The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has named Dafnis Prieto, a drummer and composer with gripping rhythmic command and an original vision of Latin jazz, as one of 22 new MacArthur Fellows for 2011.

In a phone call he received upon returning from a European tour, Prieto learned he had received the award worth $500,000, distributed quarterly over five years. The MacArthur Fellowship, often unofficially called the "genius grant," comes with no restrictions on spending, as it is designed to encourage future creativity. -

Congratulations Dafnis!

His arrival in the U.S. has been compared to that of an asteroid hitting New York. Indeed, within a short period of time Dafnis Prieto's revolutionary drumming techniques have had a powerful impact on both the Latin and jazz music scene, locally and internationally. A student of the school of Fine Arts in Santa Clara, Cuba as a youngster and later at the National School of Music in Havana, Prieto obtained a thorough classical education while broadening his knowledge of Afro-Cuban music, jazz and world music outside of the academy.

He first toured Europe with pianists Carlos Maza and Ramon Valle and the groundbreaking group “Columna B.” A resident of New York since only 1999, he has already played in bands led by Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, Eddie Palmieri, Chico and Arturo O'Farrill, Dave Samuels & The Caribbean Jazz Project, Jane Bunnett, Peter Apfelbaum, D.D. Jackson, Edward Simon, Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdez, Claudia Acuna, Roy Hargrove, Don Byron, Andrew Hill, among others. He has performed at many national and international music festivals as a sideman and as bandleader.

As a composer, he has created music for dance, film, chamber ensembles, and most notably for his own bands, ranging from duets to his “Small Big Band” and including the distinctively different groups featured on his two acclaimed recordings as a leader, “About The Monks,” and “Absolute Quintet.” He has received new works commissions, grants, and fellowships from Chamber Music America, Jazz at Lincoln Center, East Carolina University, Meet the Composer and was recognized as the Up & Coming Musician of the Year by the JJA in 2006. Also a gifted educator, Prieto has conducted numerous master classes, clinics, and workshops. Since 2005, he has been a member of the NYU Music Faculty.


SD4 Combo
Barrel tip. Light and fast for jazz quartet or chamber music.
L = 15 7/8" | Dia. = .545"
  [enlarge photo]


Attended by thousands of drummers and percussionists, with clinics and performances on twelve stages featuring many of the world's finest musicians, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) is THE “must see” percussion event of the year! The following is excerpted from Dafnis' PASIC clinic.

 Clip #1: Opening Improvisational Solo
 Clip #2: Solo Explanation, Fusion of Cultural Rhythms
 Clip #3: Latin Rhythms I
      Merengue (Dominican Republic), Plena (Puerto Rico)
 Clip #4: Latin Rhythms II
      Abaqua (Cuba), Guaguancó (Puerto Rico)
 Clip #5: Latin Rhythms III
      Columbia Clave 6/8, Q&A: Approach rhythms melodically, Guaguancó Clave
 Clip #6: On Practicing
      Q&A: Layering Voices (rudiment example), On Learning Other Instruments
 Clip #7: On Steve Coleman Collaboration
      Modalities of Rhythm, 7/8 "Change the Guard" Funk Demonstration
 Clip #8: Vocal Exploration over 3:2 Rhumba Clave
 Clip #9: Closing Solo / Songo

Modern Drummer Festival 2008
Produced since 1987 by Modern Drummer magazine, the world’s most widely-read drumming publication, the two-day Festival presents a roster of today's top drumming talents, representing a variety of popular musical styles. Some offer solo “clinic” performances; others appear “in concert” with additional musicians. All share their talents in an educational and entertaining format that has made the MD Festival a must-see event for drummers around the world! Please visit and for more great video and information about the Modern Drummer Festival Weekend!

 Performance Excerpt (courtesy of Hudson Music)


 Video Interview
  Dafnis talks about his formal education as a percussionist, his gigs in Cuba, Spain Canada, and New York, and discusses dome of his current projects.


Live at Jazz Standard, NYC - 2007
Named "Best Jazz Club" by New York Magazine, Jazz Standard presents an extraordinary lineup of world-class artists nightly! Don't miss our exclusive video interview with Dafnis, featuring performance clips from the Jazz Standard!
 Performance Clip 1
 Performance Clip 2


Montreal Drumfest - 2005
Held over a 3 day period in November each year, Montreal Drumfest has become one of the world's largest drumming events. With performances, clinics, masterclasses and exhibits, this festival is not one to miss! For more information, check out


Si o Si Quartet / Live at Jazz Standard (2009)

Album Notes, CDBaby

"Two time Grammy nominee Dafnis Prieto continues to articulate his singular vision as a bandleader, drummer and composer with his newest album, recorded live at New York's Jazz Standard last March. Introducing the Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet, it is the second release of Prieto's own label, Dafnison Music... Comprised by the nucleus of the sextet that Prieto has been leading over the past two years, his Si o Si (Yes or Yes) Quartet features longtime collaborators Manuel Valera on piano, Charles Flores on bass and Peter Apfelbaum on saxophones and percussion."


