Interview with the acclaimed Cuban jazz pianist Jorge Luis Pacheco

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Jorge Luis Pacheco will perform live on September 28 in Des Moines as part of the Live at The Temple Concert Series

Is this your first time visiting Iowa?

Yes, it’s my first time in Iowa and I’m very happy about it.

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Tell me where your love for music, especially Jazz, came from.

My passion for music comes from the time I was born. My parents are musicians, my mother is a choir director and my father is an opera singer, so since I was born, what I listened to at home was classical music all day. Since I was 6 years old I have played the piano and I sing as well. When I was 8 years old I became interested in percussion which led me to study both careers at the same time. The Piano and the Percussion for me are one. The one cannot live without the other in my musical world. My love for Jazz started as a child, I always wanted to get away from classical music scores and do something more than just play something that was already written by another composer. So I started to want to improvise and make my own variations on the classical music that I played at that time, when I was a child, that’s how my love for Jazz and improvisation began.

An important moment in my passion for Jazz was when at the age of 8 I received a gift from the Great Chucho Valdés, it was a jazz record by a guitarist, I always listened to that record as a child, a few months later Maestro Chucho Valdés composed a small piece for me, so that I could play it in a piano exam. That piece was called Pacheco’s Blues and I remember that it had incredible jazz chords written by Chucho Valdés for me; what an honor, at only eight years old, receiving such a gift marked my life in Jazz and my love for this genre. For music in general, I would say. When I recorded my first album I called it Pacheco’s Blues.

What were some of your artistic influences?

My strongest artistic influences are those of Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, two great pianists from Cuba, but the one who has most influenced my love for the piano and as an artist is Keith Jarrett. He is my favorite pianist, I love what he does and he has been my biggest inspiration to do what I do. Of course, I have other influences from Cuban and universal music. I could tell you that another great inspiration has been the vocal group Take 6 and the Cuban singer Pablo Milanes. I listened to Take 6 so much as a child that I could sing every song on their incredible records. Besides Jazz, I love other genres like Pop, Gospel, Rap, R&B, Soul, and Cuban music, which is so rich and which I love.

In March, you were in Chicago with a Tribute show to the Buena Vista Social Club. Will we see any of that in your presentation in Iowa?

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Yes, for some time now I have always made a special tribute to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club combined with Jazz. Now in my concerts, I am singing some of the most beautiful songs of traditional Cuban music, from Buena Vista and from some of its most important composers, in addition to my own music, which has all the modern influences and at the same time the roots of the Cuban and Afro-Cuban music.

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That is something that I will be performing at my show in Iowa, I will be playing the piano, singing, doing Cuban Jazz and always something from the Buena Vista Social Club. Singing those beautiful boleros and then doing improvisations on the piano is a combination that the public loves in my Shows and I’m sure everyone will like it. My concert is a kind of imaginary trip to Cuba, to its culture, its music and its roots.

The Buena Vista Social Club album came out in 1997 and was an international success. Personally, my father and I connected with this album that brought this style to a then-new generation, and it is still very relevant 26 years later. What impact did this record have on Cuban music/culture?

This album and the Buena Vista Social Club Group marked an important stage in Cuban music and culture, I think it was an important door for Cuban music to become so international, so loved and enjoyed worldwide.

For me, who is from a younger generation of Cuban music, it is very important not to let the tradition and roots of our music die, and to continue in some way that legacy that Buena Vista left us. Of course, being from a much younger generation, I bring more modern and contemporary influences, but in the same way, I cannot stop thinking about our tradition and our roots, where we come from to know where we are going.

For me, it is a beautiful mixture to unite the modern with the traditional.

Buena Vista is a universal legacy of Cuban music.

For someone who has not seen you live, what expectations can you give them of your concert?

Those who have not seen me before will enjoy a concert full of Cuban music, Cuban jazz, where the most traditional music meets the most modern jazz. As I said before, it will be an imaginary trip to Cuba, to its music, its roots and cultural tradition with a modern and unique touch created by my own musical vision.

I’m really happy to be playing in Iowa for the first time and sharing my music and art with all of you.

Jorge Luis Pacheco will perform on September 28 in Des Moines as part of the Live at The Temple concert series. To get tickets visit: dmpa.org

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