Jorge Luis Pacheco: Where In The World Is Pacheco?
From a country hot in climate and culture, Jorge Luis Pacheco has emerged. The young, passionate Cuban pianist plays with versatility, agility and dynamism; though a mere 25 years old, he has already been invited by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to guest with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Havana.
Pacheco has also shared the stage with many great musicians, ranging from members of Buena Vista Social Club to bassist Stanley Clarke. In 2007, he received first prize at The International Competition of Young Jazz Musicians and was finalist in The International Jazz Competition in Montreux, Switzerland. He's fast and furiously earning a reputation for being a gifted pianist, percussionist, composer and musical director, and his upcoming CD, Pacheco's Blue (Colibri, 2012), produced by pianist Chucho Valdes, displays his technical mastery and musical artistry.
All About Jazz: You've been hailed as the "flying hands" of a new generation of jazz. Your artistry has resulted in recent invitations to guest with major American jazz musicians. What is it like to cross cultural boundaries and work with these musicians?
Jose Luis Pacheco: I like to play different music with different types of musicians. This is one of the best parts of playing jazz so, when I play in different countries, my music is different. It changes the way I play, though I'm still playing the same style. This is what happened when I worked with American musicians. We have a similar connection in many ways, sharing the same energy and playing with our hearts. We had the opportunity to create music together, which is the most important thing.
AAJ What was it like when you played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?
JLP American jazz musicians think more intellectually than Cubans. They tend to be a little remote. Cuban musicians often play faster and fierier; perhaps it's the climate. The roots of jazz in the world are from the Americans. Their feeling is not cold, but [it is] more premeditated. When Wynton Marsalis was in Cuba, he recommended listening more and playing less. In Cuba, we don't have a jazz school. Our school is from the streets, so we don't have this type of information. We often play fast and hard but we have to sometimes play less. To maybe play just two notes but make them really tasteful, 'cause in Latin jazz we can play too many notes.
I like to play fast and am influenced by musicians like Chucho Valdés, Emiliano Salvador, Ruben Gonzales, Bebo Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba. They are all virtuosos. They play with hearts but with their minds, too. When you play you really need to listen to the other musicians. I like to create space in the music so we can all speak together like having a good conversation.
Playing with Wynton and the other musicians was one of the most important experiences in my life. Everyone in Cuba respects him. I learned so much, as did the other Cuban musicians. When he emphasized to play subtly, to leave more room so you can go places, it was very important.
AAJ:What's the jazz scene like in Cuba?
JLP: Because we learn on the street, we are creating it. The new generation is trying to make new jazz. We're breaking away from the traditional, incorporating different influences. It's Cuban jazz, not Latin jazz. I like the combination of Cuban, Afro-Cuban and American music. I was in New Orleans and, in two days, learned so much from the culture and had the opportunity to play with musicians like [drummer] Herlin Riley. It was wonderful and everybody was amazing. Before that I played differently.
AAJ: How old were you when you started to play, why did you begin and who influenced you?
JLP: I started at the age of six. I had a piano in my house because my father was a well-respected opera singer and my mother a musical director for one of the most important choruses in Cuba. I followed the steps of my older sister 'cause when I saw her play piano I said, "Hey, I want to do that too." I also studied percussion later. I loved [pianist] Keith Jarrett, and had one of his videos that I replayed every day, but Chucho Valdés was my first influence.
AAJ: How did Chucho Valdés find out about you and what was it like working with him?
JLP: Chucho's son was my friend. My father was also a director of music television and Chucho and my father knew one another for many years from that. Chucho gave me a jazz CD for my eighth birthday, and when I heard it I said, "I want to do this." I'd visit his house and could hear him play from the living room. His son would say, "Come on, let's play basketball," but I'd have to tell him, "Wait minute," 'cause I'd have to stop and listen.
Chucho's a wonderful pianist and when I visited we'd play together. Sometimes he'd just speak to me about music but he never tried to change my style. "I'd ask him, "What do you think?" Sometimes he'd say, "Oh yes, good," and at times, "Don't play." So when I was older I told Chucho I wanted to make a CD and we did. Joaquin Betancourt who is a master arranger and producer, co-produced the CD. He gave me technical direction where Chucho gave me his artistic opinion. On one song I played for 15 minutes, which for a CD is very long, and Chucho said, "Hey you can't do that!"
AAJ: How would you describe your style?
JLP: I have a Cuban style, of course, but I have influences from musicians in other Latin countries so I consolidate. I incorporate many octaves and love to make beautiful melodies.
AAJ: You said, during a New York performance, "My English is not good, but I hope you know what happened here." What were you hoping happened?
JLP: I was hoping that the audience was feeling what I felt. I wanted to transmit my emotion from my music to the people. Some people have said, "You made me cry," and I'd say, "Great," 'cause that's beautiful. That the best present you can give to the audience.
AAJ: When I saw you perform you had a lot of variety. There was a rendition of "Besa Me Mucho," a rap tune in Spanish, a haunting composition from a documentary and so many others. Can you elaborate on your musical choices?
JLP: Well, my rap lyrics are an improvisation so they change every time. The piece for the documentary Breaking Silence (2010) is about the Black Cubans in 1912 wanting independence. The Cuban military intervened, hunting them down like animals. They were completely defenseless and, in one week, they killed three thousand Black people. It's a very sad history. About the other songs, I love to sing and play inside my piano, too, like an extension of myself.
AAJ: What do you want for your future?
JLP: I want to become a more knowledgeable musician. The world is a very fast place now and often you need to play for the money but I want other things to fill my heart. I want to go as far as I can with the music so people will recognize me as a versatile artist. I'd like to sing more with the piano too.
AAJ: Will you move to New York?
JLP: I love Cuba and my family is there. New York is different and I love it there, too. I have two T-shirts. One that says, "I love Cuba," and the other, "I love NY." I'll wear both T-shirts and take the best of both worlds. Other places, too. To play music is to be transported into another dimension and to play music is to transport myself into a state of grace.
Jorge Luis Pacheco, Pacheco's Blues (Colibri, 2012)