A report by Gary Graff for Billboard.
When a video for the title track to Alfredo Rodriguez’s new album The Little Dream was broached, the Cuban-born jazz pianist knew exactly how he wanted to approach it.
Rodriguez took the crew to the Mosaic Tile House, an art installation near his home in Venice, Calif. “I found it walking on the street and I felt at the first moment it was a special place, very unique in the world,” Rodriguez tells Billboard. The clip finds him “dreaming” at his piano, going from black-and-white into a colorful world that in a way interprets his experience of composing. “I felt this was going to translate my heart and mind, visually,” Rodriguez explains. “It could be ‘The Little Dream’ that I experience when I’m [making music].” And rest assured that Rodriguez approaches that visual representation as intently as he does the music.
“I like art in general,” he says. “There are musicians who are just into the music, but for me everything is connected. It wasn’t like someone was telling me, ‘You should do this.’ I wanted to do it myself. I like creating my own ideas and things, whether it’s musical, visual, whatever.”
Rodriguez composed The Little Dream, produced by his mentor Quincy Jones, as his “response to our current world climate” and particularly DACA and issues surrounding immigrants and Dreamers in his chosen homeland. “Of course that affects my life,” says Rodriguez, who moved to the U.S. seeking political asylum. “I just hope for the world to be together instead of separate; This translates into all aspects of life, including music. When I listen to (The Little Dream) it has, in my opinion, a very positive message, and that was my intention. I always find myself, when I’m at the piano, finding hope. I think children are the hope of the world and that’s medicine for my soul. I hope if people listen to the album they get inspired to try to create a better world.”
On The Little Dream Rodriguez also stripped his sound back to a rudimentary format. “I’ve wanted to do a trio album for so long,” he says. “Previous recordings have been based on the trio but also had so many collaborations, so many musicians from around the world. I’ve been honored by that, but I wanted to do this as a trio.”
Rodriguez is taking that trio on the road in North America and Europe to promote The Little Dream, which he’s balancing with a full plate of recording projects. He and Jones are working on a symphonic piece commissioned to celebrate the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, which will be released during 2019. Rodriguez is also working on a studio album with Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez, also for release next year. And he looks forward to a time he’ll be welcome to perform back in his homeland. “I can go back and forth and visit my family, but they haven’t wanted me too much there, musically,” Rodriguez says. “I left, you know. So…it can be very difficult. It is what it is. But I’m always trying to put Cuba and Cuban culture into what I do, because that’s who I am.”