Dafnis Prieto: Experiments in Spontaneity
His name got around quickly because of his startling talent. He did work with Coleman, Camilo, Threadgill and Palmieri, as well as Chicoand Arturo O'Farrill, Dave Samuels and The Caribbean Jazz Project, Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdés, Bobby Carcassés, Claudia Acuña, Roy Hargrove, Don Byron, Andrew Hill and others.
"The interesting part," he says of working with such a vast array of artists, "is they all have their own distinctive way of how to conceive music. I was willing to experiment within their way of doing music. So it was a wide range of possibilities, from Eddie Palmieri to Henry Threadgill and Steve Coleman."
He also had the opportunity to start checking out American drummers, many of whom he was already listening to in Cuba, "like Jeff 'Tain' Watts. In Cuba, I knew some of the work of Max Roach and Elvin Jones, who are some of my favorite drummers. Also Roy Haynes and Billy Higgins. Here, in New York, there are great drummers, but I felt somehow related to the playing of 'Tain.' He was one of the people that supported me, my playing and what I was doing. So for me it was great happiness, in a way, to be heard by somebody that you admire and he supports what you're doing. That's a great thing. After that, I've met great drummers who have also been an inspiration for me, like Dave Weckl and Peter Erskine. Jack DeJohnette."
Starting with >About the Monks (ZOHO Music) in 2005, Prieto has five recordings under his own name, including the new trio disk. In between all his performing work, Prieto is constantly inspired to compose. He's received commissions from groups like Chamber Music America, Jazz at Lincoln Center and East Carolina University.
"I wanted to be able to swim in my own water. That's one of the basic inspirations that gives me the impulse to start creating my own music, because I want to be able to express myself, not only through drumming, but through my compositions."
He is also involved in education, teaching master classes throughout the world. For six years, he has taught at New York University. In 2011, he was named a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and so receives a stipend over a five-year period that eases the financial burden and allows him to concentrate his art. "It saves a lot of aggravation," he says. "It helps a lot for me to concentrate on what I want to do in my career. It has given me that support. And the attention from other people who didn't know me before that.
He is well-known in the jazz community, but says "I still think I can and should be doing more in terms of performance and the possibility of playing in different places. There are a lot of places I haven't played yet. I think eventually it will happen." In doing so, his desire is to concentrate on his own projects and his own music. He still does some sideman work, which has currently been whittled down pretty much to the Eddie Palmieri band.
Additionally, he runs Dafnison Music and will be recording things besides his own projects. And he will be putting out a book on drumming that he has been developing for a while. As for Proverb Trio, the drummer is continuing to try and get work for the group. There will be U.S. west coast gigs in November, 2012 and he hopes the schedule will grow.
"I'm really happy with the way the music came out and the concept of the band. I'm looking forward to keep developing that music and that idea of spontaneous composition and collective improvisation," says Prieto. "The main idea is to do something spontaneous that may sound preconceived. Instead of preconceiving something that may sound spontaneous, we're doing it the other way around. The idea is to do it in a way where we develop things from our influences and who we are now, in the present moment. It's all about the now."
Dafnis Prieto, Proverb Trio (Dafnison, 2012)
Dafnis Prieto, Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet: Live At Jazz Standard NYC (Dafnison, 2009)
Dafnis Prieto Sextet, Taking the Soul for a Walk (Dafnison, 2008)
Michel Camilo, Spirit of the Moment (Telarc, 2007)
The Caribbean Jazz Project, Mosaic (Concord Picante, 2006)
Dafnis Prieto, Absolute Quintet (ZOHO, 2006)
Bryan Lynch, Sphere of Influence (EWE, 2006)
Arturo O'Farrill Trio, Live in Brooklyn (ZOHO, 2005)
Dafnis Prieto, About the Monks (ZOHO, 2005)
Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Lucidarium (Label Bleu, 2004)
Eddie Palmieri, La Perfect II (Concord, 2002)
Arturo O'Farrill Trio, Cumana (M&I, 2002)
Henry Threadgill, Everbody's Mouth's a Book (Pi, 2001)
Jane Bunnett, Ritmo + Soul (Blue Note, 2000)
All Photos: Courtesy of Dafnis Prieto