CD of the Month
You probably have not heard his name but you have heard his piano playing. Miami-based Cuban pianist Francisco “Paquito” Hechavarría is the one taking the exciting solo on Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine’s worldwide smash “Conga.” Paquito, who is endowed with perfect pitch, began his professional career as a teenage prodigy in the mid-1950s in his native Cuba. He played for several prestigious bands of the era including replacing the legendary pianist Peruchín in Havana’s number one big band, Orquesta Riverside when Peruchín formed his own band. In 1960 Paquito Hechavarría recorded with Mongo Santamaría and Willie Bobo who were visiting Cuba, an album that turned out to be the last recording made in Cuba for a US label, the landmark “Our Man In Havana” for Fantasy Records. Shortly thereafter Paquito left Cuba for Miami where he has lived ever since recording several albums as a leader and being part of hundreds of other recordings as a sideman in many different genres.
Famed Calle 54 film and music producers Fernando Trueba and Nat Chediak asked Paquito to make a recording for their Calle 54 Records label, Hechavarría decided to pay homage to one of his favorite singers, Frank Sinatra, taking some of “Ol’ Blues Eyes” greatest hits and placing them in an exquisite, swinging Latin jazz setting. On “Frankly” Paquito is joined by a stellar cast, the veteran co-founder of Libre and the Fort Apache Band, Andy González-bass, the amazing young drummer Dafnis Prieto, the prodigious percussionist Pedro Martínez and guests, veteran sax master Phil Woods on alto and the stand out Brian Lynch-trumpet. This tribute to “The Chairman of the Board” is a perfect blend of the Great American Songbook and Afro-Cuban jazz of the highest caliber. Refusing to fall into the trap of playing too many notes or getting into pyrotechnics, Paquito Hechavarría allows his piano mastery to hypnotize the listener with his exquisite playing while his sidemen follow suit providing the polyrhythmic seasoning making this an instant classic. Quite frankly, had Frank Sinatra lived to hear this album, I am certain he would relay his muchas gracias and felicidades to his namesake, Francisco “Paquito” Hechavarría for a job well done.