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An essential voice in New York’s Latin Jazz scene, saxophonist Mario Rivera died Friday morning August 10, 2007 at St. Vincent’s Hospital. He had been suffering from cancer for quite a while. His death leaves a gaping hole in the world of Latin Jazz.
Rivera was born in the Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on July 22, 1939. Although best known as a saxophonist, Rivera lived as a multi-instrumentalist, mastering flute, trumpet, tambora, timbales, congas, vibes and more. He toured with Tito Rodriguez from 1963 – 1965. Rivera eventually moved to New York and began performing with a variety of musicians from both Latin Jazz and traditional jazz circles, including Machito, Eddie Palmieri, Mongo Santamaria, Sonny Stitt, and George Coleman. In 1988, he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation’s Orchestra and then later became a member of the Lincoln Center Afro-Latin Jazz Big Band. Rivera’s most high-profile musical relationship was as a member of Tito Puente’s various ensembles, a partnership that lasted over two decades. His recording credits as a sideman range include Puente, Palmieri, Machito, and Gillespie as well as Chico O’Farrill, Conrad Herwig, Stanley Turrentine, and Papo Vazquez. As a leader, Rivera recorded one album, El Commandante, a bold mixture of jazz and Dominican Merengue. Although never recorded, he also led a straight-ahead jazz group called the Salsa Refugees. Rivera’s status as the ultimate sideman left him loved by the Latin Jazz community, but largely unknown by the greater public. He contributed whole-heartedly to numerous Latin Jazz situations, and his involvement should be treasured.
With Dizzy Gillespie
- Afro-Cuban Jazz Moods (Pablo, 1975) - with Machito
- Live at the Royal Festival Hall (Enja, 1989)
- The Winter in Lisbon (Milan, 1990)