Taking the Soul for a Walk (2008)
Dafnis Prieto Sextet

CD Review, Downbeat Magazine

“Drummer Dafnis Prieto’s third release as a leader shows him to be a composer of considerable depth. Taking the Soul for a Walk offers 12 pieces of precise, propulsive polyrhythm and intricate parts. There’s plenty of solo playing, but the power of this music is in the ensemble’s confident communication. The performances have a sense of community, and despite the structural, harmonic and rhythmic complexity, the music packs an emotional punch… This is a splendid album that stands up to many listenings.” **** 1/2 stars

CD Review, Jazz Times Magazine

“Never has the line between traditional Latin-jazz and 21st-century postbop been so wonderfully blurred as on Taking the Soul for a Walk. Drummer-composer Dafnis Prieto outlines the dance rhythms of his native Cuba, but his sextet adds complexity that evokes John Lewis’ quote about Duke Ellington: ‘His music was too exciting to dance to.’ …Subversive genre-bending or not, Taking the Soul for a Walk is solidly in the pocket – and it’s glorious.”

CD Review,

“… it is the strength of the arrangements of these fantastic compositions that really allows everyone to shine. Showing confident maturity and youthful excitement in their proper places, these songs simply shimmer with vitality… Music this dense and colorful is nearly impossible to describe. There are more great changes and ideas in a single track than one often finds in whole albums. Joyful, masterful, and brimming with beauty and power, "Taking the Soul for a Walk" simply astonishes, and is clearly one of the best releases I've heard so far this year.”

CD Review,

“While Cuban-born and New York–based Prieto has already proven himself a virtuosic drummer, this masterful release (the first on his own label) insists that we recognize his remarkable gifts as a composer, too. On Taking the Soul for a Walk, Prieto gives full, emotionally articulate expression to the exile’s internal life, the angst of separation scissoring across the exhilaration of liberty. His skillful use of texture seems to double the sextet’s sound and heightens compositional nuances, and complex rhythms rub bellies together to produce an affecting dance for the spirit.”

CD Review, The Latin Jazz Corner /

“Prieto displays the best qualities of a composer on Taking the Soul for a Walk, blending tradition with personality and always finding a connection to his individual vision… (He) wisely utilizes his band members’ unique abilities to help shape his sound, creating structures that bring out their strongest performances… Taking the Soul for a Walk delivers everything that a traditional Latin Jazz promises - driving rhythms, fiery improvisations, and overall intensity; yet Prieto’s strength as a composer lifts this collection of songs into the realm of true artistry seldom seen in today’s world.”

CD Review, All About Jazz

“Prieto is a virtuoso behind a trap set but it's his creative writing and unselfish leadership that sets him apart from his peers. An elaborate hybrid of Afro-Cuban rhythms and sophisticated jazz harmonies, Prieto's compositions are complex, multi-layered affairs that surpass conventional notions of Latin jazz without sacrificing accessibility… A balance between impeccably written charts and fluid interplay, the selections veer from the impassioned to the romantic… Taking The Soul For A Walk is a well crafted blend of multi-faceted writing and heady improvisation, coupled with a highly accessible melodic foundation.”

Absolute Quintet (2006)

CD Review, The New York Times

Dafnis Prieto plays supercharged, orchestral patterns involving his entire kit, making it all cohere with strong clave rhythms. For Absolute Quintet…he has written highly disciplined arrangements to lie over fast, physical music. Hearing the musicians navigate them without missteps, and improvising fluidly over the complicated broken rhythms, is a thrill.


Read MORE about Dafnis in the Allaboutjazz article here

About the Monks (2004)

CD Review, The New York Times

Since he arrived in New York in 1999, the Cuban drummer Dafnis Prieto has been translating centuries of hand-drum tradition into jazz percussion for the trap set. His playing often involves three fast rhythms at once, and his precision is mesmerizing. At first he was an overbooked sideman with bandleaders as far apart as the avant-gardist Henry Threadgill and the salsa patriarch Eddie Palmieri. But he has developed his own compositional ambitions, and at last here's the result. On "About the Monks" (Zoho), his own first record, he plays with his most frequent collaborators - the trumpeter Brian Lynch, the saxophonist Yosvany Terry, the pianist Luis Perdomo and the bassist Hans Glawischnig. It's some of the best of New York's new Latin-jazz movement, distinguished by complex, jaggedly modern writing, but also by a deep cultural literacy of Cuban folklore.

Click here to listen to the title track, "About the Monks"