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He’s a Grammy-winning pianist, composer and bandleader and he’s hitting our shores for this year’s Mosaic Music Festival. We had a little chat with internationally-acclaimed musician Michel Camilo.
Do you still play the accordion?
Not very often, it was my first instrument given to me by my parents for Christmas when I was around 4 years old. I did play the accordion for an album project where I served as producer for French singer-songwriter Nilda Fernandez on his album titled Innu Nikamu a few years ago. It actually felt good knowing that after so many years I could still have so much fun playing it.
You started out as a classical pianist and then encountered jazz when you were 14 and a half years old. What were the challenges when you started to play jazz?
I was 9 when I asked my parents to send me to the National Conservatory of Music in order for me to study Classical piano. I graduated with a “Professorship” degree. At that time I was into Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Bach and Beethoven; but one day I heard the great jazz pianist Art Tatum performing “Tea for Two” solo piano on the radio and fell in love!
It was a revelation, since I found out that the challenge here was that you had to improvise or create something new each time you played a song. I had been a composer since I was about 6 years old, so this instant challenge really attracted me to learn more about the tradition of jazz, so I knew that eventually it would lead me to New York to follow up on my dream of becoming a jazz musician and composer.
How does it feel to have won the Grammy and Emmy awards?
I feel very lucky and honoured to have been able to receive a Grammy and a Latin Grammy, as well as an Emmy Award. It is a great feeling to get the recognition from your colleagues, as well as from the music and television industry; it just makes me strive even more to keep on improving as an artist.
You've won many other accolades over the years including being named a Knight of the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus in your home country. Of all the achievements and awards, what are you most proud of?
Each one of them represents a special moment in my career and in my life. If I had to really pick one, I would have to say that getting the highest civilian honour in my native Dominican Republic is one of the highlights, and the other one is receiving an honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music. I now have a scholarship under my name there which gives Dominican students who are not able to afford to study jazz the chance to do so.
What do you know about Singapore and how are preparations for your Mosaic Music Festival gig coming along?
I am very excited to be able to be part of the Mosaic Music Festival and to visit Singapore for the first time. My cousin who was a TV personality from the Dominican Republic visited Singapore five years ago and he told me that it’s a beautiful lush tropical paradise and it is a very modern country; and that the food is exquisite.
My dear friend Chucho Valdes also played at the Festival last year and told me that he had a wonderful time and that the audience was great. So I can’t wait to experience it for myself. I am also looking forward to bringing my music and my musicians - Charles Flores on contrabass and Cliff Almond on drums - to perform for the Singapore audience for the first time. We hope that the audience enjoys our music!
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