project, and many others, he has chalked up a significant number of richly diverse albums for Columbia, Chesky, Messidor, Candid, and Tropijazz. His broad-based performances and recordings brilliantly continue to straddle the fence between modern American music and his native Cuban rhythms.
Blowin’ (1981); Mariel (1982); Live at Keystone Korner (1983); Why Not (1984); Explosion (1985); Manhattan Burn (1985); Havana Café (1991); Reunion (1991); Who’s Smoking?! (1991); 40 Years of Cuban Jam Session (1993); Night in Englewood (1994).
—Nancy Ann Lee