Dafnis Prieto | Biography
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 of his own and as a sideman, Prieto has performed at many venues and festivals throughout the United States and around the world.
He 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 four albums released to date: “About The Monks,” “Absolute Quintet,” “Taking The Soul for a Walk,” and “Si o Si Quartet Live at Jazz Standard,” all on Prieto’s own label, Dafnison Music, which he launched in 2007. The spontaneous improvisations of his Proverb Trio, with vocalist Kokayi and keyboardist Jason Lindner, are featured on Dafnison Music’s newest release, out on July 1, 2012..
Besides the MacArthur Fellowship, he has also 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. Also a gifted educator, Prieto has conducted numerous master classes, clinics, and workshops. Since 2005, he has served as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University. (includes text by the MacArthur Foundation – used with permission)