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Nachito Herrera Receives Highest Honor From the American Immigration Council

Published on Thu, Mar 22, 2012

Twin Cities jazz pianist and Cuban immigrant Nachito Herrera has been named one of three recipients of the 2012 American Heritage Award, the highest honor granted by the American Immigration Council. The award will be presented at the American Immigration Lawyers Association Convention in Nashville on June 15th. Few musicians have received this honor--the last was Carlos Santana.

Over the past decade, Nachito Herrera has burrowed his way into the hearts of Twin Cities’ jazz fans with his monster technique, bottomless energy, and infectious enthusiasm for his homeland and its eclectic rhythms. Even fans of trad and polka now tap their Sorrel boots to montuno and clavé. Nearly monthly, Nachito spreads his artful fire across the stage at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis, where he has presented sets of tunes ranging from Rachmaninoff to Ellington to Earth, Wind and Fire to Disney and more.

How did this phenomenon of rhumba, son, and bolero end up in the American northland? The shores of Cuba sit only 90 miles from the US mainland, yet it is unlikely that Nachito ever expected to relocate to the American Midwest! As a child prodigy, he studied classical music in Havana with Cuban masters Rubén González, Jorge Gomez Labraña, and Frank Fernández, performing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 with the Havana Symphony at age 12. Nachito went on to serve as music director for several bands before leading Cubanismo! His travels to the US caught the eye of potential sponsors, including the Dakota’s Lowell Pickett, and with some wrangling with state department redtape, this amazing musician found himself in Minnesota. Soon Puro Cubano was born and in high demand throughout the Twin Cities, even landing a gig at the famed Birdland in New York City. Live at the Dakota, Nachito’s American debut recording, prompted City Pages’ critic Britt Robson to note that “the fact that a magnificent, south-of-the-border pianist like Herrera purposefully transplanted himself to our frozen tundra was the best local music news of 2002. And Live at the Dakota is proof of that fact.”

In 2004, Herrera joined forces with a group of master Afro-Cuban musicians currently working throughout the U.S. but who converged at least monthly for a “Cuban All-Stars” gig at the Dakota, resulting in the 2005 release of Bembé en mi Casa (FM Music). Bembé reinforced the accolades that had swirled around him since his arrival, proclaiming Herrera, in the words of critic Tom Surowicz, “hotter than the burning tip of a contraband Cuban cigar… stronger than a straight shot of Havana rum….and tastier than a big platter of black beans, rice, sweet plantains and ropa vieja.” In 2006, Nachito toured the Midwest, led two bands at the Hot Summer Jazz Festival, and released Live at the Dakota 2. In 2007 he was named Best Jazz Artist by the readers of City Pages. In 2009 he toured nationally with the famed Afro-Cuban All-Stars led by Juan De Marcos, including a night at Minnesota Orchestra Hall, followed by an international solo tour. He has appeared at the Gilmore Piano Festival and at Joe’s Pub in New York, and to date has received four Minnesota Music Awards. In fall 2012, he will tour throughout the U.S. with the Havana Symphony. As pianist, arranger and producer, Nachito has over 40 recordings to his credit. He also presents master classes and teaches as a member of the piano faculty of the MacPhail Center for Music.

The American Heritage Award is presented to individual immigrants for their outstanding accomplishments and positive contributions to the United States. Past American Heritage Award honorees include former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Daniel Tsui, and musician Carlos Santana. Established in 1987, the American Immigration Council is a not-for-profit organization that seeks to educate citizens about the contributions of immigrants, stand up for sensible and humane immigration policies, and work to achieve justice and fairness for immigrants under the law.

Jazz Police joins the Twin Cities jazz community in congratulating Nachito Herrera on this outstanding achievement.


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