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Jazz superstar Alfredo Rodriguez discusses world peace, the power of music, and his latest album on Naxos World.
en español

Naxos: How is this album, "Cuban Jazz," different or similar compared to ones you've done in the past, such as "Cuba Linda" or your other works?

Rodriguez: Well, this was a very instantaneous work. I really got together with Tata Guines and Changuito; they were working here in France, and they had a workshop to do, so I thought that it was a good idea to do something and that's how it really started. Then I got the other guys together, you know, and it really was not a preconceived idea to record this album. It happened that a tour was organized, and in the middle of the tour we decided to end up with a recording. And it just came out to be something unexpected, which I consider the son of "Cuban Linda," the continuation of "Cuba Linda."

Naxos: Well, it sounds like the album was a lot of fun to record. Were the sessions fairly fun and spontaneous, or was it quite a bit of hard work?

Rodriguez: Well, of course, there was hard work, but most of the things were very spontaneous because I gave everybody liberty to play and to give ideas, to put ideas down. I really didn't act like a big chief. I couldn't do that with those kinds of musicians, especially since most of them are very close friends, practically every one of them is a friend, and we have collaborated with each other in one way or another. Of course, never together like in the album…we never played together before. But every one of us knew each other in some way. It just came out to be something unexpected, maybe. We didn't have those expectations, and I'm very glad it came out that way.

Naxos: I believe you've worked with a lot of other prominent jazz artists in addition to yourself and the others on this album, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente. Are there any particular artists who have influenced your own musical style?

Rodriguez: Of course. Well, my collaboration with Dizzy was very brief. I think it was a couple of concerts, back in New York, before I left, around 1980-1981. Then with Tito Puente's jazz ensemble, I replaced the great pianist, Jorge Dalto, who was a great friend of mine. It was a very special engagement for me and a special experience. And of course you learn from every artist you work with. I always assimilate something from every band leader I have worked with. It's always useful to collaborate, to help and create-in the long run-a style. Those influences have had a great impact upon me as a musician.

Naxos: How does it feel to know that your album on

Naxos World is representing an entire style for our customers? Rodiguez: Well, I think it's gonna be exciting. My entire life has been always moderated since I was a kid by classical music. So I think that classical music is reflected in that album; it is part of my early years and always will be. And the audience is going to feel that.

Naxos: You have a Schumann piece, "Scene d'enfant," that you put at the end of this album. What made you decide to add that in?

Rodriguez: Well, number one, I studied with a classical pianist in New York, and that was one tune that I learned with her. And I always watched her, how she used the pedals, her interpretations, and she taught me how to play that series of stories, which is dedicated to the childhood, you know, by Robert Schumann, one of my favorite composers. I want to dedicate it to her because of the teaching she gave me, and I want to dedicate it to all the children in the world because I love children. I wanted to record that as a bonus track for the public.

Naxos: Well, it definitely adds a very interesting dimension.

Rodriguez: It just came to me at about two o'clock in the morning. I had just decided to do it with the saxophonist, who is one of the greatest saxophonists I ever met in my life even though he is unknown. And I said, "Well, we're gonna wait until everybody leaves, and then we're gonna do it, you and me with the engineer, the sound engineer." We did it in one track, and he just improvised with the clarinet. Jose Carlos Acosta is his name, and he is a lover of classical music, too.

Naxos: Who are some of the musicians that you admire? You spoke about your piano teacher and the classical influences.

Rodriguez: I was influenced in my life, in my early years, by a great master of the Cuban piano, Pedro Peruchín Jústiz, whom I devoted a lot of years to, to his promotion in the United States and here in Europe. He influenced me a lot in my life. There are so many people who play this music; it really has had a lot of different periods of popularity, and now it is known worldwide. I don't want to forget all those big names that really have helped so many musicians, reached the lives of so many, and then they were unknown, they've always been unknown because they never traveled, because they have never been publicized. They were only known to the intellectuals of the music business. There are so many people who have influenced me throughout my life as musicians. There's a big list, even people who are not known, who could make you cry, could make you feel something. The publicity has nothing to do with the wisdom. Anyway, I dedicate this album to my mother and my teachers and all the kids that I love. I love all the kids in the world. I hope for a better world, that people would help to change all this violence and vulgarity that exist in all levels in this planet.

Naxos: So to you, music should promote peace and be a spiritual thing that moves away from vulgarity and violence?

Rodriguez: It should promote peace, tranquility, and happiness, and not violence, war, and obscene things in the world, and jealousy and envy. The media has a big responsibility. I think it's a question of interest, especially economic. Unfortunately, it's like that. That's from the deepest part of my heart; that's what I really feel.

Naxos: Is there a particular moment in your career that you've found to be the most rewarding, the greatest moment, or do you think that is yet to come?

Rodriguez: I have had a lot of great moments in my life, playing with certain people, and I expect that will continue in the future. I played with the great Cuban flutist, José Fajardo. I was his piano player for years. My collaboration with Carlos "Patato" Valdes, with La Lupe, with Tito Puente . . . I think every concert with a great star is different. It's a different feeling, a different emotion, especially emotion, that you cannot measure. It's like performing--sometimes you are inspired, and it's just a moment that cannot be repeated.

