Cuban jazz duo coming to St. Cecelia 


    The first of five concerts at the St. Cecilia Music Center for the 2022-23 season will feature a duo from Havana who met in the United States. 

    Alfredo Rodriguez, a pianist, and percussionist Pedrito Martinez, started life in Havana, Cuba where they discovered a passion for the music of their homeland separately. Despite their shared Cuban roots, Rodriguez and Martinez didn’t cross paths until both had moved to the U.S. 

    Rodriguez saw Martinez perform at a jazz festival and instantly knew he wanted to work with him.

    “There are times when you feel something and know that you want to collaborate with someone,” Rodriguez explains. “That was one of those occasions.”

    Rodriguez was born into a musical family and studied classical piano at the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán and Instituto Superior de Arte while playing popular music in his father’s orchestra by night. While performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival he was discovered by the legendary Quincy Jones, who became his producer. 

    Martinez came from a much different background, performing Afro-Cuban inspired percussion and vocals on the streets of Havana.

    “What makes this duo completely different is that I came from the folkloric side and Alfredo (Rodriguez) came from the classical side,” Martinez said. “You put those things together and you come out with an extraordinary and different sound. 

    Martinez had his first brush with success in the U.S. in 1998 when he took first place at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Afro-Latin Hand Drum Competition. He later co-founded a Latin fusion group that recorded several albums. Martinez has performed with many famous musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and James Taylor. 

    The first opportunity for the two to team up came with the recording of Rodriguez’s second album on which Martinez’s vocals and percussion grace two of the tracks. They reconvened for a stint at New York City’s Jazz Standard and a short tour in early 2017, their first chance to perform together as a duo. 

    Five years later the Cuban jazz duo is still going strong and will perform at the St. Cecelia Music Center, 24 Ransom Ave NE, in Grand Rapids Thursday, Oct. 13, 7:30 p.m. The lineup will include a number of favorites while exploring a range of moods and influences, from Cuban classics to collaborative, original compositions. Tickets are $20 -50 and are available here.

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