By Ryan Zoradi
Photos by Corey Petrick, Jory Cordy
On April 12th during Los Angeles’ monthly Downtown Art Walk, we hosted a private event at Apolis: Common Gallery to celebrate the work of a true artist, jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez. The event was made possible by Mack Avenue Records and hosted in conjunction with Quincy Jones Productions. More than 100 local business leaders, jazz aficionados, press representatives and music industry leaders packed into our space that had been enlarged to accommodate a Steinway grand piano and full spread of food and beverage. There was a tangible excitement in the room as guests enjoyed Cuban-themed hors d’oeuvres compliments of Heirloom Caterers, Handsome Roasters coffee, and specialty cocktails. Apolis Brand Director Shea Parton officially kicked off the evening with a welcome address and called forward the focal point of the gathering, Alfredo Rodriguez. Shea and Alfredo then engaged in a question and answer conversation that weaved together Alfredo’s journey from a young musician in Cuba to a budding star currently represented by music legend Quincy Jones.
Alfredo Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba and is the son of a famous Cuban musician by the same name. From the age of seven years old he enrolled in formal music training at the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldan and then the Insituto Superior de Arte. He also learned music “on the street” while performing with his father’s band by the age of fourteen. Though he still claims that two of his greatest influences are Bach and Beethoven, he was profoundly influenced by Keith Jarrett’s album, “The Koln Concert.” This album first exposed Alfredo to the art of improvisation and transformed his style into an amalgamation of classical piano and modern jazz. When asked about his style, Alfredo told us he simply calls it “music” because it is always changing as he learns and absorbs the world around him.
The pivotal moment in Alfredo’s career occurred when he was invited to play for famed musician and producer Quincy Jones at the Montreux festival in Switzerland in 2006. Only 20 years old, Alfredo wowed Quincy Jones who immediately wanted to start working with him. However, in order to realize this dream, Alfredo had to gain entry into the United States. Three years later while performing in Mexico, Alfredo decided it was time to leave his friends and family behind and seek asylum in the United States. Alfredo recently told NPR that he was hassled at the border by Mexican Border Patrol who wanted a bribe, but all he had on him was “another kind of paper”—his music. After hours of interrogation, the Border Patrol realized Alfredo would persistently return until they let him through, so they allowed him to enter the United States and begin his work with Quincy Jones.
A week after arriving in the United States, Alfredo wrote the song, “Crossing the Border,” which he graciously shared with us as an encore during his Apolis: Common Gallery performance. The audience was held spellbound as his fingers darted across the keys, subtly inviting the entire room into his experience of leaving family, friends, and his country behind in exchange for a new life in the United States. Alfredo told us that one of his goals when creating and performing music is to unify his audience and highlight similarities between diverse people groups. Two weeks ago, on a brisk night in LA’s Arts District, a packed house at Apolis: Common Gallery witnessed him achieve this goal firsthand.