Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2009: Steve Turre

Hilario Durán: Cuban Heat

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Juno-award winning pianist Hilario Durán will be bringing some Cuban heat to Winnipeg this April when he performs with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. The Cuban import has a busy musical career. His trio—Roberto Occhipinti on bass and Mark Kelso on drums—has just wrapped up a tour, and he’s working now with them on a new recording. He also leads two Latin bands, and teaches at Toronto’s Humber College. I was happy to talk with him about his very musical life.

Why do you play music?

I don’t think that I could do anything without music. When I was ten, my parents bought a piano for my sister. When I saw the instrument in my living room, I fell in love right away. Music is the main force of my life—music is my breath.

Why did you choose the piano?

Piano was my destiny. I started to play the piano by ear, and it was like a toy for me—even my mother couldn’t get me away from it. Later on I started to absorb the works of many artists like Adolfo Guzmán, Ernesto Lecuona, Harry James, and Errol Garner, among others. I listened, learned, imitated, and tried to reproduce all of the music I was hearing. By that time, I had decided that piano would be my future.

Tell me about your first gig.

My first gig was playing with the Orquesta de Aficionados during my military service in Cuba. It was very exciting for me as I performed a concert with piano and band. I learned a lot from that first experience.

How did you come to Canada?

I came to Canada for the first time in 1987 to perform with Arturo Sandoval at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I was here just for few days, but I felt very comfortable with the Canadian people. I came again to perform with Jane Bunnett in the 1990s. At that time I was thinking seriously about what to do in my near future and I felt that this country of diverse cultures would allow me to expand my musical interests. I wanted the opportunity to mix my roots with different rhythms and musical genres, so I decided to stay here.

How is the music scene different in Canada than in Cuba?

The scene in Canada is a little bit different than Cuba. Canada is a multicultural country where many different music styles exist and musicians from everywhere perform. Cuba is a small country with a rich musical heritage but there are not foreign musicians performing frequently across my country.

What do you suggest to Canadians interested in learning about Latin music?

One of the most important things is to study the principal Latin rhythms—all of these rhythms are danceable, so it’s very important to understand how to dance salsa. For Cuban music specifically, musicians would need to learn to play congas and timbales. For the musicians interested in Latin music, it would be great if they could visit countries like Brazil and Cuba to interact with musicians, rhythms, and styles.

Do you have an especially memorable musical experience?

Yes! Chucho Valdes called me to replace him in the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna—for me, this orchestra was like a great school where I had the opportunity to perform with most of the greatest musicians and directors in Cuba. Since that time, I have been dreaming of having my own orchestra, a dream which came true in 2005 when my big band performed in the Distillery District in Toronto.

You are a very busy musician. Besides coming to Winnipeg in April, what does 2009 hold for you?

One of the most important things is a new recording with my trio. I am composing new tunes for this CD and I am very excited about this. I will continue my work with my big band, and with Havana Remembered, a project that’s close to my heart because it reflects the Cuban music of the Golden Era.

What advice do you have for younger musicians starting out?

Study and dedication. All musicians who would like to success in music have to feel passion for music. The most important things are passion, dedication, effort, and the ability to learn from others and follow goals.

Amber Epp is a singer in the Jazz Studies program, and will perform with Hilario Durán in the WJO concert.

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