Artist Profile: Michel Camilo

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Michel Camilo - Artist Profile
Photo Credit: Frankie Celenza

Michel Camilo was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He studied for 13 years at the National Conservatory earning a degree of Professorship in Music and at the age of 16 became the youngest member of the National Symphony Orchestra of the DR. He moved to New York in 1979 to continue his studies at Mannes and Juilliard School of Music. Since his 1985 Carnegie Hall debut he has become a prominent figure performing regularly at festivals and concert venues throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, Asia, Middle East, South America and the Caribbean.

His extensive discography has been recognized with a Grammy award, an Emmy award, three Latin Grammy awards, JazzWeek’s Artist of The Year award, four Grammy award nominations and two Premios de la Música (Spain), plus several Premios Casandra and El Soberano awards (Dominican Republic).  He has recorded in Solo Piano, Duo, Trio, Sextet, Big Band and with Symphony Orchestras; as well as film soundtracks. He moves with ease between the worlds of Jazz, Latin and Classical music.

Highlights include his two-year appointment as Jazz Creative Director Chair for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, his participation at the 55th Anniversary Celebration of the Newport Jazz Festival, a five year tenure as Musical Director of the Heineken Jazz Festival (Dominican Republic), Jury President at the Montreux Jazz Solo Piano competition, as well as Jury Member at the Jacksonville Great American Jazz Piano competition, featured performances in two award winning documentary films:  Calle 54 (2001) and Playing Lecuona (2015); JazzWeek Artist of the YearArtist in Residence at the Klavier Piano Festival Ruhr, voted among Top 10 Jazz Pianists of the Year at the 69th Annual DownBeat Magazine Readers Poll, a three-year Herb Alpert Visiting Professorship at Berklee College of Music, awarded composition grants from Meet the Composer foundation and the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA).

He has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Paquito D’Rivera, George Benson, Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock, Tomatito, Mongo Santamaria, Joe Lovano, Arturo Sandoval, Juan Luis Guerra, Chucho Valdés, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Cachao, Hiromi, David Sánchez, Jon Faddis, George Wein, Jaco Pastorius, Gloria Estefan, Dr. Billy Taylor, Celia Cruz, Tania Maria, Enrique Morente, Katia & Marielle Labèque, Conrad Herwig, Dave Valentin, Airto & Flora Purim, Anthony Jackson, Dave Weckl, Michel Petrucciani, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Stanley Turrentine, Giovanni Hidalgo, Toots Thielemans, Patato, Michael Brecker. Randy Brecker, Ketama, Eddie Palmieri, Roby Lakatos, Eliel Lazo, Damian Draghici, Danilo Pérez, Roman Janoska and Esperanza Spalding, among many others.

In 1998, Mr. Camilo served as Co-Artistic Director of the 1st Latin-Caribbean Music Festival at the Kennedy Center, performing the world premiere of his Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 1 with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin (commissioned by the NSO). His work Rhapsody for Two Pianos and Orchestra (commissioned by the Philharmonia Orchestra) was performed by Katia & Marielle Labèque at Royal Festival Hall.  In 2001, Mr. Camilo recorded his Piano Concerto No. 1 with the BBC Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin for DECCA and also played his work, as well as Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, at the Royal Albert Hall BBC Proms in London.

In 2009, Mr. Camilo performed the world premiere of his Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 2 – Tenerife (commissioned by the Tenerife Auditorium) as guest soloist with the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lü Jiá.

Guest soloist engagements with prestigious Symphony Orchestras worldwide include the National (NSO), Detroit, Cleveland, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Gulbenkian, BBC, Nacional (Spain), Grant Park Festival Orchestra of Chicago, Orchestre National d’Lyon, Japan’s New World Symphony, Copenhagen Philharmonic, Arhus, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Madrid, RTVE, Barcelona, Euskadi Orkestra, Navarra, Cadaqués, Seville, Bilbao, Málaga, Galicia, Norrlands Operan, Antalya State, Magna Grecia, Royal Liverpool, Zagreb Philharmonic, Borusan Philharmonic, Evergreen, Kristiansand, Puerto Rico, Queens, Long Island, Florida, Nacional (Dom. Rep.), Andrés Segovia Chamber Orchestra, Musikkollegium Wintherthur, Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Gran Canaria, Ecuador, and Indiana University Philharmonic.

Mr. Camilo has performed with conductors Leonard Slatkin, Philippe Entremont, Jesus Lopez Cobos, Gianandrea Noseda, Ernest Martinez Izquierdo, Grant Llewellyn, Adrian Leaper, Giordano Bellincampi, Lu Jia, Clark Rundell, Andres Orozco Estrada, Kevin Griffiths, Pedro Halffter, Odon Alonso, Kristjan Jaarvi, Piero Romano, Carlos Piantini, Gürer AykalJose Antonio Molina and Ruben Gimeno, among many others.  Besides his own Piano Concertos No. 1 & No. 2, his repertoire includes his Suite for Piano, Strings & Harp, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, VillaLobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 3 and Gershwin’s Concerto in F, Rhapsody In Blue and I Got Rhythm Variations.

Special collaborations include the successful Piano & Flamenco guitar Duo Michel Camilo & Tomatito, jazz piano duets with Chucho Valdés and Hiromi, and special concerts with his own Big Band, the Danish Radio (DRBB) and WDR Big Bands, Luxembourg Jazz Orchestra and the Bulgarian Brass Association; as well as the award-winning documentary film Playing Lecuona with pianist Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.

For the 2016-2017 season the Vienna Konzerthaus appointed Michel Camilo as Artist in Residency starting with a jazz concert by his Trio with the VolksOper Big Band, then in February 2017 as guest soloist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Wayne Marshall performing his Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 2 – Tenerife and Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue; and in May 2017 with a Michel Camilo & Tomatito concert celebrating their album Spain Forever.

In 2017, Mr. Camilo finished his new Concerto for Jazz Trio & Orchestra, a commissioned work by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Leonard Slatkin which was premiered on April 21 & 22, 2017 at Orchestra Hall in Detroit. Mr. Camilo performed at the Mannes Centennial celebration at Carnegie Hall. His Spring tour included Duo concerts with Tomatito in Finland, Turkey, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Italy; as well as a Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona with Chucho Valdés & Gonzalo Rubalcaba at SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. In June, the Michel Camilo Trio performed at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, and in July Michel Camilo & Tomatito toured the music festivals in Spain & France. Michel Camilo also performed in Solo Piano at Festival da Jazz 2017 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

His first Live solo piano recording Live in London was recorded at The Queen Elizabeth Hall and was released worldwide in November 2017. In 2019, he celebrates his 25th album as a leader with a stunning all-star big band release: Essence, revisiting original compositions from his remarkable career with dazzling new arrangements.

Mr. Camilo’s honors include Honorary Doctorates from Berklee College of Music (Boston), Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Ureña, UTESA University of Santiago, as well as an Honorary Professorship and Honorary Doctorate from his Alma Mater, Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD), Dominican Republic. He is a recipient of the Crystal Apple from the Mayor of the City of New York. The Dominican Government has awarded him its highest civilian honors: Silver Great Cross of the Order of Duarte, Sánchez & MellaCultural Personality award, and Knight of the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus.

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