D'Rivera, Paquito 1948–

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D'Rivera, Paquito 1948–

PERSONAL: Born June 8, 1948, in Marianao, Havana, Cuba; immigrated to United States, 1981; son of Tito and Maura D'Rivera (a musician and teacher); married Maria Cordoba (a harpist; divorced); married Eneida Perez (an architect), 1970 (divorced); married Brenda Feliciano (a soprano and manager); children: Franco. Education: Attended Havana Conservatory of Music, 1960.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Greenbug Productions Ltd., P.O. Box 4899, Weehawken, NJ 07086.

CAREER: Musician, composer, and author. Cofounder, Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna, c. 1967; cofounder and director of musical group Irakere, 1973–75. Recordings include Irakere, 1978; Havana Jam, 1979; Paquito Blowin', 1981; Mariel, 1982; The Young Lions, 1983; Live at the Keystone Korner, 1983; Why Not!, 1984; Explosion, 1985; Manhattan Burn, 1987; Celebration, 1988; If Only You Knew, 1989; Autumn Leaves—Severi Comes, 1989; Libre-Echange Free Trade, 1989; Tico, Tico, 1989; Return to Ipanema, 1989; Live at Birdland, 1990; Who's Smoking?!, 1990; Reunion, 1991; La Habana-Rio Conexión, 1992; Havana Café, 1992; First Take, 1993; A Night in Englewood, 1993; Paquito D'Rivera Presents Forty Years of Cuban Jam Session, 1993; Cuban Jazz, 1996; Portraits of Cuba, 1996; Island Stories, 1997; Paquito D'Rivera & the United Nation Orchestra Live at MCG, 1997; Music from Two Worlds, 1998; Cubarama, 1999; Tropicana Nights, 1999; Paquito D'Rivera Quintet Live at the Blue Note, 2000; Turtle Island String Quartet Danzon, 2001; Mexico City Woodwind Quintet Visiones Panamericanas, 2001; Paquito D'Rivera & the WDR Band Big Band Time, 2002; Historia del Soldado, 2002; Brazilian Dreams, 2002; The Clarinetist, 2002; The Best of Paquito D'Rivera, 2002; The Commission Project, 2002; Oh, La habana!, 2004; Tribute to Cal Tjader, 2004; Riberas, 2005; The Jazz Chamber Trio, 2005; and Imani Winds, 2005. Former artist-in-residence at New Jersey Performing Arts Center; artistic director for jazz programming for New Jersey Chamber Music Society; director of Uruguay's Festival International de Jazz en el Tambo.

AWARDS, HONORS: Grammy Awards, including best Latin recording (with Irakere), 1979, for Irakere, best Latin jazz performance, 1996, for Portraits of Cuba, best Latin jazz album, 2000, for Tropicana Nights, best Latin jazz album, 2001, for Live at the Blue Note, best Latin jazz album, 2003, for Brazilian Dreams, best Latin classical album, 2003, for Historia del Soldado, best instrumental composition, 2004, for "Merengue," and best classical album, 2005, for Riberas; lifetime achievement award, National Hispanic Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, 1991; special award, Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, 1999; clarinetist of the year award, Jazz Journalists Association, 2004; Jazz Masters recipient, National Endowment for the Arts; honorary degree, Berklee School of Music; National Medal of the Arts, 2005.


Mi Vida Saxual (memoir), Seix Barral (Barcelona, Spain), 2000, published as My Sax Life: A Memoir, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2005.

¡Oh, La Habana! (novel), Morales i Torres Editores (Barcelona, Spain), 2004.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Portraits and Landscapes, a nonfiction book.

SIDELIGHTS: A prominent and prolific figure in Latin American jazz and classical music, Paquito D'Rivera is a clarinet and saxophone player with dozens of recordings, hundreds of performances, and eight Grammy awards to his credit. A professional musician since childhood, D'Rivera has been both a performer and composer of classical and jazz music. He has worked with musical groups and orchestras in areas throughout the world and is often acclaimed for the diversity of style and breadth of influence he brings to his work.

Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1948, D'Rivera was a musical prodigy who began studying at the age of five under the direction of his father, noted composer and saxophonist Tito D'Rivera. The elder D'Rivera schooled his son in both jazz and classical music, instilling in him an equal facility for both styles of music. By age six, D'Rivera was performing professionally in public, and by age ten he was an acclaimed performer at the National Theater in Havana. At age twelve, he entered the Havana Conservatory to undertake formal musical study. At nineteen, with virtuoso skills on both the saxophone and clarinet, he became the feature soloist with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra. D'Rivera also holds the distinction of being the youngest musician ever to endorse a product when he gave his support to Selmer saxophones at age seven.

At age nineteen, D'Rivera and pianist Chu Chu Valdez founded the Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna, which D'Rivera conducted for two years. Six years later, he and eight other musicians founded Irakere, a group that "combined jazz, rock, classical, and traditional Cuban music to create a sound that was all their own," commented a biographer in Contemporary Musicians. The group became very popular both inside and outside of Cuba, recording and playing at festivals throughout the United States and Europe. Irakere made history by becoming the first Cuban musical group to be signed by an American label after Castro's takeover of Cuba. The group also won a Grammy award for its self-titled first album.

