Playing horns ranging from valve trombone to piccolo trumpet, Claudio Roditi made his mark on Latin jazz with his beautiful tone, his wonderful compositions, and his absolute belief that music and laughter were the best things in life.
Claudio Roditi died from prostate cancer last week. He was 73.
A native of Rio de Janeiro, Claudio absorbed Brazilian music from the time he was very young. When he discovered the trumpet and jazz, he knew he'd found his life's work. Aided by an American uncle with a huge record collection, Claudio listened and learned.
Claudio was 20 years old when he made it to the finals of the International Jazz Competition in Vienna. That's where he met his mentor, jazz flugelhornist Art Farmer. Claudio emigrated to the U.S. in 1970 to attend the Berklee College of Music, and moved on to New York City to perform and record.
Claudio was part of Cuban saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera's band through most of the 1980s, and at that time he developed a fondness for rotary-valve trumpets.
"They get a warmer sound that the piston valve instruments," Claudio explained during an interview. "The wrap of the tubing is curved, like a bugle, and the bends of the tubing are wider than on piston valve trumpets. The bell is wider, too. I just really like the warmth. And on top of that, I love the way they look."
Through Paquito D'Rivera, Claudio met one of his trumpet heroes: Dizzy Gillespie, who soon recruited him for Dizzy's United Nation Orchestra. After Dizzy's death, Claudio joined the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Star band.
In the 25 recordings Claudio made as bandleader, he often mixed jazz with Brazilian and Afro-Caribbean sounds, and included his own compositions. Claudio was somewhat overlooked by jazz fans, but anyone who worked with him knew immediately that Claudio was a master musician and a delightful human being.
Listen for Claudio Roditi playing his original piece called "Piccolo Samba" on piccolo trumpet this week on Saturday's Jazz Caliente. Here's "The Monster and the Flower" from his quartet performance at Shanghai Jazz in New Jersey in 2014.
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.