UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Alfredo Rodríguez Trio, headed by the Grammy-nominated Cuban-born pianist mentored by legendary music producer Quincy Jones, will kick off the Penn State Center for the Performing Arts' 2015–16 jazz concerts at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24 in The State Theatre in downtown State College.
While studying classical piano at music conservatories in Cuba, Rodríguez performed with his father’s orchestra on television. But it was the young musician’s Montreux Jazz Festival performance in 2006 that caught the eye and ear of Jones, who made it his mission to bring the pianist to the United States.
“It knocked me on my booty, man,” Jones said of first hearing a set by Rodríguez, who some critics compare to iconic pianists such as Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans.
Rodríguez fuses Latin, jazz and classical music into compositions that DownBeat magazine says make it impossible for listeners to pigeonhole him. On his 2014 release, “The Invasion Parade,” he blends traditional Cuban swing and guajira (“country music”) with conga and Afro-Cuban jazz styles for a bold, layered sound. That recording also features bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding (who beat Mumford & Sons for the 2011 Best New Artist Grammy Award) and percussionist Pedrito Martinez (who has earned accolades from Wynton Marsalis, Derek Trucks, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal and others). Rodríguez’s arrangement of the Cuban classic “Guantanamera” from that album earned him a 2015 Grammy nomination.
Since relocating to the United States in 2009, Rodríguez has performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl; the Gilmore Keyboard Festival; the Detroit, Newport, San Francisco, Vienna, North Sea and Umbria jazz festivals; and notable jazz clubs, including Ronnie Scott’s, Scullers, Yoshi’s, The Blue Note and Jazz Alley.
On his first tour to China, the pianist collaborated with Academy Award-winning Chinese composer Tan Dun (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Hero” and 2008 Beijing Olympics medal ceremonies) to create an English-language version of the song “Better City, Better Life” for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.
The trio’s live performances are improvisational in nature. He balances his temperament on the keys with Henry Cole on drums and Peter Slavov on bass.
“We really engage with our audiences during our performance, so we’re also looking forward to the energy that will come as a result,” Rodriguez said.
Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring a visiting artist or artists, takes place at The State Theatre one hour before the concert and is free for ticket holders.