Berklee Today

Paquito D'Rivera Speaks at Berklee

  Paquito D'Rivera
  Photo by Phil Farnsworth

On January 16, Grammy award-winning woodwind master and composer Paquito D'Rivera came to Berklee to speak and perform for the annual Berklee Teachers on Teaching conference. During an insightful interview on the Berklee Performance Center stage conducted by Professor Oscar Stagnaro (who is the bassist in D'Rivera's touring band), the Cuban expatriate revealed the breadth of his knowledge of jazz, classical, and other musical styles. He spoke about his formative musical experiences, Latin music in general, essential music skills, leading a band, and much more.

D'Rivera spoke about the boundaries between musical styles. "There is a big gap in both jazz and classical music education," he said. "Jazz people ignore a thousand years of tradition, discipline, and intonation that developed in the classical world. On the other hand, classical people are missing the freshness and spontaneity of jazz. Each kind of music has its own special characteristics. We can learn if we listen to each other."

D'Rivera stressed that no matter what instrument a student plays, he or she should learn a percussion instrument and piano. He also emphasized the importance of music-reading skills. "Too often in the popular music field, not being able to read is [treated] like an accomplishment. You can't be considered better for knowing less."

D'Rivera also fielded questions from the audience. Responding to a query about the origins of Afro-Cuban music, D'Rivera remarked, "I never agreed too much with that term. Influences came from the African continent, but jazz developed in the New World. You can't deny your grandfather. Maybe you look a little bit like him, but you are not him. What we have created in this part of the world has its own identity. I prefer to just call it 'Cuban music.' Many times I heard Art Blakey say, 'Jazz is American music, not African music. No America, no jazz.'"

After the interview, Berklee President Roger H. Brown gave a presidential tribute to D'Rivera, who then performed in a quartet setting. Other events included a luncheon and a faculty jam session with the Latin music star.