Cuban jazz pianist and composer sets out on a dream

Tamica Jean-Charles/Entertainment Director

It was his uncle who gave him the Keith Jarrett “The Köln Concert” CD.

Alfredo Rodriguez had been attending music school for sometime now where he studied classical music. Growing up in a musical household in Havana, Cuba, he was constantly surrounded by sounds of his country. But after listening to the Jarrett CD, he was drawn to jazz.

“That album changed my life in a lot of ways,” said Rodriguez. “Since that moment I’ve been in a way an open-minded musician, just trying to discover as much as I can. That album opened my mind.

Rodriguez was enrolled into the Manuell Samuel Conservatory when he was six years old. Drums initially caught his interest, but only students who were 10 and over could pursue drums, and he had to choose between the violin and what he currently plays, piano.

When Rodriguez was a student in the University of Arts of Cuba, he and other Cuban musicians were selected to perform at the Montreux jazz festival in Switzerland, one of the largest  jazz festivals in the world. He, along with other jazz musicians from around the world, performed in front of fans and world-renowned jazz musicians, including Quincy Jones.

Jones singled out Rodriguez after a performance and asked to mentor the young college student in his musical endeavors. Jones told Rodriguez he was impressed by his ability.

“He said he wanted to help me in some way in my career,” said Rodriguez. “My life changed in a way, it was a very important part of my life and my career.”

Jones and Rodriguez would keep in touch for almost four years after Montreux. The political tension between the U.S and Cuba hindered Rodriguez from moving to the states. But when a concert opportunity in Mexico presented itself, Rodriguez had to make a choice.

After being arrested and figuring out ways to get across the U.S./Mexico border, Rodriguez safely made it to the U.S. in January 2009. Within the first month, he began working with Jones and continued his music career.

“It was one of the toughest the decisions of my life,” said Rodriguez. “I didn’t know anything about the States. I didn’t even know how to speak English, so it was a very extreme move in my life.”

Coming to the United States for Rodriguez was a “drastic and extreme” decision.

“I’m very happy I made that decision,” said Rodriguez.

Music-wise, for Rodriguez, moving countries benefited his career. To this day, Jones assisted in the production and composition of Rodriguez’s four albums.

Rodriguez crafts his sound around his life experiences, both positively and negatively, said Rodriguez.

“The Little Dream,” Rodriguez’s latest studio album,was inspired by his journey to the U.S. and those under the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals Act, an immigration policy that grants children who were brought to the country illegally to delay deportation and earn a work permit.

“Anything that’s happening in my life at the moment is going to be reflected in my music, whether it’s on the piano or what I compose,” said Rodriguez.

Dreamers, children under the DACA act, served as the foreground for the “The Little Dream.” Rodriguez says although the children may be small, they carry enough responsibility to be considered an adult.

“All these things are important to me and I get inspired by them,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez received his first Grammy nomination in 2015 for Best Arrangement for “Guantanamera.” Since then he’s been featured on NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert,” and in a number of appearances.

Rodriguez recently opened the FIU Music Festival on Friday, Oct. 26. For more information on the festival, visit

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