The last time Paquito D'Rivera played an outdoor concert in his backyard, the legendary Latin jazz saxophonist performed for all of four minutes.
D'Rivera, who lived in Weehawken for 15 years before moving to North Bergen two years ago, was all set to perform at an outdoor festival in Weehawken around the same time that the UBS PaineWebber complex was first being built on the waterfront.
"I had a friend of mine who plays the trumpet come down and rehearse with me for about four hours," said D'Rivera, who is one of the most recognized composers and performers in the Latin jazz world, has performed regularly with the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma and has captured four Grammy awards among the 30 albums he has recorded.
"We were all set to play for about 90 minutes and we were supposed to be the closing act of the day," D'Rivera recalled. "But the police came at 7 p.m., and for some reason, they said we had to shut it down. The police said, 'That's it,' so it was the shortest gig I ever had. We played for four minutes. I didn't get a chance to play."
On Thursday night, D'Rivera will finally get an opportunity to complete the Weehawken waterfront concert he began almost two decades ago - and you can be rest assured that this time, he'll be able to finish.
"I sure hope so," D'Rivera laughed. "Maybe I can go longer than four minutes."
D'Rivera will perform a free concert Thursday in Weehawken's Lincoln Harbor Park as part of the new Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center concert series. D'Rivera, who also serves on the HRPAC's Board of Directors, is performing the free concert in an attempt to bring much needed attention to the HRPAC's plight of building a 500-seat performing arts center on the Weehawken waterfront.
"I hope I can be of some help," said D'Rivera, who just returned home to North Bergen after performing in Mexico with the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, then flying to Los Angeles to play at the Hollywood Bowl to play with Yo-Yo Ma and Abrigado Brazil in front of 18,000 fans. "We definitely need a place like this here. I'm putting all of my emphasis into seeing it happen. We need this place."
D'Rivera, whose image has been spotted all over NJ TRANSIT buses in promotions for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, where he also serves as an artist in residence, said that he loves the hectic schedule, especially working with the youth orchestra in Mexico.
"I've been very busy, but it's been wonderful," D'Rivera said. "The Youth Orchestra was exciting, because they were the best kids in the entire continent, all coming together in one orchestra. Their enthusiasm was incredible and they were brilliant musicians. Then, I flew right to California. Playing with Yo-Yo is always fun. There was great passion that night, with all those people there. Yo-Yo is so easy to work with. He's like a little kid, always willing to learn."
D'Rivera said that he is looking forward to performing a concert in an area that he's proud to call home.
"I'm very proud to be from here," D'Rivera said. "I always love to come back home to perform. I never like tuxedos anyway, so this way, I can play in my pajamas. It means a lot to me to be from here. And if we get this place built, it will be like my church."
D'Rivera said that he plans to play a good variety of jazz and Latin-American music, with which he has become synonymous.
"I'm going to concentrate on the variety," D'Rivera said. "Because you never know who's going to be in the audience, Sometimes, you can play in front of 10 people, but one of those people could be the Queen of England. So every time I play, I play with the same enthusiasm. I hope that I can bring a big crowd. I think it's very important to get a lot of people there, to get them interested in what we're doing."
Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center Executive Director Bruce Sherman is excited that D'Rivera will grace the local audience.
"I've had the pleasure of attending several of his performances over the years at the NJPAC and Lincoln Center," Sherman said. "And Paquito is truly one of the greatest performers around. The best way to describe him and the way he plays is that he's joyous. He's thrilled to be playing and he shows that to the audience. The audience then feels how he's feeling. It's truly a gift. I know he feels that it's a pleasure to share his gift with the community that he lives in."
Sherman said that having D'Rivera perform gives the HRPAC an instant boost of credibility and can help the eventual cause, which is a permanent home for such concerts.
"Without a doubt, people will understand that we're serious," Sherman said. "Hopefully, people will see Paquito's association with us and want to be associated with us as well. Here you have an artist at the top of his game, who travels all over the world to perform, and he's coming back home to give a free concert. It's a wonderful opportunity and I hope people come to enjoy his talent."
After this concert, D'Rivera will return to performing with his friend Yo-Yo Ma, at Carnegie Hall (Sept. 24) and at the Kennedy Center in Washington a day later. The affable D'Rivera is calling it the "Rice and Beans" tour.
He's also busy working on his next CD, which will be released sometime in 2004.
But for now, he's looking forward to performing, with or without pajamas, in his neighborhood.
"It's going to be a lot of fun for me," D'Rivera said. "It's a very important concert for me and it's a great cause."
The Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center's presentation of the Paquito D'Rivera Ensemble will be held at the Lincoln Harbor Plaza Park in Weehawken, located just north of the UBS PaineWebber complex and about 100 yards north of the Chart House Restaurant, on Thursday, Aug. 28, beginning at 7 p.m. Although some seating will be provided, fans are encouraged to bring their own lawn furniture.