Don’t You Forget It: Paquito is Forever Saxy


Skimping on an intro of Paquito D’Rivera would only occur in journalism because of his intense fame and signature sound, ingrained in jazz and Latin music devotees around the globe. So no, he doesn’t need to be introduced. But he deserves it.

Alto sax and clarinet are the axes of choice that he wields with uncanny and God-loving perfection. The man swings…sings…wails…goes up and out and beyond…with trills and style, flawless tonguing of 16th notes and glassy-smooth sostenuto; a master of breath control and the ability to play with total wild abandon, his goal to free a note into the stratosphere in which he succeeds time after time.

Why do you love the sax?

Because I’m a Sax maniac. I even wrote a book titled My Sax Life.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received about finding your own style?

 You don’t look for your own voice, you eventually find it (or you don’t!).

What advice do you give young artists about how to succeed in the industry?

Practice, practice, practice. Also, be on time and come prepared. You don’t go to war carrying a weapon that you aren’t sure how to use.

What have been your favorite venues and/or festivals?

The Punta del Este International Jazz Festival, where I’ve been the music director for 22 years. And that’s perhaps because I love nature animals, and the festival takes place in the middle of the Uruguayan countryside.

How is the art form of jazz evolving today, in your opinion?

Some things never change: people with talent, and others without it. The former are the ones that make the difference.

And, there are lots of talented young players out there these days.

What did the move to New York City do for your career?

Moving to the city of New York gave me the opportunity of meeting, sharing the stage and learning from artists, old and young, from all over the planet.

Where do you go in your head when you are performing?

I don’t go anywhere. I rather concentrate on what I’m doing.

What question do you get asked the most?

Can you put us on the guest list for your show tonight?

How would you compare the jazz scenes today in NYC and in Havana?

When I was in (what was left of Havana), “jazz” was a four-letter word. Jazz music symbolizes the purest spirit of freedom and democracy, and as a perfect oxymoron, recently they celebrated the International Jazz Day on an island that hasn’t called for democratic elections since 1948.

Here in New York we have now the Jazz at Lincoln Center organization that makes a big difference for the advance of the art form.

Other comments?

I just completed “The Rice and Beans Concerto,” a piece for clarinet, violoncello and symphony orchestra, to be premiered with Yo-Yo Ma and the National Symphony in Kennedy Center next year.

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Paquito D’Rivera. Top photo (c) Lane Pederson, second photo (c) R. Mickens.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017


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