By Myrna Daniels
Finding talent, unique talent, is not easy. One has to have an ear that will quickly analyze whether a musician or singer has what it takes to have a productive career that will carry over decades. Everyone is looking for an enduring career. That also means that the artist will leave a legacy of recordings, videos and film which will be enjoyed by the public forever. We now live in an age of instant access so that is also important for any career.
Quincy Jones has established his enduring career as a performer, composer, record producer, film producer, arranger, conductor, record company executive and wise mentor. He has recorded every kind of music; jazz, pop, hip-hop, classical, world beat and more. He is responsible for Michael Jackson’s platinum solo albums, Off The Wall, Bad and Thriller, among many others. Jones has had an amazing career over decades which has influenced music all over the world. He has worked with some of the most talented and prolific artists in every genre.
Alfredo Rodriguez found a mentor in Jones and their collaboration should be productive for both. It’s a blessing when an artist finds a mentor as talented as Jones. The artist begins with a sense of confidence, of purpose, of creative collaboration. What emerges is music that touches the whole world with beauty and truth.
Rodriguez has everything needed for a strong career. He’s interested in so many genres of music. Afro-Cuban, classical, tango, flamenco. He engages the best of world music artists to create a new hybrid, his own world vision. He’s also young enough to enjoy a long career. He’s also willing to tackle complex projects such as his new recording Tocororo, which is the name of the national bird of Cuba. He assembled an international group of musicians including; Ibraham Maalouf from Lebanon, the French-Cuban duo, Ibeyi, Richard Bona, vocalist/bassist from Camaroon, flamenco style singer Antonio Lizana, Indian vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy and his own Cuban bandmates, Reinier Elizrarde on bass, drummer Michael Olivera and Ariel Bringuez on saxophones. It becomes obvious that Rodriguez is ambitious and anxious to tackle complex recordings.
Quincy Jones serves as Rodriguez’s producer and manager and that’s a big plus for the fans who are looking for music that is different and challenging. Rodriguez left Cuba because he needed more freedom. Like the Tocororo bird, which will die if caged, Rodriguez felt the need to explore and create his own vision, which would have been stifled in Cuba.
Los Angeles is a great place, in general, for artists. We are a United Nations of ethnic groups, of talented individual artists. Fans can find cafes which feature small, ibrant groups or see a big, elaborate stage show of Brazilian musicians and dancers at another venue. Artists have major venues to enjoy artists coming from Europe, South America, the Middle East, Africa and beyond. Our museum have collections of art from around the world which are dazzling in their variety. A potpourri of languages is heard on the streets. All of these elements are inspiration for artists, so in that sense Rodriguez is in the right place at the right time.
We wish him great success.
Rodriguez has an appearance this month: Quincy Jones Presents Alfredo Rodriguez on Friday, August 12, 2016 at 7:30 pm at The Edye at The Broad Stage 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica 90401. Parking is free. $35, all seats are general admission. Phone box office (310) 434-3200. Box office open three hours prior to performance.
L.A. Jazz Scene: I think that children instinctively love music. When did you understand that “music” was something that could be created? How old were you? What kind of music were you hearing at home? Did you have family members who were musicians?
Alfredo Rodriguez: Absolutely. Kids are very honest with their reactions and they don’t put borders up to block out their feelings. They don’t force anything; if they like it they’ll just dance and sing to it. That’s what I love about them. They follow their instincts and that’s something I’ve discovered from children and try to emulate. I don’t exactly remember when I started, but I was always creating musical sounds as a very young child. I remember trying to imitate the drums and sing melodies when my father used to play music in the house.
I grew up listening to a lot of different types of music from artists like Benny Moré to Ernesto Lecuona; my father is a famous singer and composer from Cuba, so I grew up listening to a lot of his music, which was influenced by Cuba and a lot of styles from around the world. That was a very important time in my life, and also helped me make the decision to become a musician. My father and my family have always been some of the most important influencers in who I am, and at the same time, my music.
L.A. Jazz: When did you begin “formal” music lessons? What instrument did you start with?
Rodriguez: I started at 7 years old. I was always involved in music and would go with my father to his rehearsals, so I imitated what him and his band were doing. Some of his band mates told him that I had an aptitude to be a musician, so my dad brought me to The Classical School of Music in Havana. I started with drums because I wanted to be a drummer, but I had to choose between piano and violin at the school (because you had to be 10 before you could play the drums) so I chose piano thinking I’d go to the drums when I turned 10. Well, I stuck with piano and am glad I did!
L.A. Jazz: Cuba does have a reputation for strong musical education for children. Was it enough for you? Did you listen to other kinds of music that was enticing to you, such as jazz? How old were you when you did discover jazz and where did you find it in Cuba?
