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Saxophonist Diego Rivera blends cultures on his new album

Saxophonist Diego Rivera
Anna Yatskevich
courtesy of the artist
Saxophonist Diego Rivera

The award-winning educator and saxophonist Diego Rivera presents his latest album, "Indigenous."

A world-class musician, composer, arranger and educator, Diego Rivera is known for his muscular tone and unique blend of straight-ahead mainstream jazz fused with music inspired by his Latino background and heritage. He is a tenured associate professor of jazz saxophone at Michigan State University, where he also serves as associate director of jazz studies.

Rivera was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and raised "just up the road" in East Lansing, Michigan. Born into a Mexican-American family, his Chicano heritage has always been important to him and has shaped his creative endeavors.

His parents named him after the famed muralist Diego Rivera. A trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts at a young age inspired him to make his own mark with the saxophone rather than the painter’s brush.

He currently leads his own group, The Diego Rivera Quartet. Rivera has also toured with Grammy-winning vocalist Kurt Elling, Juno-award-winning Canadian jazz vocalist Sophie Milman, and The Rodney Whitaker Quintet. He is a member of the The Ulysses Owens Jr. Big Band (New York), the Jazz @ Dr. Phillips Center Orchestra (Orlando, Florida) and the Gathering Orchestra (Detroit, Michigan). He has also performed with Ellis Marsalis, Christian McBride, Wycliffe Gordon, the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, the Gerald Wilson Big Band and Lincoln Center’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.

An avid composer and arranger, Rivera has written arrangements for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Motor City Jazz” concert, a tribute to the music and musicians of Detroit.

Rivera is a passionate educator and has presented masterclasses at schools and universities in the United States and abroad. In 2019, he was awarded the Dortha J. and John D. Withrow Teaching Award, Michigan State University's College of Music’s highest honor for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement.

Rivera’s latest album is “Indigenous” (2021 Posi-Tone). It’s a collection of compositions that celebrate life and freedom, acknowledge the struggle for equality and understanding, and affirm a reverence for the earth we inhabit and the lessons of our ancestors.

“Indigenous” looks at a broad spectrum of music through the lens of the art form that is indigenous to the United States: jazz.

Listen for Diego Rivera on KNKX Midday and Evening Jazz.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.