Paquito D’Rivera-Cuban Clarinet And Saxophone Virtuoso

Paquito D’Rivera-Cuban Clarinet And Saxophone Virtuoso

What an amazing musician Cuban saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera is, and what a truly brave and courageous life he has lived.  While there is a bit more to be learned about the man here at his Wikipedia site, I suspect we know very little about the trials and tribulations this man has endured in the name of music……

To quote Wikipedia directly…..

“Paquito Francisco D’Rivera was born in Havana, Cuba. His father played classical saxophone, entertained his son with Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman records, and sold musical instruments. He took D’Rivera to clubs like the Tropicana (frequented by his musician friends and customers) and to concert bands and orchestras.  At age five, D’Rivera began saxophone lessons with his father. In 1960 he attended the Havana Conservatory of Music, where he learned saxophone and clarinet and met Chucho Valdés.  In 1965 he was a featured soloist with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra. He and Valdés founded Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna and then in 1973 the group Irakere, which fused jazz, rock, classical, and Cuban music.

By 1980, D’Rivera had become dissatisfied with the constraints placed on his music in Cuba for many years. In an interview with ReasonTV, D’Rivera recalled that the Cuban communist government described jazz and rock and roll as “imperialist” music that was officially discouraged in the 1960s/70s, and that a meeting with Che Guevara sparked his desire to leave Cuba.  In early 1981, while on tour in Spain, he sought asylum with the American Embassy, leaving his wife and child behind, with a promise to bring them out of Cuba.

Upon his arrival in the United States, D’Rivera found great support for himself and his family. His mother, Maura, and his sister, Rosario, had left Cuba in 1968 and became US citizens. Maura had worked in the US in the fashion industry for many years, and Rosario had become a respected artist/entrepreneur. He was introduced to the jazz scene at some 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).”

I am certainly no expert on Paquito’s music but I can say that I have listened intently to a few of his recordings in the past and have always been particularly impressed with his clarinet work.  Over the years I have come to appreciate the incredible musicianship and artistry of Cuban musicians….

The first recording I ever heard of Paquito’s was Explosion, which dates from 1985.  I remember hearing this recording and being surprised by his incredible technique and the sheer power and virtuosity of his playing on both clarinet and saxophone.  He did indeed remind me of Eddie Daniels on clarinet at this point; Paquito is one of a handful of clarinetists that can rival Eddie Daniels’ virtuosity on the clarinet.


One of Paquito’s recordings that I keep coming back to, from 1989, is entitled Tico Tico.  I am aware that this tune, Tico Tico,  has been around for decades and that it is considered something of standard in the Brazilian/Latin style.  You can read about the origin and evolution of this tune here, it is an interesting tale indeed…..

Over the years I have found myself listening to various versions of this tune by Gary Bartz and Paul Motion, among others, and have even run into the tune arranged for Wind Ensemble.  But the Paquito version from this recording is just simply the definitive version of this tune for me.  A few years back I wrote out the clarinet part in an attempt to get deeper into Tico Tico, and I quickly discovered what a challenge it is to execute at a fast tempo.  So you think you can play the clarinet?  Try playing this transcription along with the recording and let me know how you fare.  I myself can only get it accurately at about 85% of the recorded tempo!

Have a listen to this!

Have a look at this!!

Tico Tico:Paquito


My curiosity about all things Paquito led me to a recording entitled The Clarinetist Volume 1 that dates from 2001.  This recording is reminiscent of Eddie Daniels’ Breakthrough recording on GRP from 1986 in that it is a jazz/classical crossover recording.  This recording would most definitely crack my Top Ten clarinet recordings of all time.  The lush arrangements, melding classical and various jazz forms, are a gorgeous texture for Paquito to work his magic over.  Find yourself a copy ASAP!!

Another two tracks that I have admired that feature Paquito can be found on the Cuban bassist Cachao’s recordings.  From the Master Sessions, Volume 1 there is a gorgeous track entitled Al Fin Te Vi, and from the Master Sessions Volume 2 I have really enjoyed Los Tres Golpes.  My friend Kurt Ribak made me aware of these recordings, and initially I was unaware that Paquito was the clarinetist.  These two tracks have grown on me with repeated listenings…….

You can find Al Fin Te Ve on Youtube here…..

Likewise Los Tres Golpes can be found here…….

Some interesting things can be learned from this short Youtube clip entitled Paquito D’Rivera-Tools Of The Craft…..

And here is a link to a Masterclass that Paquito did in 2012 for Vandoren……In both these clips his enthusiastic personality is on full display, and what a gem this man truly is.  The world is a better place as a result of his music making.

There are many interesting things to peruse on Paquito’s website, including information regarding many books that he’s published on a variety of musical topics.  Take a trip into his world here…..

In the future I hope to explore Paquito’s saxophone work in more detail, and look forward to posting more about that topic sometime soon.  Until then keep your chops in shape with a workout on Tico Tico, the challenge will definitely inspire and reward you in the long run.

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