If you were looking for a way to escape the Trump rally on Saturday evening and watching the Pirates simultaneously lose 13-5 and 15-1 wasn’t cutting it, one place you could have sought refuge was at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, where world-renowned Cuban jazz artist Paquito D’Rivera was performing live in front of a near sellout crowd. D’Rivera, a 14-time Grammy award winner and laureate of countless honors including a 2005 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters selection and a National Medal of Arts, was accompanied by bassist Oscar Stagnaro, drummer Vince Cherico, pianist Alex Brown, and trumpeter/trombonist Diego Urcola. D’Rivera himself, sporting a bright red button-down beneath a sleek black vest with bright white slip-ons to boot, played saxophone and clarinet.
The set lasted around an hour and a half, but to those in the audience it felt like mere minutes as the group wove seamlessly from piece to piece, the only interruption when D’Rivera, his trademark voice much like his music – smooth – would stop to crack a joke every now and then. Each song brought with it a new, refreshing perspective on the genre as a whole – a modern take on “Salt Peanuts” in tribute to the late Dizzy Gillespie; a unique rendition of “Night in Tunisia”; an original composition, “Pa Bebo” from his album Jazz Meets the Classics; each solo was more impressive than the last – Stagnaro’s laid back, too-school-for-school demeanor; Cherico’s perfect rhythm; Brown’s fingers, almost invisible as they whizzed about the keys; Urcola’s composure, grinning to his colleagues as he dished out a master class on pitch and dynamic; and, of course, D’Rivera, his face the color of his shirt as he blew madly into his instrument, the product an intricate web of sound.
More than anything, the sheer effortlessness of it all was astonishing – the ability to improvise on the spot, to communicate with one another mid-performance, to render entire songs from memory after realizing they forgot the sheet music (yes, that really happened), while still maintaining a casual vibe, still managing to have fun, was truly extraordinary. Even after the lights came on, the applause remained so persistent that, as the man phrased it, he had “no choice but to play one more”.
D’Rivera lives in New Jersey, so he often finds himself in Pittsburgh on nights like last. If you ever get a chance to attend one of his shows, I strongly recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity. I assure you: it will be unlike anything you have ever experienced.