Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, three‑time Grammy nominee Diego Urcola has been a member of the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet since 1991. Additionally, the oft‑in‑demand trumpeter performs regularly with the legendary saxophonist Jimmy Heath, the Caribbean Jazz Project and the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All‑Star Big Band.
Urcola’s musical studies began at the age of 9, in the Music Department of the Colegio Ward where his father Ruben served as director. He continued his studies and in 1988 he received the title of Profesor Nacional de Música from the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica. Subsequently, having received a scholarship to study abroad, the trumpeter and flugelhorn player moved to Boston where he attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music. In 1990 he received his diploma with an emphasis in Jazz Performance. Less than a year later, he made the jump to New York where he established himself as one of the truly gifted and versatile young artists. He has never looked back. As noted, his affiliation with D’Rivera’s various projects began almost upon arrival. He also began working with a number of other well‑known artists. In the mid 1990s he toured with Slide Hampton, the great trombonist and arranger, in a group the bandleader referred to as “The Jazz Masters”. Urcola toured extensively with the United Nations Orchestra under the leadership of D’Rivera after Dizzy Gillespie’s death. He also spent a short time working with Wynton Marsalis, including performing with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. By this time, Urcola received calls regularly, and he was starting to lead his own bands. Still, he decided to augment appearances with further music education. In 1997, he received his master’s degree in Jazz Performance from Queens College, in New York, a school whose well‑respected jazz department was anchored by Jimmy Heath. That same year, Urcola earned second place honors at the 1997 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Trumpet Competition. Although already a seasoned performer, the honor broadened awareness of his work.
During the next few years Urcola received key assignments from players a generation or more older than him. The late saxophonist‑icon, Joe Henderson, invited him to join his band. So did trombonist Steve Turre who, at the time, was leading a project he called “Sanctified Shells”, an atypical ensemble centered on the use of conch shells. Other associations for Urcola at the time included work with the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and with Wayne Shorter for a broadcast TV special titled, “The 2nd Annual Celebration of America’s Music.” The special broadcast, hosted by Bill Cosby, aired on ABC‑TV in 1998.
Urcola’s exceptional technique served him well. In 1999 the late vibraphonist, Milt Jackson, formed an all‑star big band, asking him to participate. A year later, the ever‑adventurous Urcola became a member of the International Vamp Band, a group founded by iconoclastic bass player Avishai Cohen. During the following two years Urcola’s star rose even higher. In 2001, as part of the D’Rivera quintet, he earned a Latin Grammy; the following year, Urcola, again working with D’Rivera, took part in the film Calle 54 the acclaimed music documentary. Tours of Europe, The United States and Latin America followed under the banner of the Calle 54 All‑Star Band.
Urcola, when he’s not busy working with others, often leads his own ensembles. His first record as a leader, Libertango (Fresh Sound), was issued in 1999. In 2003 he released Soundances (Sunnyside), which received critical acclaim culminating in nominations for the 2004 Latin Grammys and the 2005 Grammy Awards.
The trumpeter’s third record Viva (Cam Jazz), released in 2006 and nominated for the 2007 Grammys, marks a key moment in his now full-blown career. The recording features a core band that would make anyone jealous. Edward Simon, leads a rhythm section that includes bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Pernell Saturnino adds percussion. Meanwhile, D’Rivera is heard on some cuts as is Dave Samuels and Jimmy Heath. The final piece of the puzzle is master trombonist Conrad Herwig.
On Viva, it has been noted that there exists a sensibility of experimentation that is vibrant throughout. Meanwhile, Urcola has said that one of his goals is to integrate his homeland’s voice into the jazz idiom. “I like to bring the tango flavor from my country into the mix,” he said, adding, “But, foremost I’m a jazz musician.”
2006 is marked by important events. For Funk Tango (the debut release of D’Rivera’s own record label)Urcola is asked by the master to play the valve trombone in a few tracks. This instrument used to be played by Claudio Roditti in the first groups that Paquito put together when he first arrived in New York City in the early 80’s. Since then the valve trombone has been an important addition to Urcola’s arsenal in his own projects, Paquito’s Quintet and also other groups like Guillermo Klein’s Los Guachos.
In 2010 Urcola records his second project for CAM JAZZ. Appreciation features a quartet with Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass and Eric McPherson on drums. This setting allows Urcola to have plenty of space to stretch out his trumpet chops as well as nine original compositions dedicated to some of the most influential musicians in his life.
In 2013 he releases MATES on Sunnyside. The friendly southamerican tradition of drinking mate between friends served as inspiration for this new recording. Urcola wanted to mirror the give and take of this culinary and social tradition with that of the musical duet. To achieve this, the trumpeter recorded a number of intimate meetings with a handful of his closest musical associates, including bassist Avishai Cohen, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, harpist Edmar Castañeda and bandoneón player Juan Dargenton.
Instruments: X4, FL-Lbr