Naxos: How do you prepare for each concert? Do you have any traditions you do before each concert, like going to eat at a certain restaurant?

Rodriguez: Oh, no. As far as a restaurant is concerned, no, I never thought of that to influence my playing. Anyway, I don't eat much, I've never eaten that much, so I don't care much about food. But I would say that sometimes I have played without practicing and I have failed to be very secure. Fortunately, it has come out very good, amazingly, and sometimes I have practiced and practiced, and then it has been a big flop. So, I don't know. Really, music is a very spiritual thing. It's something it seems we can't control, or that we control to a certain extent. A lifetime is not enough to really get into the depth of music. But I don't really. . . I prepare myself well like anyone else, you know? That's very important, train like an athlete. An athlete has to train to run. But I have no special methods . . . .meditation, for instance. That helps. Tranquility.

Naxos: Is there a part of your career that you remember as being very tough, very hard?

Rodriguez: I remember once when my teacher sent me to play, to replace her, to accompany someone in a theater. I remember I was still studying and all that. I was frozen to death; I couldn't even play one note. And I left in the middle, before the introduction was really started. And I had to leave, looking ahead; I couldn't look at anyone. I just sped away from that place and ended up on 181st Street and Columbus Avenue and went into a bar and got drunk. And then I didn't want to play any more. It was very, very hard, you know, and she [my teacher] thought I could do it, but I couldn't do it, I couldn't do it. I was so paralyzed by the audience. It's always hard to face the audience. It's always very hard; it's only certain top artists who really excel when they face the audience, to my knowledge . . . I think of the great Artur Rubinstein who I met when I was a kid, and Horowitz-they really loved to play for the people and it was easy for them. But some other people don't. I'm really nervous all the time before I go on to play. When I get there, something strange happens, and I get used to it. Some other factors and details take place and take away all the fears, all the handicaps.

Naxos: So when you play a concert, do you play to the audience, or do you usually play to the other musicians?

Rodriguez: Well, I would say, truthfully, most of the time I play for my self. I try to . . . because I think you cannot pass a message on if you do not feel yourself free or you don't feel yourself happy with it. And the people feel . . . the people feel it. I cannot say it is everyone's case, but in my case, I can only pass on my emotions if I pass the emotions first to me. I don't tell anybody, but I'm telling you now. So it means if I'm frustrated or things that, or I don't feel well, I don't think I can do a good job; I think that the message is not going to be perceived by the public, by the audience. So it may be selfish, but I try to play for me to fulfill my inner emotions, whatever they are. Subjectively or objectively, whatever inspires me, and then, that way, one way or another, they will go, pass on to the public.

Naxos: Was there a moment in your life when you knew that you were going to do music forever, or that you were going to play jazz, that this was your calling?

Rodriguez: I tell you, that's a hard question. That's a hard question. I would not say, I don't think so. I don't think so because I am not that guy who says, "Well, I always knew I was gonna be a musician." No, no. Because what really fascinated me when I was a kid was astronomy. I would have loved to have been an astronomer, a philosopher, and things like that. I wanted to be so many things that in the long run were impossible because life is so short, you know. We're only here for a little moment, it's just nothing, so it's impossible. But I've always been very anxious to take on other things. Of course, I love music, and I came to music late in my life. I really became a professional when I was in New York in my twenties; I just started to play. I learned music when I was a kid, but I stopped, and went to do other things. And then I started again in New York, when I was already a man in my twenties. So I never have put that question in front of me, like that's the only thing I want to do in life. I don't think so. But it is very important in my life, and I would say that music has saved my life in quite a bit of occasions. I have to say that if I had not been a musician, my life probably would have been very miserable, a different life.

Naxos: What are your plans for the future? Do you have a busy schedule coming up this next year?

Rodriguez: Well, I am going to see what happens with the album. I have a lot of confidence that this album is going to be a good thing for me and all of those who have participated in doing this work, which is not me alone. I have other plans, too, to keep doing what I do sometimes. I'll play; I'll be organizing a lot of things, managing, and things like that.

I would like to say that this album, to me, spreads through parts of my life, the life I lived in my country, and then in New York and in Europe and all my experiences and the people I have met, my failures, everything. I think it's like a writer who writes his story. It's like an unfinished symphony of my life spread in music, and I think it can reach people because of the fact that, humbly speaking, I have met certain people who have approached me and have said to me, "Listen, you made me cry, and the music, and your musicians." I have done it with a group and also alone. I have recollections of those things and it is me, it's fantastic, because it's happened to me, other people have made me cry. I would say in classical music the great Vladimir Horowitz and Rubinstein--in jazz, guys like Bill Evans and Albert Dailey, and those are emotions that are special to me and have a great value. Also, I think that this album reflects my roots, my childhood. The people who play with me, every one of them have a moment of grace, a moment when we got together to do something for everyone, searching to give some kind of joy and peace to people, tranquility, something spiritual in a sick planet.

This interview took place on November 18 and 21, 2002.
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