Dafnis Prieto, drummer, composer, and educator, is the recipient of a 2011 MacArthur Fellowship (the “genius grant”). He has electrified audiences with his dazzling technical abilities and rhythmically adventurous and groundbreaking compositions. A classically trained musician who absorbed from an early age the multifaceted percussive traditions of his native Cuba, Prieto transposes elements from his Afro-Cuban musical heritage onto a jazz drum kit, incorporating congas, timbales, and the layered rhythmic patterns of rumba and son. Whether performing as a solo artist, bandleader, or sideman, his playing is characterized by a finely calibrated command of textures and nuances and an ability to execute highly complex, polyrhythmic structures with extraordinary speed and precision.
As a composer, Prieto melds modern jazz harmonies, Cuban clave rhythms, other Latin and African influences, and funk-inspired arrangements to create works of great stylistic diversity that evoke a broad spectrum of moods. His 2006 recording, Absolute Quintet, showcases both his powerful and propulsive playing as well as his interest in composing for a nonstandard ensemble of organ, cello, violin, saxophone, and drums. The morphing rhythms and time signatures of Taking the Soul for a Walk (2008) further demonstrate Prieto’s compositional reach and graceful way of slowing down or speeding up a given tempo. Through these and other recordings, his leadership of numerous ensembles, and additional projects involving dance, film, and opera, he is expanding Latin jazz with a bold new energy and sound.
Prieto obtained a thorough classical education as a young student at the School of Fine Arts in Santa Clara and later at the National School of Music in Havana, all the while broadening his knowledge of jazz, Afro-Cuban, and world music outside of the academy.
He first toured Europe with pianists Carlos Maza and Ramon Valle and the groundbreaking group “Columna B.” After moving to New York in 1999, he quickly became the drummer of choice for many prominent artists such as Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, Eddie Palmieri, Chico and Arturo O’Farrill, Dave Samuels & The Caribbean Jazz Project, Jane Bunnett, D.D. Jackson, Edward Simon, Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdez, Claudia Acuña, Roy Hargrove, Don Byron, and Andrew Hill, among others. As a bandleader and as a sideman, Prieto has performed at many venues and festivals throughout the United States and around the world.
Dafnis Prieto has created compositions for dance, film, chamber ensembles, opera, and most notably for his own bands, ranging from duets to a “small big band,” including the distinctively different groups featured on the six albums he has released to date, all available on his own label, Dafnison Music:
About The Monks (2005), Absolute Quintet (2006), Taking The Soul for a Walk (2008), Si o Si Quartet Live at Jazz Standard (2009), Proverb Trio (2012), and his most recent sextet recording,Triangles and Circles (2015). He is currently preparing his first Big Band recording, Tribute, with plans for an early 2018 release and performances in the 2018/19 concert season.
Besides the MacArthur Fellowship, Prieto has received new works commissions, grants, and fellowships from Chamber Music America, Jazz at Lincoln Center, East Carolina University, and Meet the Composer. Various awards include “Up & Coming Musician of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2006, a Grammy Award Nomination for ”Absolute Quintet” as Best Latin Jazz Album, and a Latin Grammy Nomination for “Best New Artist” in 2007. Prieto is also an esteemed educator who taught at New York University for ten years before his move to Florida in 2015 to join the faculty at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. He has just published A World of Rhythmic Possibilities, a book that is bound to become an indispensable resource for drummers, percussionists, and all lovers of rhythm.
Dafnis Prieto Sextet
Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet
Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio
Edmar Casteneda & Dafnis Prieto “In Duo”
“Dafnis Prieto has an infectious dedication to the Afro-Cuban groove, and it’s on full display with his latest recording, Triangles And Circles. The album shimmers and swells with his heart-pounding drum work, but it’s wrapped by beautiful melodic structure and thoughtful compositions that draw from a broad musical ocean. …all deliver killer solos, but not at the expense of the grand vision of the song. That’s the magic of Prieto: He has the ability to offer compositions and arrangements that are distinctly him, but he craftily leaves room for pedal-to-the-metal improvisation from a truly great band.” —Down Beat Editors’ Pick
“Dafnis Prieto has been one of the most impressive musicians in New York jazz over the past 15 years. Whatever band he’s playing in, at some point the rigor of his playing commands you to focus directly on him. Each stroke of each different rhythm, from each different limb, feels exact, efficient, full of intent. His style of composition explicitly puts the ensemble first. He writes pieces of music with great balance, in which one whirling ensemble section flows into the next, each containing a new melodic strain and just enough space for a soloist to make a mark over a vamp, then stop before indirection sets in. His sextet is full of fluid improvisers, but they’re tightly managed.” —Ben Ratliff, The New York Times
“The Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto — also a composer, bandleader and 2011 MacArthur fellow, and an adopted New Yorker of long standing — has a vision for Latin jazz that hurtles in multiple directions at once. Triangles and Circles features an ace sextet with a smartly pugnacious front line: His pieces, full of sharp turns and jostling counterpoint, highlight the hair-trigger reflexes of the musicians, and yet everyone finds room to breathe. And even when a tune seems to hinge on a concept the music stays grounded, packed with incident and forward purpose.” —Nate Chinen, The New York Times
“Dafnis Prieto’s music is about more than intricate rhythm. He writes good melodies too, putting tuneful figures through inversions and variations, much like his drum patterns.”
—Kevin Whitehead, Fresh Air/NPR
“Dafnis Prieto is a technical virtuoso who can send jaws tumbling to the floor with his own very original fusion of Afro-Cuban grooves and gnarly post-bop rhythms, flawlessly executed in a blur of hands and sticks. But it’s the bold musical vision and compositional ambition that really set the New York-based percussionist apart, and put him and his talented sextet at the cutting edge of what some are calling Pan-American jazz. The band burns with a white heat, nailing the leader’s complex but always approachable charts and soloing with passion and purpose.” —Cormac Larkin, The Irish Times
“I’ve heard him play dazzling percussion in so many settings over the years that I thought I knew Dafnis Prieto. He was simply one of the greatest drummers playing today. With the release of his new sextet album, Triangles and Circles, I have to reconsider Prieto and add a few things to the list: composer and arranger. I can’t stop playing this album; the tunes are just too good and the arrangements make them even better. A Cuban native, Prieto brings the beguiling Afro-Cuban music of his culture to every cut… Every solo is magnificent, but it’s the group work that really stands out. Aside from his distinct voicings, Prieto is percussive even when he is arranging horn parts, and that may be his secret ingredient on this brilliant album.”
—Ron Netsky, Rochester City Newspaper