Long Distance: Herrera gets personal in celebratory Dakota shows

Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera leads a four-piece band, the Universals, for two nights at the Dakota Jazz Club.

Every giant starts out small.

In the case of Nachito Herrera, he was a knee-high boy of 12 when he tore the piano keys apartand threw an audience into hysterics. He played Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2.

That was with the Havana Symphony Orchestra, and ever since his youthful debut, Herrera has been sending audiences and critics into hysterics the world over. He's heard himself described as a genius, a master, and, yes, a piano giant.

Now, Twin Cities audiences will get to hear him, along with violinist Karen Briggs, drummer Raul Pineda, Saxophonist Mike Phillips, and bassist Riccardo Fierabracci, when Nachito Herrera and the Universals play the Dakota Jazz Clubat 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Dec. 21 and 22.

When you get together a world of musicians this high-order, the place is sure to swing. Always percussive, the group effortlessly flips from jazz to classical (all over the place, in fact) at reportedly frenetic pace. But, always, always with precision.


Whatever else, it seems that Herrera's music is highly personal to him. So is his life's journey, which now includes being named an Immigrant of Distinction, receiving an American Heritage Award from the American Immigration Council.

(For an even more personal rendition of Herrera's life and journey, be sure to check out .)

But, if you can make your own personal journey to the Dakota, don't miss this master and his merry band of fellow music makers. Their intercontinental credentials alone are worth price of admission. That they make the most stunning music around? Well, it's both a blessing and a bonus.

The gig is billed as " celebrating one year of a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations." That might have political overtones, but with Herrera and company at the helm, the music, the joy, and poignancy are all too universal.

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