United Nation tribute to Diz
United Nation tribute to Diz
EXAMINER MUSIC CRITIC
Paquito D'Rivera ensemble coming to the Herbst Theatre
SAXOPHONIST Paquito D'Rivera brings the United Nation Orchestra to Herbst
Theatre Friday as a part of the United Nations 50th anniversary celebration.
In a two-part phone conversation early this week that began at the Miami
airport and concluded at his New Jersey home, D'Rivera commented, "This is
a very special concert for us, you know, because we (especially the Cubans
in the orchestra) are devoted to the one-world concept of the United Nations.
Many of us came into North American jazz as political refugees. The U.N.
Human Rights Commission has been important in the lives of Latin Americans.
"This orchestra is mostly Latin Americans - we play the international
music of jazz, though. Originally, we were Dizzy Gillespie's "Dream Band,'
featuring Diz as soloist and, well, inspiration. Dizzy was the principal
catalyst for bringing Latin American music and musicians into North American
modern jazz - I guess that was about 50 years ago, too, wasn't it?
"Well, anyway," D'Rivera continued (his monologue comments have the
same brisk rhythms as his sax playing), "Diz thinks of jazz as a spiritual
expression, and since he is a Bahai believer, he combines his music with
his faith - and he renamed the band the "United Nation Orchestra,' as if
all jazz musicians were of one nation - which in a sense we are," said
D'Rivera, catching his breath.
D'Rivera often speaks of Gillespie in the present tense. "By the time
I was a teenager in Havana in the '60s," he continued, "I'd heard my
father's American jazz records by Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington (especially
altoist Johnny Hodges) and musicians of those times. And, of course, we
had some fine Cuban and Brazilian jazz musicians, too. But when I heard
Charlie Parker and Dizzy - the excitement, the spirit, the wild rhythms
- I was determined to be a part of modern jazz."
He helped form the seminal Cuban modern jazz ensemble, Irakere, in the
early 1970s, and he defected in Spain while on a 1980 European tour. After
six months "in hiding," as he says, he made his way to New York, sponsored
and encouraged, in part, by Gillespie, David Amram and McCoy Tyner.
I first heard D'Rivera play in 1982 at a New York concert
with the Dream Band. I remember vividly the spirited
eruption of cheers, whistles and applause that followed
his first explosive solo. As I recall, even the normally
dour critic Nat Hentoff was excited by D'Rivera's playing.
Over the years since then, D'Rivera has worked with his
own groups, played on many dozens of record sessions, and
continued with the United Nation Orchestra, which he now leads.
During Gillespie's tenure as featured soloist and front
man for the big band, his protege John Faddis emerged as
the ensemble's musical director. After a few years,
trombonist Slide Hampton became the United Nation
group's director, giving way to D'Rivera about the time
Gillespie died - in body if not in spirit.
"We play now with four brass, three reeds; piano, bass,
drums and some Latin percussionists. We're a sort of
all-Americas band, with guys from Cuba, Puerto Rico,
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and the U.S. playing together.
"It's listed as a "Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie,' but, you
know, an awful lot of the music of modern jazz is a tribute
to Diz, even when you don't call it that.
"Dizzy was a jazz internationalist, you know; a jazz
ambassador - a very proud musician. And whenever and
wherever he traveled and played, he always included some
Latin music - some soloists, some rhythms, some excitement.
"The whole jazz community is part of Diz's worldwide
"United Nation,' not just the musicians in the band.
"We're looking forward to playing on Friday in San
Francisco as part of such an important event."
Paquito D'Rivera and the United Nation Orchestra perform
at 8 p.m. Friday in the Herbst Theatre. Call (415) 392-4400 for tickets.
©Copyright 1995, San Francisco Examiner
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