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Entertainment Highlights: Cuban Pianist Improvises a Career In Jazz

  • Alfredo Rodriguez was encouraged by producer Quincy Jones. (Courtesy photograph)

    Alfredo Rodriguez was encouraged by producer Quincy Jones. (Courtesy photograph)

  • From left: LeeAnne Hutchison, Jeannie Hines and Bill Sawyer rehearse in the Shaker Bridge Theatre production of "Northshore Fish." (Courtesy Shaker Bridge Theatre)

    From left: LeeAnne Hutchison, Jeannie Hines and Bill Sawyer rehearse in the Shaker Bridge Theatre production of "Northshore Fish." (Courtesy Shaker Bridge Theatre)

  • Alfredo Rodriguez was encouraged by producer Quincy Jones. (Courtesy photograph)
  • From left: LeeAnne Hutchison, Jeannie Hines and Bill Sawyer rehearse in the Shaker Bridge Theatre production of "Northshore Fish." (Courtesy Shaker Bridge Theatre)

The Cuban jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez had already distinguished himself as an improvisational wunderkind by the time the legendary producer Quincy Jones came knocking.

Between his in-home musical training — he has the same name as his father, a well-known Cuban singer and bandleader — the conservatory education he received in Havana, and his exposure to improvisational jazz pianists such as Thelonious Monk, Rodriguez, who performs a week from tonight at Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts, had developed a free-wheeling and emotive style all his own.

That sound caught the ears of Claude Nobs, the longtime director of the famed Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. That’s where Jones, who’s worked with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson, first heard the then-20-year-old pianist in 2006.

“I did one song for Quincy, and after that, Quincy came to me, and he said that he wanted to do something together with me, and he wanted to help in my career,” Rodriguez recalled in a phone interview this week.

“I went back to Cuba, just with the idea. I met this person that I admired so much and I played a song for him, so this is the biggest thing in my life,” he said. But his next meeting with Jones came after great duress. Rodriguez was still living in Cuba at the time, and to get around the difficulties of defecting to the U.S., he crossed the border after a show in Mexico in 2009. From there, he began working in earnest with his mentor Jones, leading to the release of his debut album, Sounds of Space, two years ago.

“He’s a master of the music,” Rodriguez said, “and he also knows a lot about everything. Being close to him is very important for me, because I learn a lot, and that is one of my goals, always.”

Rodriguez’s artistic path has paralleled that of the American jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, whose Koln Concert CD opened a teenage Rodriguez’s eyes to the possibilities of improvisation. Like Jarrett, Rodriguez received his early training in classical piano. Rodriguez entered the Manuel Saumell Conservatory at age 7, wanting to study percussion, but that program didn’t accept children younger than 10, so Rodriguez settled for learning the piano. By the time he was old enough to begin percussion studies, he no longer had the desire, “because I was falling in love with the sound of the piano.”

In his teens, Rodriguez’s musical education expanded to improvisation, starting with Jarrett’s album. “Everybody knows Keith was classical(ly) trained … I was doing a lot of classical music, and also to hear somebody with that background, who was also doing improvisation, was something I really liked, and I wanted to do that,” he said.

As he listened to improvisational masters like Jarrett, Monk and Bud Powell, Rodriguez began to develop his own improvisational sensibilities. His aim, he says, is to transcend language and cultural barriers, and allow his playing to reflect his world view.

“For me, improvisation is just being myself and trying to express who I am with the piano, with the music,” he said. “And that is what I love to do.”

Alfredo Rodriguez performs at 7 p.m. April 25 at the Hopkins Center for the Arts ($17-$30).

Best Bets

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra will be joined in concert at the Hopkins Center tomorrow night by composer-in-residence Gabriel Kahane, as they perform the world premiere of Gabriel’s Guide to the 48 States. Kahane’s piece was inspired by the American Guide series written by members of the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s and ’40s. The concert, which begins at 8 in Spaulding Auditorium, will also include a performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht ($17-$40).

∎ Shaker Bridge Theatre caps its sixth season in Enfield’s Whitney Hall Auditorium with North Shore Fish, Israel Horovitz’s play about the dying days of a Gloucester, Mass., fish processing plant and the lives and fates of its workers. North Shore Fish will be performed at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, and continues weekends through May 5 ($25, adults; $20, students).

