All that Cuban jazz

Alfredo Rodriguez will play Nov. 17 at University Club Columns Ballroom in the Reynolds Alumni Center.

By Angie Andera | Nov. 12, 2010

Tags: Music

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Alfredo Rodriguez's first teacher told him to give up his hopes of becoming a pianist when Rodriguez was only 7 years old. It is safe to say his teacher would have a changed tune today.

Rodriguez followed in the footsteps of his father, a famous Cuban singer, and continued his musical studies at multiple conservatories. Influenced by musical legends as varied as Bach, Stravinsky, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans, the native Cuban's prodigious gift soon became apparent.

"(Performing music) makes me feel good because it is what I love to do," Rodriguez said. "Music is the only thing I feel that I am really into."

After honing his skills in classical, Afro-Cuban and jazz genres, Rodriguez decided to leave his hometown in Cuba for Mexico and eventually came to the United States to pursue a career working alongside renowned producer Quincy Jones.

"I crossed the border last year from Mexico to the United States," Rodriguez said. "That was a really difficult, yet good, decision. It was difficult because I was leaving my family and culture and roots in Cuba because I was signing with Quincy Jones. The good part is I'm doing what I love to do. Music put me in this place."

Rodriguez deeply appreciates all the work Jones has done for him and his debut album, Sounds of Space.

"(Working with Jones) was a great experience," Rodriguez said. "He is in a very high level in the world of music. It is my pleasure to share my music with him."

Despite his enjoyment working with Jones, the jazz pianist takes pleasure in the personal freedom that comes with performing jazz music.

"I am very close to the improvisation," Rodriguez said. "Jazz is the most free type of music where you can be a good improviser."

Through improvisation, Rodriguez strives to connect with his listeners.

"It's more like speaking with the people at the same time," Rodriguez said. "I can communicate with the people, giving them my message. I can share what I am thinking at that very moment. It's very free."

Rodriguez joked that music, in many ways, is a universal language both he and native English speakers alike can understand.

"I can express myself so much more playing the piano than I can speaking to you," Rodriguez said. "Music is expressing what we feel. All that my eyes can see or my ears can hear is reflected in my music automatically."

For Rodriguez, music is more than just playing the right notes. In fact, the pianist finds value in playing the wrong notes as well.

"Music is a creative process that is more important than just notes," Rodriguez said. "The problem is not to make a mistake. The problem is to create a beautiful thing from that mistake. We all make mistakes."

Rodriguez might be young, but he already has achieved an impressive amount of success. In addition to composing songs, playing with symphonies and touring, the pianist is featured alongside Mary J. Blige and Q-Tip on Quincy Jones' latest album, Q: Soul Bossa Nostra.

Rodriguez's unmistakable passion for the piano is what has helped him succeed beyond all expectation.

"This is what I love to do," Rodriguez said. "For me, this is not working. For me, this is becoming a better person."

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