A Grammy-nominated Puerto Rican percussion master is bringing his Latin jazz quintet to the Pacific Northwest for two concerts this week. Let’s get to know Paoli Mejías!
Recently, over dinner at a busy restaurant, I struggled to hear Paoli’s soft voice as we talked about his life in music. But there was no doubt about his belief that he’s doing exactly what he was born to do: play music that incorporates the many rhythms and sounds of Puerto Rico, jazz and world music.
A bundle of barely-restrained energy, Paoli looks much younger than his 49 years. He’s strong and muscular, and he radiates joy when he’s playing, singing or even just talking about music.
He’s a self-taught conga drummer, inspired by the music he heard as a youngster. Recordings by venerated conguero Carlos “Patato” Valdes, and innovative groups like Irakere and Batacumbele all contributed to Paoli’s early education.
By the time he was out of his teenage years, Paoli was getting noticed by the Latin jazz masters. He’s worked with many bandleaders whose names will be familiar to Jazz Caliente listeners, including Charlie Sepúlveda, Tito Puente, and the maestro Eddie Palmieri.
When he’s not adding his magic to other people’s musical projects or on the road as part of Santana’s touring band, Paoli continues his adventures in performing and recording his unique blend of Latin jazz.
Paoli’s concerts are a great opportunity to enjoy and learn more about Afro-Caribbean rhythms. KNKX and Giordano Productions present Paoli Mejías Latin Jazz Quintet on July 26 at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle, and on July 27 at Open Space on Vashon Island. There’s even a percussion clinic/workshop with Paoli on the 27th at 3 p.m.
This Saturday on Jazz Caliente, we’ll hear Paoli’s quintet play "Logos" from his Jazzambia album. We’ll also celebrate the return of Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band to Dimitriou's Jazz Alley this week, and listen to Carlos "Patato" Valdes take on a Gershwin tune about rhythm.
Until then, here’s something from Paoli Mejías' latest CD, Abriendo Caminos:
Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.