WBGO Radar

Paquito D'Rivera: Jazz Meets The Classics

Paquito D'Rivera's Jazz Meets The Classics

Paquito D’Rivera is an Ellingtonian at heart: for him, as for the composer of Mood Indigo, there are just “two kinds of music: good and the other stuff.”

Fortunately for reedman D’Rivera, and for us as listeners, his musical talents and curiosities are so great that everything he touches becomes “the good stuff.”  

A prime example of “the good stuff” is Jazz Meets The Classics, D’Rivera’s new Sunnyside disc which captures spirited takes on themes from classical music, recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York.

Like Ellington, D’Rivera brings out the best in his bandmates - in this case longtime collaborators Diego Urcola on trumpet, Alex Brown on piano, Oscar Stagnaro on bass, Arturo Stable on percussion and Mark Walker on drums, joined by special guest pianist Pepe Rivero.

The disc features Cuban-infused adaptations of Chopin’s “Fantasie-Impromptu,” Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8, and Mozart’s Magic Flute as well as works by Ernesto Lecuona, Augustin Pio Barrios-Mangoré and Romero.

Throughout, the virtuosity and musical warmth of Paquito and his companions shine like sunlight, turning what might have been a gimmicky mashup into a true exploration of how musical inspiration transcends genre. 

All of this came to pass because Paquito has been bathed in music - classical, jazz, and Cuban - since his early youth in Havana. His father, tenor saxophonist Tito D'Rivera, introduced him to the classical repertoire, and arranged works for him by Mozart and Weber, which Paquito performed with symphony orchestras before the age of ten.

And of course, since this is Paquito, there are jokes, as when he confesses his belief that Mozart was not from Austria, but from New Orleans. He then offers as proof his version of Mozart’s Second Clarinet Concerto, turning it into a blues.

Belief is in the ears of the beholder, and thanks to Paquito, Mozart and Ellington, we can all be believers, too.

  - Tim Wilkins, WBGO digital content producer

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