Born in Havana on June 4, 1948, Paquito D'Rivera was a child prodigy who began his musical studies at the age of five under the tutelage of his father Tito, himself a well-known classical saxophonist and conductor in Cuba. At the age of six, the "wonderkind" was already performing in public, and when he was seven, became the youngest artist ever to endorse a musical instrument, when he signed on with the legendary company, Selmer.
In 1958, the ten-year old D'Rivera performed at the National Theatre in Havana, to overwhelming acclaim by both critics and audience. He entered the Havana Conservatory at age 12 to study clarinet, composition, harmony, and "everything else". In 1965, an accomplished virtuoso on both saxophone and clarinet, the 19 year old D'Rivera performed as feature soloist with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, a concert broadcast on national television.
That same year, D'Rivera, with pianist Chu Chu Valdez, founded the renowned Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna, which he subsequently conducted for two years. Eight of the younger, more adventurous, members of the Orchestra, together with three other musicians eventually formed Irakere, whose explosive mixture of jazz, rock, classical and traditional Cuban music had certainly never been heard before.
Irakere's 1978 performance at the Newport/New York and Montreaux jazz festivals caused a sensation, and they made history as the first post-Castro Cuban musicians to record for an American label. A major outcome of this musical and diplomatic cross-over was the historic Havana Jam in 1979, which featured a myriad of jazz and rock performers from the United States and the best of contemporary music scene in Cuba. Havana Jam and Havana Jam II, two double LP sets on Columbia documented the event.
But, by 1980, D'Rivera was dissatisfied about the constraints placed on his music in Cuba, and longed to come to the United States where he would have the freedom to fully develop his talents and his career. In early 1981, while on tour in Spain, he sought asylum with the American Embassy, and left his homeland forever.
Upon his arrival in the United States, D'Rivera was helped by many people; in particular, Dizzy Gillespie, David Amram, Mario Bauza and Bruce Lundvall, who gave him first solo recording date. D'Rivera quickly earned respect among American jazz musicians and was introduced to the jazz scene at some of the most prestigious clubs and concert halls in New York. He became something of a phenomenon after the release of his first two solo albums Paquito Blowin (June 1981) and Mariel (July 1982).
Throughout his career in the United States, D'Rivera's albums have received reviews from critics and have hit the top of the jazz charts. His albums have shown a progression that demonstrates his extraordinary abilities in bebop, classical and Latin/Caribbean music.
By 1984, D'Rivera's talents began to be recognized by a wider audience, highlighted by a nationally broadcast feature on the PBS network, a full page article in Time magazine, a cover story in the respected trade publication, Jazz Times, and an appearance on CBS "Sunday Morning".
Mr. D'Rivera has toured all over the world with his own group, the Havana/New York Ensemble, including Europe, Japan, South America, and the United States. He has performed with such renowned artists as Carmen McRea, McCoy Tyner, Toots Thielemans, Claudio Roditi, Roger Kellaway, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter.
In 1988, D'Rivera became a founding member of and feature soloist with Dizzy Gillespie's acclaimed all-star United Nation Orchestra, a 15-piece ensemble which was organized to showcase the fusion of Latin and Caribbean influences into the jazz genre. He has contributed a number of original compositions and arrangements to the repertoire of the group.
In June 1988, Mr. D'Rivera was a guest soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra, performing the World Premiere of Roger Kellaway's "David Street Blues", from his Suite, "Jerusalem: the Eternal Light", at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. He also performed as guest soloist with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, with Maestro David Amram conducting.
Mr. D'Rivera's diverse talents and interests led him to perform with the dynamic young quartet, New York Strings, on a number of occasions, concerts which were enthusiastically received by audiences and critics alike.