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United Nation tribute to Diz

Philip Elwood

Paquito D'Rivera ensemble coming to the Herbst Theatre

SAXOPHONIST Paquito D'Rivera brings the United Nation Orchestra to Herbst Theatre Friday as a part of the United Nations 50th anniversary celebration.

In a two-part phone conversation early this week that began at the Miami airport and concluded at his New Jersey home, D'Rivera commented, "This is a very special concert for us, you know, because we (especially the Cubans in the orchestra) are devoted to the one-world concept of the United Nations. Many of us came into North American jazz as political refugees. The U.N. Human Rights Commission has been important in the lives of Latin Americans.

"This orchestra is mostly Latin Americans - we play the international music of jazz, though. Originally, we were Dizzy Gillespie's "Dream Band,' featuring Diz as soloist and, well, inspiration. Dizzy was the principal catalyst for bringing Latin American music and musicians into North American modern jazz - I guess that was about 50 years ago, too, wasn't it?

"Well, anyway," D'Rivera continued (his monologue comments have the same brisk rhythms as his sax playing), "Diz thinks of jazz as a spiritual expression, and since he is a Bahai believer, he combines his music with his faith - and he renamed the band the "United Nation Orchestra,' as if all jazz musicians were of one nation - which in a sense we are," said D'Rivera, catching his breath.

D'Rivera often speaks of Gillespie in the present tense. "By the time I was a teenager in Havana in the '60s," he continued, "I'd heard my father's American jazz records by Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington (especially altoist Johnny Hodges) and musicians of those times. And, of course, we had some fine Cuban and Brazilian jazz musicians, too. But when I heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy - the excitement, the spirit, the wild rhythms - I was determined to be a part of modern jazz."

He helped form the seminal Cuban modern jazz ensemble, Irakere, in the early 1970s, and he defected in Spain while on a 1980 European tour. After six months "in hiding," as he says, he made his way to New York, sponsored and encouraged, in part, by Gillespie, David Amram and McCoy Tyner.

I first heard D'Rivera play in 1982 at a New York concert with the Dream Band. I remember vividly the spirited eruption of cheers, whistles and applause that followed his first explosive solo. As I recall, even the normally dour critic Nat Hentoff was excited by D'Rivera's playing.

Over the years since then, D'Rivera has worked with his own groups, played on many dozens of record sessions, and continued with the United Nation Orchestra, which he now leads.

During Gillespie's tenure as featured soloist and front man for the big band, his protege John Faddis emerged as the ensemble's musical director. After a few years, trombonist Slide Hampton became the United Nation group's director, giving way to D'Rivera about the time Gillespie died - in body if not in spirit.

"We play now with four brass, three reeds; piano, bass, drums and some Latin percussionists. We're a sort of all-Americas band, with guys from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and the U.S. playing together.

"It's listed as a "Tribute to Dizzy Gillespie,' but, you know, an awful lot of the music of modern jazz is a tribute to Diz, even when you don't call it that.

"Dizzy was a jazz internationalist, you know; a jazz ambassador - a very proud musician. And whenever and wherever he traveled and played, he always included some Latin music - some soloists, some rhythms, some excitement.

"The whole jazz community is part of Diz's worldwide "United Nation,' not just the musicians in the band.

"We're looking forward to playing on Friday in San Francisco as part of such an important event."

Paquito D'Rivera and the United Nation Orchestra perform at 8 p.m. Friday in the Herbst Theatre. Call (415) 392-4400 for tickets.

©Copyright 1995, San Francisco Examiner
Original Story

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