Pianist and composer Michel Camilo was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1954. Fascinated with music since childhood, he composed his first song at the age of five, then studied for 13 years at the National Conservatory. At 16, he became a member of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Seeking to expand his musical horizons, he moved in 1979 to New York, where he continued his studies at Mannes and Juilliard School of Music. His composition Why Not? was recorded by Paquito D’Rivera as the title tune for one of his albums, and The Manhattan Transfer won a Grammy Award for their vocal version in 1983. His first two albums were titled Why Not? and Suntan/In Trio.
Camilo made his Carnegie Hall debut with his trio in 1985. Since then, he has become a prominent figure performing regularly in the United States, the Caribbean, Japan and Europe. December 1987 marked his debut as a classical conductor when the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic invited him to conduct a recital featuring the works of Rimsky-Korsakoff, Beethoven, Dvorak and Camilo’s own composition, The Goodwill Games Theme, which won an Emmy Award. That year, he became the musical director of the Heineken Jazz Festival in his native Dominican Republic, a post he held through 1992.
November of 1988 marked his debut on a major record label with the release of his self- titled album, Michel Camilo (Sony). The album became an instant success and held the top jazz album spot for ten consecutive weeks. His next recording, On Fire, was voted one of the top three Jazz Albums of the Year by Billboard, and 1990s On the Other Hand was a top-ten jazz album. All three releases reached the number-one position in radio airplay.
Camilo’s list of compositions, recordings and other achievements throughout the ’90s is vast. His composition Caribe was recorded by pianists Katia and Marielle Lebeque, and by the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, in 1991. His Rhapsody for Two Pianos and Orchestra, commissioned by the Philharmonic Orchestra, premiered a year later at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1993, Gavin and Billboard magazines picked his Rendezvous as one of the top jazz albums of the year.
Camilo performed a series of piano recitals in 1996 as part of Copenhagen’s Cultural Capital of Europe celebration, and also debuted at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and Carnegie Hall in New York. That same year, he performed in Israel, Spain, Mexico, Dominican Republic and Switzerland, where he debuted at Zurich’s prestigious Tonhalle concert hall as part of the Jazz Piano Masters series.
He served as co-artistic director in 1998 for the first Latin-Caribbean Music Festival at the Kennedy Center, which featured performances by his trio and big band, as well as the world premiere of his Piano Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin. The following year, he toured with Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdes, and debuted with the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to compiling an extensive discography and maintaining a rigorous performance schedule, Camilo has composed and recorded a number of Spanish film scores over the years, and holds honorary degrees from his alma mater, Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo, and UTESA University of Santiago, Dominican Republic (he’s the youngest person to ever receive the distinction from the latter school). In 1992, he was named a Knight of the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus by the Dominican Government.
At the turn of the millennium, his 2000 Verve release, Spain, with guitarist Tomatito, won Best Latin Jazz Album in the first-ever Latin Grammy Awards. Camilo also performed in a trio concert in 2000 presented by the New Jersey Chamber Society with special guest Paquito D’Rivera.
In 2001, Camilo appeared on the soundtrack CD for the acclaimed Latin jazz film Calle 54, directed by the Oscar-winning Spaniard Fernando Trueba. In addition to his activities as a composer and pianist, Camilo lectured and performed at many universities and colleges throughout Europe and the United States—including New York University, Berklee School of Music, MIT, William Paterson College (in New Jersey) and Puerto Rico Conservatory.
In November 2001, he was awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Duarte, Sanchez & Mella from the president of the Dominican Republic, the highest honor that the government can give.
2002 marked a special year for Camilo with two albums: Classical and Jazz. In February, Decca released his Concerto for Piano & Orchestra, Suite for Piano, Strings and Harp & Caribe, to celebrate his guest appearance with the NSO conducted by Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
In March 2002, Telarc released Triangulo, Camilo’s Grammy Award nominee trio recording, which features bass guitarist Anthony Jackson and drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.
August 2003 marked the Telarc release of his latest album Live at the Blue Note, featuring Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on drums and Charles Flores on acoustic bass. This two-CD set captures the quintessential Camilo “sound” live for the first time and was awarded a GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album.