∎ Two of the Upper Valley’s favorite dance bands will team up tomorrow night for a concert benefiting Red Logan Dental Clinic. Dr. Burma and The Squids take the stage at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction for an evening of danceable rock, funk and R&B at 8:30 p.m. Kicking off the evening is a West Coast swing dance lesson from Faye Grearson at 8 ($10 donation).

∎ April 20 (“Weed Day”) may be a day that marijuana users hold dear in their hearts, but a group of 40 Upper Valley teens are taking the celebration in a different direction with the Spring Break Arts and Music Fest, a free event from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Wilder Center. The day will include live music, poetry and artwork from young musicians, writers and artists, and will be “a safe, substance-free gathering” for teens and families.

∎ The progressive rock band Renaissance lived up to its name a few years ago, when a 40th anniversary concert tour in 2009 with longtime lead singer Annie Haslam and guitarist Michael Dunford breathed new life into the band’s repertoire. The band recently released Grandine il Vento, their first CD in a decade, which was supported by a Kickstarter campaign. The band is touring once again, their first time on the road since Dunford’s untimely death in November, and will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at Tupelo Music Hall ($38).

On stage

Northern Stage’s production of the no-holds-barred comedy No Sex Please, We’re British concludes this weekend, with performances at 7:30 tonight through Saturday, and at 5 p.m. Sunday. Visit www.northernstage.org for more information.

Comedy

Clinical hypnotherapist Roderick Russell has brought out the humor in his profession in an appearance on Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and he will do so again in a show at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Claremont Opera House. While hypnotized, audience participants will be prompted by Russell into acting out a series of sketches ($20, advance; $22, at the door).

Dances

The third Friday night of the month brings the Old Sam Peabody Band to The Little Theater in Woodstock for a community contra dance. Following supper at 5:30, the dancing gets under way at 6 with a family contradance, followed by the community dance at 8 p.m. ($8; free for children).

∎ Fiddler Adam Boyce and pianist Sue Hunt play a square dance at Cornish Town Hall on Saturday. Sponsored by the Cornish Fire Auxiliary, the dance gets under way at 7:30 p.m. ($20 per family; $12 per couple; $7, individuals).

∎ Tripple Creek provides the music at Saturday night’s dance at the White River Junction VFW Hall ($5 members; $6, non-members).

Bar and Club Circuit

Upper Valley songman Jason Cann performs at 6 tonight at Harpoon Brewery in Windsor, and at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Shepard’s Pie on Route 4 in Quechee.

∎ The Sensible Shoes band will be joined by drummer Tim Augustinowicz at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland, starting at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

∎ Salt hill Pub in Lebanon has music from Sean Wyatt tomorrow and The Conniption Fits on Saturday; both shows start at 9 p.m. The pub has live traditional Irish music at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

∎ Acoustic rocker Chad Hollister comes to Salt hill Pub in Newport at 8:30 tonight. The pub also has music from Talkin’ Smack tomorrow at 9 p.m. and bayou rock from the band Shrimp Tunes at 9 p.m. Saturday.

∎ Jim Hollis plays a solo show at Salt hill Pub in Hanover tomorrow at 9 p.m., and tonight at 6, live Irish music from Roger Kahle and Randy Miller. At 9 p.m. Saturday, Vermont rockers The Wheelers will play a set.

∎ Diners at Bistro Nouveau in Grantham tomorrow night can look forward to music from Enfield singer-songwriter Brooks Hubbard, who performs from 6 to 9.

∎ Incognito Duo plays Jesse’s Restaurant in Hanover, starting at 5 p.m. tomorrow.

∎ The Gully Boys play Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

Open Mics, Jams

The Sunapee Community Coffeehouse hosts an open mic at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the basement of the Sunapee Methodist Church.

∎ Seth Barbiero and Brian Warren host tonight’s open mic at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon, starting at 8.

∎ Chad Gibbs hosts Salt hill Pub in Hanover’s open mic at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

∎ Shepard’s Pie Restaurant on Route 4 in Quechee holds a Tuesday night open mic, starting at 6.

∎ The Colatina Exit in Bradford has an open mic on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

∎ There’s an open jam every Tuesday night from 7 to 9 at Tuck’s Rock Dojo in Etna.

∎ Wednesday night is open mic night at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland. It’s led by Gregory Brown and starts at 8:30.

∎ Anthony Furnari hosts an open mic at Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Entertainment Highlights appears each Thursday. Email news of upcoming events to kbryan@vnews.com.