As part of its 25th Anniversary Celebration series, The Jazz Gallery welcomes pianist and composer Osmany Paredes and his Jazz Cubano Quartet. After an early introduction to rhythmic patterns at age 3 from his father, percussionist and band leader Guillermo Paredes, Paredes now stretches his artistry across styles and traditions, both emerging and enduring. Collaborators include Yosvany Terry, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Arturo Sandoval and the legendary Roy Hargrove, among countless other distinct voices.
Paredes recently spoke with the Gallery on intercutting musical styles from a range of cultures, the role of clave in his artistic development and flexing leadership—again—in New York City.
The Jazz Gallery: You were very, very young when you received an introduction to different rhythmic patterns and elements from Guillermo Paredes, your father and longtime percussionist at Modern Music Orchestra of Santa Clara.
Osmany Paredes: He plays percussion and a little bit of valve trombone. In my hometown, Santa Clara, he played with a big band orchestra. He liked jazz, Brazilian music, Cuban music of course, and he introduced me to all these rhythms when I was really young. Also, he [kept] a lot of LPs in the house, so I listened to all different kinds of music—Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Chucho Valdes—many, many different styles of music. He also taught me a little bit about the pattern, the clave—rumba and son, different [variations] on the clave. So I had that information before I started in the music school, EVA Olga Alonso, in Santa Clara, and I felt proud about that.
TJG: The other students, at the time, didn’t have the same exposure to clave before they started at the school?
OP: Most of them didn’t know about that. I talked with some of them who maybe had fathers who were also musicians, but most of them, no. Actually, today some of them are musicians, but many of them are not working on music; they have different [careers]. Most of them didn’t know about clave because in school, we didn’t have material that teaches how to play Cuban music; it was all classical music.
TJG: You seem to have an ability to intuit the precise tempo to call for every tune you play; do you feel as though your early introduction to clave has nurtured that ability?
OP: Yes. For me, it was good to know clave and other [rhythmic ideas] when I was very young because that helped me to be able to play, as an individual, a lot of different styles. If you feel strong with your music—in this case, Cuban music—you can feel [more comfortable] playing other roots: Brazilian, African, jazz. So I think learning clave when I was young helped me to put different styles of music together.
TJG: You have deep connection to beautiful, dissonant melodies. In what ways have Afro-Cuban traditions and other musical traditions and styles influenced your relationship with melody and lyricism?
OP: I love the music from Brazil. That music has beautiful melodies and beautiful harmony—complicated harmony, but, at the same time, beautiful. I love classical music, too. I like African music and jazz. For me, the rhythm is very important, but it’s the balance of melody, harmony and rhythm. I like to compose melodies that feel familiar not only to musicians but to the people who come listen to the music. When I compose, I think about everyone—I’m not only thinking about musicians. I like to be in the middle, always thinking about rhythm, melody and harmony. Sometimes musicians do very [complex] things, which is part of the style they play, but it’s also good to compose something that sounds familiar to everyone so people can understand [the music] when they come to your concert. For me, that’s very important.
TJG: You’ve lived all over the Western Hemisphere.
OP: I started in Santa Clara, my hometown. Then I moved to Havana and finished at the music school there. Then I moved to Mexico.
TJG: You were in Mexico for about a decade.
OP: Eleven years.
TJG: Can you talk about how your experience playing in Mexico served your artistic development?
OP: In Mexico I had a really good time, and the opportunity to play with almost all the musicians on the jazz scene. I recorded with a lot of musicians over there, and I released my first record in Mexico in 1998, Osmany Paredes con Menduvia—Menduvia is the name of the band I had in Mexico. I was really glad to be there for 11 years. I started my professional career in Cuba, but I developed my career as a leader in Mexico when I was in my 20s.
TJG: Then you moved to Boston for four years, and now you’re here in New York.
OP: Yes, since 2007.
TJG: You work with many artists who value musical dialog and deep listening on the bandstand. Would you talk about your associations with Yosvany Terry and Richard Bona?
OP: With Yosvany, it’s too many years [laughs]. We met when we were 15, 16 years old at school in Havana. Then we connected again, here in New York. When I was in Mexico, he was in Cuba—then he moved to New York. But we always stayed in contact by phone, or he came to Mexico a couple of times. And then when I moved to New York, I started playing with him and I’ve been playing with him since—recording with him, touring with him. He’s one of my best friends.
Richard and I have a very good relationship, musically and personally. When I lived in Boston, Richard called me to record a song with him for his CD Tiki. After that, we stayed in contact. When I moved to New York, he called me again to record something else. And then he wanted to do a Cuban project, Mandekan Cubano, so he called me and I ended up playing for years with that band.
TJG: What projects are you developing for 2020?
OP: I want to start playing with my project again. [In the past], I played a lot around the city with my own band, but when I started playing with Richard, I was busy all the time. We were traveling all the time—I didn’t have time to book my band. Once or twice a year, I would play at Zinc Bar or Club Bonafide, but I didn’t have time to book my band continuously. Now, after this gig at The Jazz Gallery, I want to continue with booking my own project.
TJG: What’s your hope for this performance at The Jazz Gallery?
OP: I feel very happy to play with these musicians because they’re great musicians. I’ve known Yunior for many, many years; he played with my project for many years, too. Yusnier is a young guy from Cuba, a great conga player. And Keisel, the drummer, he is also a great Cuban percussionist. He’s playing with us for the first time. I feel good playing with these amazing musicians and I feel good being back in the city to play with my project. We are playing music from my three CDs, and also new music. I hope that people come and enjoy the concert. It’s always good playing in the city. Always.
Osmany Paredes Quartet performs Jazz Cubano as part of the 25th Anniversary Celebration at The Jazz Gallery on Sunday, February 29, 2020. The quartet features Mr. Paredes on piano, Yunior Terry on bass, Yusnier Sanchez on congas and percussion and Keisel Jiménez on drums and timbal. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30 P.M. $30 general admission/$20 for members, $40 reserved cabaret seating/$30 for members for each set. Purchase tickets here.