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The lush life of Albert Rivera

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At 9, Albert Rivera stumbled on to the music of jazz legend John Coltrane.

He was immediately hooked.

With five siblings, music became his escape. If he didn't have his headphones on, he would be certain to have the radio playing.

“I loved everything about it,” said Mr Rivera, who is today an award-winning jazz saxophonist. “I'd always loved the sound of the saxophone in pop music. Even when I didn't know what it was, I was fascinated by the sound.”

Teachers encouraged the New Yorker's interest, helping him to sign up for any weekend music programmes near his Bronx neighbourhood, and giving him tickets to concerts.

He's hoping to inspire a similar excitement in young musicians here, when he performs with the Warwick Academy Jazz Band on February 24.

For the past five years, students from the private school have attended summer courses at Litchfield Jazz Camp, a music programme that is dear to his heart.

“I loved how intelligent they all were and, at the same time, how interested and serious they were,” said Mr Rivera, who teaches at the Connecticut camp and is also its director of operations.

“It really showed how good of a school Warwick was. I also loved that if music advice or lessons were given, they all really took it in and practised it.”

The camp accepts children and adults with a passion for music as long as they have “a basic mastery of their instrument”.

His advice to every budding musician is the same: seize the day.

“Don't wait until you're older,” the 34-year-old said. “If you love music, go for it. The time to follow your passion is right now. Practise all the time; enjoy the process of learning.”

He still remembers the day he got his first saxophone.

“I remember walking into the store, already knowing music would be my life,” he said. “I remember trying various horns out and then finally trying one I fell in love with instantly. Thinking back on it, I can't imagine how much of a struggle it was to make this happen but was grateful for it.”

The instrument's $2,500 price tag was a big sacrifice for his single mother.

“My granddad helped a bit,” Mr Rivera said. “My granddad and mother told me if you love what you do, you might as well have something great helping you along the way.

“They knew, especially my mother, that if this was the direction my life was headed, I needed a saxophone.”

As a teenager, he went to LaGuardia High School, a performing arts mecca known for inspiring the 1980 film Fame.

“That is where I really got educated in music,” Mr Rivera said. “Many people in my class became professional musicians.”

His career started once he'd finished his studies at The School of Jazz at The New School.

At New York venues such as the Zinc Bar and Smalls Jazz Club he quickly became known for his unique mixture of funk, contemporary jazz and groove.

“I would say my first big break was in 2004 when I did a tour under my own name all throughout the United States and Canada,” he said. “That was the first time I realised it was possible to live out my dreams.”

He released his first album in 2007, Re-Introduction.

“I called it that because by that time I'd done so many shows and made so many bootleg albums, I already had a fanbase,” he said.

Inner Peace came out two years later and Back At It in 2015.

His fourth album, Live at the Litchfield Jazz Festival, will be released this spring.

Tickets for Albert Rivera, “Shine” Hayward, Shelton Bean, Raymond George and the Warwick Academy Jazz Band are $65 and available at warwick.bm

Follow your passion: jazz saxophonist Albert Rivera (Photograph by James Korn)
In full flow: Albert Rivera playing with Warwick Academy students four years ago (Photograph supplied)
City lights: jazz saxophonist Albert Rivera

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Published February 12, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated February 12, 2018 at 7:40 am)

The lush life of Albert Rivera

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