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Percussionist & Composer Dafnis Prieto Awarded MacArthur Fellowship

Cuban-born musician will receive $500,000 no-strings grant

Dafnis Prieto
Dafnis Prieto

Percussionist and composer Dafnis Prieto was named today as one of 22 recipients of the annual MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a $500,000 no-strings-attached gift. As is the foundation’s custom, Prieto, one of two musicians among the recipients (the other is cellist Alisa Weilerstein), was informed about the award in an out-of-the-blue phone call. The funds are his to use for any purpose he sees fit. Awardees are selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future, said the foundation in a news release. The gift money is doled out over a five-year period.

Prieto is described in the release as “a percussionist whose dazzling technical abilities electrify audiences and whose rhythmically adventurous compositions combine a range of musical vocabularies.” In a bio attached to the announcement, the foundation said, “As a composer, Prieto melds modern jazz harmonies, Cuban clave rhythms, other Latin and African influences, and funk-inspired arrangements to create works of great stylistic diversity that evoke a broad spectrum of moods. His 2006 recording, Absolute Quintet, showcases both his powerful and propulsive playing as well as his interest in composing for a nonstandard ensemble of organ, cello, violin, saxophone, and drums … Through these and other recordings, his leadership of numerous ensembles, and additional projects involving dance, film, and opera, Prieto is infusing Latin jazz with a bold new energy and sound.”

Prieto studied at the National School of Music in Havana, Cuba, before coming to the United States in 1999. His additional recordings as a leader include About the Monks (2005) and Si o Si Quartet: Live at the Jazz Standard (2009), and he has performed at venues and in festivals throughout the United States, including the Jazz Standard, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art. Since 2005, he has served as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at New York University.

Photos courtesy the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Originally Published