Rodriguez: I cannot complain at all. I had great teachers who believed in me and were huge influences in my musical foundation. However, it was a classical music conservatory, so I only studied classical and wasn’t given the opportunity to learn about Cuban or jazz music because of the rigorous conservatory requirements. Actually, some of my teachers didn’t want me to play other kinds of music, but I learned that it’s just as important to listen to Bach and Beethoven as it is to understand folkloric music. Maybe you don’t know how to read a chart but hey, if you can create something very pure that’s what matters right? Still, I’m very grateful for everything I learned.
I got into improvisation because my uncle gave me a CD from an artist I admire, Keith Jarrett. The CD was called The Koln Concert in Germany, and before that CD I didn’t know too much about improvisation, but it changed my way of looking at and creating music. It captured me from the beginning and after I heard the CD, it changed my life because it opened my eyes to a whole new world of style. I was excited by the fact that you could sit at the piano and play anything that comes to your mind. I used to solely play classical, so after that moment, improv changed my whole outlook on music.
L.A. Jazz: As a young musician did you want to explore other kinds of music? Did you feel “restricted” in what you could do in Cuba? Did you have mentors who encouraged your explorations into jazz and other types of non-traditional music?
Rodriguez: I’m thankful for my father because he is a very global minded musician/human being in general. He always taught me to explore as much as I can because we express who we are in music and if we don’t know what is happening in the world your music is at the risk of sounding “less informed.” Tocororo, the title of my newest album, is the national bird of Cuba, and if caged, the bird dies of sadness, reflecting not only the desire for freedom, but the necessity of it. Just as the Tocororo needs room to fly, my music needed the platform and opportunity to be heard by more people than would otherwise have been touched if I stayed in Cuba. Because of its many restrictions, Cuba was my cage and it didn't allow me to spread my wings and do what I love on a larger scale. So my album is a personification of the people of Cuba as well as a representation of freedom, travel and cross-pollination of cultures.
L.A. Jazz: Some musicians and singers were allowed to travel abroad to work. Did that happen for you?
Rodriguez: I had gone to places like Mexico or Latin America to perform with my dad, but when I was living in Cuba, the only place I could go was Switzerland. So, being able to go to the Montreux Jazz Festival (which was where I first met Quincy) was a great opportunity because I got to see some of the musicians I had looked up to since childhood. I mean, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson you name it! These were some of my musical idols and traveling there was a life changing opportunity (ultimately leading to my move to the U.S.).
L.A. Jazz: When did you make the decision to leave Cuba and expand your horizons? Was that hard for your family? Or did they encourage you leave?
Rodriguez: Quincy’s team called and offered me the opportunity to move to the U.S. back in 2006 to work with him, and while I absolutely wanted to do it, the decision was very difficult because if I left, I wouldn’t be allowed back in Cuba (all my family was there at the time, so you could only imagine how hard the decision was). They told me that the decision should be completely mine and if I did it, I should do it because it is what I desired with all my heart and shouldn’t solely make the jump based upon the weight of Quincy’s name. After almost two years of contemplation, I made the decision to cross the border because I truly did feel that I desired it with all of my heart and now looking back, that is definitely the truth.
L.A. Jazz: The gates are opening up for cross cultural travel (and business) in Cuba. Will you be able to travel there to perform or have you already done that?
Rodriguez: I haven’t performed in Cuba since I left eight years ago; it’s something I would love to do, but I just haven’t had an opportunity to go back. I’ve been fortunate to play for Cubans around the world but not back in my hometown. There is still much work to be done in Cuba, but in terms of the music, the answer is yes and my Cuban roots are still very much a part of who I am!
L.A. Jazz: Are there any artists that you would like to work with either here or in Cuba?
Rodriguez: Yes, definitely! What really appeals to me is the fact that we all just happen to be born in different countries from different cultures but we are all coming from the same place; human beings are all connected in some way or another so I reflect that in my music. My collaborations are my way of fighting for unity. I’m open to learning from cultures and anything in life so I love to bring everything together to create an outward expression of unity.
L.A. Jazz: How does California and specifically Los Angeles suit you? Are you “getting things done” here, working and enjoying the area?
Rodriguez: I’ve been in Los Angeles for eight years now and I can definitely say I’m enjoying it! More importantly than the great weather, it has been a time and place of growth musically and personally. I didn’t know any English when I first came here or much about what was happening in the world because all I knew was life in Cuba for 23 years. I never had the opportunity to meet people with different backgrounds from across the world, but after living here, I’ve been able to learn about and share with other cultures. It’s such a beautiful thing and learning English has opened many doors for me, in the sense that I have discovered a whole new world that I had previously unknown.
Despite its many problems, Cuba is home. It was and always will be. However, I felt that my music wasn't being given the platform it needed to thrive while I was living there. Now that I have been able to travel as an international artist, my music has been given the opportunity to...fly. I'm very fortunate and I wouldn't trade my experiences for anything.