Born and raised in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, musically educated in the culturally vibrant city of Havana, and later developing an important music career in Caracas, Venezuela, César Orozco is a virtuoso jazz pianist known for his exceptional ability to merge the rhythmic complexities of Cuban and Venezuelan music into his compelling compositions. From a young age, Orozco displayed an innate talent for music, drawing inspiration from the rich traditions that surrounded him. His passion for jazz flourished during his time at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Artes in Havana, and later, he earned a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. Throughout his illustrious career, Orozco has collaborated with an impressive roster of esteemed musicians, including the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, Pedrito Martinez, Gary Thomas, Yosvany Terry, Flavio Sala, Luisito Quintero, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Luis Enrique, Itai Kriss, Troy Roberts, Paul Bollenback, Jeremy Warren, and Giovanni Hidalgo, just to name a few. This diverse array of collaborations has not only enriched his musical palette but has also enabled him to craft a distinctive voice, fusing Afro-Caribbean, Latin American, and jazz elements into an enchanting amalgamation.
A few days ago, we had the pleasure of sitting down with the exceptionally talented César Orozco. In our candid conversation, we dug into the depths of his illustrious career, delved into his latest musical ventures, and were treated to an electrifying sneak peek of what’s in store for his upcoming performance at Zinc.
Charles Carlini: Your music is a mesmerizing fusion of Cuban and Venezuelan influences, and your collaborations with renowned musicians like Paquito D’Rivera, Luisito Quintero, and Yosvany Terry have been widely celebrated. How have these collaborations shaped your unique sound, and what did you learn from working with such diverse talents?
César Orozco: Collaborating with musicians like Paquito, Luisito, and Yosvany has truly been a dream come true for me. My first encounter with Yosvany dates back to my childhood in Cuba, when he was a classmate of my older brother at the National School of Arts in Havana. Many years later, I had the incredible fortune of including him in my album, “No Limits for Tumbao.” His improvisational style and unique approach played a pivotal role in shaping the album’s distinctive sound.
Luisito, on the other hand, is a true virtuoso and an exceptional percussionist. He has been an integral part of numerous projects and recordings of mine. Beyond our musical collaborations, he is a close friend, and his influence on the world of percussion is undeniable, making him one of the most recorded and influential percussionists of all time.
Lastly, Paquito stands as one of my musical heroes from my childhood, alongside Chucho Valdes and his legendary band, Irakere, of which Paquito was a founding member, contributing significantly to the band’s remarkable Afro-Cuban sound. The echoes of that distinctive sound and his influence are evident in many of my compositions and even in my own playing. The unexpected opportunity to work with him now, and to proudly call him my friend, is a delightful surprise that life has graciously presented me with.
CC: Throughout your career, you’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on various projects with an impressive roster of artists. Could you share a memorable experience or project that profoundly impacted your artistic journey and helped you evolve as a musician?
CO: In addition to my role as a performer, I’m also deeply engaged as an arranger and composer. The honor of receiving two Latin Grammy nominations for Best Arrangement, in both 2019 and 2021, stands out as one of the most unforgettable and pivotal moments in my music career.
CC: Congratulations on your upcoming show at Zinc on Tuesday, October 17! Your performances are known for their soulful energy and captivating rhythms. Can you give us a sneak peek into what the audience can expect from this particular show?
CO: For my upcoming performance, I’ll be treating the audience to a selection of tracks from my albums, along with a couple of Latin-infused renditions of beloved jazz standards. Sharing the stage with me will be two of my all-time favorite musicians: Pablo Bencid on drums and Gabriel Vivas on acoustic bass. Our musical journey together spans many years, and the chemistry and energy we generate are truly one-of-a-kind. It’s this special connection that resonates so well with the audience, and I’m hopeful that this magic will once again come to life on October 17 at the wonderful Zinc Bar.
CC: Your recent projects have garnered critical acclaim for their innovative approach to jazz. Could you tell us about your latest musical endeavor and the themes or concepts you explored through it?
CO: Over the years, I’ve cultivated a unique musical approach that melds Cuban and Venezuelan traditional music with the vibrant world of jazz. My roots trace back to Cuba, and I subsequently spent 14 transformative years in Venezuela. Now that I reside in the United States, jazz has remained an ever-present and profound influence in my life. This fusion concept, weaving together the musical tapestries of three culturally rich countries, has been my artistic mission.
In the upcoming performance, our musical journey will manifest as a trio, though occasionally I also expand the ensemble to a quartet or quintet, depending on the occasion.
CC: As an accomplished jazz pianist and composer, your musical journey is truly inspiring. For aspiring musicians seeking to find their unique voice, what advice would you give them, especially when it comes to collaborating with other artists?
CO: I often find myself offering advice to those who inquire, and my foremost suggestion is to embrace a wide spectrum of music. Don’t shy away from collaborations with musicians who delve into genres entirely outside your comfort zone. Exploring the sounds of other cultures and their musical traditions is an enriching journey that fosters growth, both as a musician and as a human being.
César Orozco, we are deeply grateful for sharing your incredible journey and the invaluable experiences gained through your collaborations with some of the most distinguished musicians in the industry. Your ability to seamlessly fuse the musical traditions of Cuba and Venezuela into the world of jazz is awe-inspiring. We eagerly await your upcoming show at Zinc on Tuesday, October 17, where your performance is sure to enrapture the audience with its soulful melodies and rhythmic magic. To stay updated on César’s latest projects and future performances, be sure to visit his website: www.cesarorozco.net. Don’t miss the chance to witness the brilliance of his music live at Zinc and beyond!