Pepper had the privilege to speak with Latin jazz legend Paquito D’Rivera in conjunction with his latest honor. We were asked by the Jazz Education Network to film his acceptance of the LeJENds of Latin Jazz award, and of course we were thrilled at the opportunity. The award is in its third year, having gone to Poncho Sanchez and Candido Camero in 2015 and 2014.
This year, it was multi-Grammy winner Paquito D’Rivera’s turn to receive the award. Chiefly a clarinet player, Paquito has transcended genres throughout his career. To him, music is just music, and his proficiency in classical styles is proof of this. But this award was about jazz, the style he is best known for. As a jazz clarinetist, he has played with some of the best ever. For a real treat, check out him playing with fellow jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen.
Being such a big name in the quintessential American art form, it is no surprise that D’Rivera’s story is quintessentially American. Born in Cuba, Paquito began playing at a very early age, performing with the National Theater Orchestra at the age of 10. At 17, he became the featured soloist with the Cuban National Symphony. But at that time, jazz in Cuba was seen as an extension of foreign imperialism. Paquito’s growth was stymied by the government’s repressive view toward the music he loved. So restrictive was the government that Paquito was rarely allowed out of his own home without being monitored for fear he might describe the conditions plaguing Cuba to the world.
In 1981, Paquito got the opportunity to slip out from under the Cuban government’s thumb. While touring with the well-known Cuban band Irakere, Paquito was encouraged by band leader Chucho Valdés to make his move. While in Spain, Paquito slipped away and defected to the United States. Here, he found opportunities to play with some of the biggest names in jazz in venues across the country.
Paquito’s time in the United States has been hugely successful. Already known to be a fantastic musician, he has become one of the most well-known names not only in Latin jazz, but in a number of other genres as well. There is no denying the man is a legend and deserves every honor given to him. Pepper is thrilled to have spoken to Paquito about his award and his lifetime contributions to the music world. We, of course, jumped at the opportunity to film his acceptance speech, and will be filming every acceptance speech for the LeJENds of Latin Jazz from now on.