Dominican musician Michel Camilo is known for his energetic piano technique and extraordinary rhythm as well as for his infusion of Latin tempo into his compositions and jazz performances. Since Iris arrival in the United States in 1979, he has appeared in the most important music halls and jazz festivals in the world.
Camilo was bom on April 4,1954, in Santo Domingo. He and his four siblings grew up surrounded by nine uncles who were musicians. Family gatherings were musical events. He started playing the accordion at age four, and by five he had composed his first song.
In 1963 he enrolled as a piano student in the island's National Conservatory, where he received the degree of Professorship in Music, and at 16 became the youngest member of the Dominican Republic's National Symphony Orchestra.
On his arrival in New York City in 1979 he continued his studies at Marines College and the Julliard School of Music. Influenced by his musical family and the Caribbean style music played by his uncles, as well as his exposure to other Latin musicians in New York, he began to include Latin rhythms in his jazz.
One of his earliest compositions, "Why Not!," was recorded by Manhattan Transfer and won them a 1983 Grammy. In 1985 Camilo made his debut in Carnegie Hall with his trio, and the following year his was the lead group in a number of European jazz festivals, where he has become a well-known figure. In 1987 he briefly returned to his classical roots and debuted as classical conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, where his Emmy-winning composition "The Goodwill Games Theme was included in the program From 1987 to 1992 Camilo was the music director of the Heineken Jazz Festival, which was held in the Dominican Republic.
His debut on a major record label with the album Suntan/Michel Camilo (1988) was the number-one jazz album for eight weeks. That was followed by On Fire (1989), which was voted one of the top three jazz albums of that year. On the Other Hand (1990), his third album, was also among the top ten jazz albums. By 1991 Camilo had made his third appearance at Carnegie Hall and his second at the Newport Jazz Festival, and had embarked on his third tour of Japan. Other artists such as Paquito D'Rivera and Dizzy Gillespie began to record his compositions. Pianists Katia and Marielle Labeque performed the world premiere of his "Rhapsody for Two Pianos and Orchestra" (1992) with the Philarmonia Orchestra of London. In addition, he wrote and performed the musical score for the award-winning European film Amo tu cama rica (Master Your Rich Bed) in 1991.
Camilo's success continued throughout the 1990s. In 1993 his album Rendezvous was selected among the top jazz albums of the year by Gavin Report and by Billboard. He was also part of the All-Star Gala of jazz musicians that performed in Washington, D.C., at the White House in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival, which was later shown on television by PBS as part of "In Performance at the White House." In 1994 he composed the musical score for another feature film Los peores ahos de nuestra vida (The Worst Years of Our Lives), and released the album One More Once.
By 1995 Camilo had formed a 17-piece band that performed on National Public Radio's "A Jazz Piano Christmas" hosted by Tony Bennett and he continued composing feature film scores such as Two Much, directed by Fernando Trueba. He has continued his work with classical music and in 1997 performed as a soloist with the Copenhagen Philharmonic and the Queens Symphony Orchestra. In 1998 he was co-artistic director of the first Latin-Caribbcan Music Festival held at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he performed the premiere of his "Piano Concerto" with the National Symphony Orchestra. He also performed in concert with Flamenco guitarist Tomatico, with whom he recorded the album Spain, which won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album in 2000.
Camilo has lectured and performed at numerous universities such as New York University, Berkelee School of Music in Boston, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Puerto Rico's Conservatory of Music and other educational and musical institutions in Denmark, Spain, and Switzerland.
Camilo grew up listening mostly to classical music, but when he joined the symphony he heard a recording by jazz musician Art Tatum and his musical life took a new direction: "I fell in love with the extended possibilities it offered to express my feelings".
Camilo's regular trio lineup for many years had his long-term friends Anthony Jackson on contrabass guitar and El Negro (Horacio Hernandez) on drums. Charles Flores has occupied the trio's bass seat since their Grammy-winning album Live at the Blue Note. Lately Camilo has drummer Dafnis Prieto as part of his trio.