Throughout his career, Cuban-American saxophonist, clarinetist and band leader Paquito D’Rivera has performed on stages large and small. With a backing band of Peruvian bassist Oscar Stagnaro, Argentinean trumpeter Diego Urcola, American drummer Mark Walker, and pianist Alex Brown, together known as the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, he and his jazz ensemble is as at home in the intimacy of a chamber recital as they are in grand concert halls.
Which is exactly why the final Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series performance isn’t happening in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, but at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater instead.
“By programming this concert in the Amphitheater rather than in Lenna, we hope to connect with a wider audience — to embrace an expansive and modern definition of chamber music and perhaps to offer a gateway to chamber music for people who haven’t experienced this series before,” said Laura Savia, vice president of performing and visual arts.
When programming Week Nine and its broader theme dedicated to “The Global South,” Savia said she and Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer, “leapt at the chance” to bring D’Rivera and his quintet to the grounds.
“His music and his presence as a performer are infectious. It’s hard to think of a woodwind player with greater jazz chops, and his repertoire ranges from music with Caribbean influences to innovative arrangements of Mozart,” Savia said.
D’Rivera is the winner of a combined 11 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards, celebrated as both an instrumentalist and a composer. His quintet took home the Latin Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album for Live at the Blue Note in 2001.
D’Rivera, who was born in Havana and introduced to the worlds of classical music and jazz by his father — himself a classical saxophonist — has been performing for more than 50 years. With more than 30 solo albums to his name, he is the first and only artist to win Latin Grammy Awards in both the classical and Latin Jazz categories. A child prodigy on the clarinet, he made his debut with Cuba’s National Theater Orchestra at the age of 10; by the time he was 17, he was a featured soloist in the Cuban National Symphony.
Over the years, D’Rivera has become a “living legend,” Savia said — quite literally, as he was honored in 2007 with the Living Jazz Legend Award from the Kennedy Center and the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Series for Artistic Excellence — and “a world-class musician who has been a force in Latin music since the 1970s.” In that time, he’s worked with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Gloria Estefan and Yo-Yo Ma, and in 2005 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President George W. Bush.
“He seems to have an insatiable appetite for musical exploration and collaboration – which makes him a perfect match for Chautauqua,” Savia said.
D’Rivera has said it similarly — “I always want to learn more,” told The San Diego Tribune in 2016. “And I like to play with people of different nationalities who understand that music is music. … At the heart of my music, always, is improvisation.”