During a 1981 concert tour with Irakere, D'Rivera defected from Cuba, seeking political asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Spain. After taking up residence in the United States, D'Rivera began playing with prominent American musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Maria Bauza, and David Amram. He recorded his first solo album in 1981, Paquito Blowin', and continued to record throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s. His American audience continued to increase, and high-profile features in magazines and on television contributed to his ever-growing popularity. His work received wider recognition, including more Grammy awards, and he composed commissioned works for groups such as the Rotterdam Philharmonic, New York City's Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New Jersey Chamber Music Society, and the National Symphony Orchestra, among many others.

D'Rivera's defection did not completely free him from the strictures of the country he left, however, and he had to endure a nine-year ordeal to bring his wife, Eneida, and his son, Franco, to the United States. His efforts were eventually successful, however, and the family was reunited in 1989. D'Rivera has since remarried to singer and manager Brenda Feliciano. He and Franco have collaborated on works for the American Saxophone Quartet of New York. D'Rivera continues to record and tour, making frequent guest appearances as a featured soloist for orchestras such as the London Philharmonic and the Costa Rican National Symphony.

D'Rivera recounts the signal events of his life in My Sax Life: A Memoir, "a rambling rendition of his life that is far from pitch-perfect," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. D'Rivera discusses a variety of subjects, including the importance of learning to read music, the evils of communism, and the events surrounding a number of his concert tours abroad. He recounts stories of prominent musical personalities such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Celia Cruz, and Tito Puente. He has harsh criticism for performers who visit Cuba and who fail to denounce Castro's communist regime. He also includes some unconventional material, including letters and correspondence, reminiscences from friends, and drawings and caricatures. He also provides an emotional account of his 1981 defection and of the family and friends left behind in Cuba, a story which is "especially poignant," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who also observed that "D'Rivera's knowledge of music and recording is readily apparent" throughout his multifaceted memoir.

D'Rivera told CA: "My father got me interested in literature from my very early childhood. He was an almost self-made musician who made it just to the sixth grade in the public school, but he was an avid reader. The first book he handed to me was Sandokan, by Emilio Salgari, then Jules Verne, Orwell's Animal Farm, and others. Subsequently, I won a couple of prizes for writing small essays at elementary school. But then Castro took over in 1959. Being a writer in a totalitarian state is not easy task, so I didn't write too much more until I got to this country and established myself in the New York area with my family.

"My work is influenced by, quoting jazz bassist extraordinaire Ron Carter, 'anyone who writes well!' from great novelists to biographers, journalists, poets, and even children's writers. I'm particularly fond of writers with a good sense of humor.

"I don't have any specific formula for writing. Spanish film director Fernando Trueba says that I write in a very jazzy way, and I think that is a very good description of my style. I sit at the keyboard and start improvising over any given character, don't matter if it's real or fiction (or both!). Usually I have no idea how the story's going to end, so I end up surprising myself with the results of my work. What I certainly know is that my best time for writing is very early in the morning, after a strong espresso coffee. The same thing goes when composing music.

"The most surprising thing I've learned as a writer happened while (for a change) I was on tour, and Nat Hentoff, who is one of my favorite writers called my wife on the phone saying 'Brenda, will you please tell your husband that I just finished My Sax Life, and he made my day, my week, my month!' That was a very pleasant surprise for me, as well as when a few friends from different periods of my life told me, 'Paquito, this stuff sound like you talking to me in person.' And that's the ultimate compliment for me, since that's exactly the impression I wanted to achieve, 'cause that's what I call finding a literary voice of your own.

"Having a full-time career in the music business, I have written just two books, and a third that is a work in progress. The first is My Sax Life, a memoir. The second is my novel ¡Oh, la Habana! (in Spanish), which is a humoristic celebration of Havana's cultural life of the 1940s and 1950s. All the characters and places in this narration are real, or are based on real people; many of them are still among us. ¡Oh, la Habana! is also the title of a famous rumba. Now I'm working on a book called Portraits and Landscapes, and I already have 'drawn' portraits and landscapes of Dizzy Gillespie, New York, Lionel Hampton, Paris, Havana, Cuban composer Fernando Mulens, Beny Moré, and a few others. I'm having lots of fun.

"I have also written a number of liner notes for the recording industry, as well as articles for magazines and newspapers. My favorite is 'A Nobel Prize for Cheeta the Chimp,' on the occasion of a nomination of Fidel Castro to the prestigious award by a certain Swedish parliamentarian, obviously out of his mind. Ironically, that article, published both in Spanish and English, got me a journalistic award in 2002, from the National Association of Hispanic Publications … what a wonderful world!!!"



Contemporary Musicians, Volume 46, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2004.

D'Rivera, Paquito, My Sax Life: A Memoir, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2005.


Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2005, review of My Sax Life, p. 1009.

Library Journal, October 1, 2005, Mark Woodhouse, review of My Sax Life, p. 77.

People, January 30, 1989, "With Help from His Wife and His Lover, Jazzman Paquito D'Rivera Gets Back the Son He Left in Cuba," p. 94.

Publishers Weekly, August 29, 2005, review of My Sax Life, p. 43.

Time, February 6, 1984, Jay Cocks, "Hot Bob from a Tropical Gent: Sax Player Paquito D'Rivera Soars High on an Expatriate Dream," p. 68.


All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (January 15, 2006), biography of Paquito D'Rivera.

Paquito D'Rivera Home Page, http://www.paquitodrivera.com (January 15, 2006).