Honors & Awards
- Latin GRAMMY Award for What’s Up?—“Best Latin Jazz Album”
- Appointed as 2009-2010 “Jazz Creative Director Chair” for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
- GRAMMY Award for Live at the Blue Note– “Best Latin Jazz Album”
- Latin GRAMMY Award for Rhapsody In Blue– “Best Classical Album”
- Latin GRAMMY Award for Spain with Flamenco guitarist Tomatito– “Best Latin Jazz Album”
- EMMY Award for The Goodwill Games Theme– “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Musical Composition/Direction”
- GRAMMY Nomination for Spirit of the Moment– “Best Latin Jazz Album”
- GRAMMY Nomination for Spain Again with Flamenco guitarist Tomatito– “Best Latin Jazz Album”
- GRAMMY Nomination for Triangulo–“Best Jazz Instrumental Album”
- GRAMMY Nomination for Hands of Rhythm with percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo– “Best Latin Jazz Album”
- IX PREMIOS DE LA MUSICA Award for “Spain Again” with Tomatito – “Best Jazz Album”
- III PREMIOS DE LA MUSICA Award for “Lorquiana-Poemas” – “Best Arranger”
- Jazz Journalists Association Nomination for Triangulo– “Best Latin Jazz Album”
- Billboard Latin Music Awards Nomination for Triangulo– “Best Latin Jazz Album”
- Honored in 2008 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City– “Outstanding Dominican-American”
- Honored at the 1992 Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival
- International Jazz Award from the Clearwater Jazz Festival
- Knight of the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus from the Dominican Government
- Silver Cross of the Order of Duarte, Sanchez & Mella from the Dominican Government
- Orden al Mérito Ciudadano from the Dominican Consulate in New York City
- CASANDRA Awards – “Best Artist Residing Abroad”, “Best Classical Composer” and “Best Classical Performer”
- SOBERANO Award – by the Dominican Journalists Association
- 2004 Artist of the Year— by JazzWeek
- Composition Grant from Meet The Composer
- NYSCA Composition Grant from New York State Council for the Arts
- National Symphony Orchestra commissioned his Piano Concerto No. 1
- Tenerife Auditorium commissioned his “Piano Concerto No. 2 – Tenerife”
- Katia and Marielle Labèque commissioned his Rhapsody for Two Pianos and Symphony Orchestra
- National Symphony Orchestra commissioned his Tango for Ten Pianos
- Michel Camilo Piano Scholarship, created by The Duke Ellington School of the Arts
- Berklee College of Music– Honorary Doctorate in Music
- Michel Camilo Scholarship, created by Berklee College of Music.
- Honorary degree from alma mater Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo
- Honorary degree from UTESA University of Santiago, Dominican Republic (the youngest person ever to receive the distinction)
- Berklee College of Music — Herb Alpert Visiting Professorship
“Michel Camilo is one of kind when it comes to piano jazz explorations, and his unique playing style is all his own. For those new to Michel Camilo, this is a fine introduction. For those who enjoy the piano stylings of Michel Camilo, this is another lovely delight to savor and enjoy. Highly recommended.” ~Jazz Review
“Camilo has the chops to seamlessly execute the piano part…and there are moments when his pedigree becomes evident…” ~Downbeat
“Now comes Michel Camilo, an actual jazz pianist with classical training in his back pocket, who plays the solo parts with fearsome virtuosity and a free, spontaneous approach to rhythm, dynamics and timbre. Guess what? An electricity runs through his performances that’s rare to hear in this music–in fact, in the ultimate classical accomplishment, Camilo makes you think back to how these works must have sounded in their first performances, with Gershwin himself scandalizing the bluebloods by laying down the blues with the ultimate European art-music band backing him up. With a bonus solo track of Gershwin’s “Prelude No. 2,” spirited accompaniment by the Barcelona Symphony under Ernest Martinez Izquierdo and typically superb Telarc sound, Camilo’s readings of these works should be a first choice for classical and jazz fans alike.” ~Jazz Times
“This is serious stuff from the composition to the execution.” ~Variety
“This is beautiful melodic music, passionate, pensive, fiery and rhythmically satisfying all at the same time. AWESOME.” ~ Sounds of Timeless Jazz
“Camilo dazzles with lightning two-handed runs whose braided complexity makes you giddy. He coaxes a shimmering liquid coolness out of the piano and he can caress it so sweetly that the audience stays hushed at tune’s end.” ~ Offbeat
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Hi Res Photo #1
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From Within – Michel Camilo Calle 54
On Fire – Michel Camilo Trio
Take Five – Michel Camilo Solo
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