Recently I had the pleasure of getting to know a wonderful musician, Javier Rosario.
After connecting via email & social media, I grew fascinated with his musical output & interesting life journey.
I believe that more people should know about his work!
In this post, you get to find out more about this great musician from the Dominican Republic.
Hope you enjoy this interview!
Hi Javier, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview!
Let’s begin from the start.
What was your musical experience like before you went to Berklee? Could you share how you learned guitar and music when you were growing up in the Dominican Republic?
I had some amazing teachers in the Dominican Republic, especially at the National Conservatory of Music. The main teacher in charge of my guitar education went to Berklee College of Music. Prior to his jazz studies at Berklee, he had graduated from Classical Guitar Performance from University of Georgia. Having those two worlds so well-combined put him at a higher place than everyone else around him in the Dominican Republic. That is one of the many reasons why Federico Mendez became so successful in my country, after his arrival from studying and working in the US.
Hearing him play for the first time had a huge impact on me. It made everything about the guitar more real, intense, defined and clear to me. He took me under his wing and I basically became his protege. Federico made sure I was always as in-shape as possible on the guitar, and that I always played at the top of my ability and without losing my concentration. He is one of the best guitar teachers I have ever experienced and observed, even to this day! Nowadays he is a Professor at UNPHU or “Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña”, an international music program in Santo Domingo.
Before meeting him, I knew little to nothing about the guitar and music for that matter! I had several wonderful teachers before him that I was lucky to study with and still thank them today. But no one really had that impact on me as a guitar teacher other than Federico until my arrival at Berklee. At my alma mater I studied guitar and improvisation with Mick Goodrick, Tim Miller, Bret Willmott, Joe Lovano, Hal Crook, and later a long on-the-phone improvisation lesson with Grammy and Emmy award winning pianist Michel Camilo. That lesson was the one that opened my eyes to set myself apart from everyone else and pushed me to become what some consider me today, a guitar virtuoso. In terms of jazz improvisation post-Berklee, guitar master/innovator Joe Morris took everything original that I had created on the guitar and pushed it to the next level. He made my original way of guitar playing make more sense. He taught me how to let it flow or as he used to say “let it rip.” Joe has been huge for me!
What was your experience moving to the US and studying at Berklee, especially being the first Michel Camilo Scholarship winner?
It was a dream come true. I dreamt of attending Berklee for a long time. It was a reality that I lived fully in my mind, in my “vortex of creation”, and then manifested it. It was easy for me to make friends and develop a reputation as a top player at the school. I made it to the top 10 out of well over one thousand guitarists. Back then, the school was heavily populated by guitar players. In 2009 I made it to Jazz and Blues Guitar Night; a guitar concert which featured about the top 10 level players at the entire school. It was an honor and a great experience to open the concert that year at the Berklee Performance Center. I performed Ghost Town, the opening track of my debut album, Javier Rosario Trio Vol. I: A Celebration of Life. Many people came to talk to me after that show — just to mention they had loved my original composition.
As I mentioned before, at Berklee I got to study with some of the best guitar teachers in the world: Mick Goodrick, Tim Miller and Bret Willmott. What a journey! I got to study improvisation — heavily! I also got to study in-depth very advanced harmony and composition. I graduated with the highest ratings ever given to a guitarist: 8888. The Berklee rating system goes from 1111 being the lowest to 8888 being the highest. I am very proud of that! I practiced every single day, even when I was really sick with a cold or flu, and I made sure everybody knew my name. I was a very popular kid in college. A very on demand guitarist on campus. I was always playing!
The Michel Camilo Scholarship set me apart from everyone else. It is the first scholarship of its kind in the history of the Dominican Republic. I wear that with PRIDE! There was a certain GPA I had to maintain in order to keep the scholarship. I graduated with a GPA of 3.8. It was a lot of work. There were semesters where I had thirteen classes. What a nightmare — such a heavy load! Back then, graduating from Berklee was hard for anyone. I saw tons of people leave the school back then for many reasons, mainly financial, unfortunately. Having the scholarship made sure I could get the best music education in the world and graduate. My entire future after that was, has been and still is entirely up to me. It is a daily commitment.
The music business is tough. But I have done well — thankfully!
To my teachers at Berklee and Rita and Larry Monroe, thank you!
Moving on to Longy School of Music, what was your most memorable experience there? How was it different from Berklee?
My most memorable Longy experience has to be the small community and the teachers. My former jazz guitar teacher, Joe Morris, is one of the best guitar improvisers in the world. He made himself from the ground up. And he encouraged me to do the same. He and Mick Goodrick, both encouraged me to “make up a way” for me to get what I want out of the guitar. Joe always reminded me to look at my path with a thankful heart. I really admire Joe not just behind the guitar, but personally. He worked very hard to get to where he is today. I have done the same!
Joe Morris took everything original that I had created on the guitar and pushed it to the next level. He made my original way of guitar playing make more sense. He taught me how to let it flow or as he used to say “let it rip.” Joe has been huge for me!
I seriously expected Berklee to help me get a job and make money in the music industry. That did not happen at all! All my jobs came from the connections I made at Longy, from the friends I made, and their incredible staff who embraced me and were there for me every step of the way. Those two years in graduate school were quite a ride. It is crazy to look back at everything I went through personally during that time. Since I belonged in the jazz department, it was hard to fit in at Longy at first because most students were part of the classical program. Longy is mainly a conservatory. But the jazz program and the administration received me with open arms and great scholarships. I am forever grateful! In fact, some of the Longy staff helped me get the fantastic teaching job I have at Community Music Center of Boston to this day; an incredible historic organization which makes great music education affordable for all. There I met the man that changed me and made my career possible, David Lapin. David changed me completely as a person, trusted me, guided me, inspired me, supported me, became one of my closest friends and favorite people. Since 2013, he makes me laugh every single time I see him!
Releasing your first album, Javier Rosario Trio, Vol. I: A Celebration of Life must have been quite an experience. Could you share what led to making that album?
Like I say every time I talk about the album, it was made possible by the generosity of the inspiring drummer Zak King and fantastic bass player Scott Kiefner. Zak’s playing inspires me every time I hear him behind the drums. Scott pushes me to look great — always — in his own way. Zak reminds me that I am loved and—like David Lapin—he makes me laugh so hard. I love playing and being around them. The feeling I am describing is exactly how I need to feel in order to travel with someone to perform, write music with them in my head, spend hours rehearsing, days recording and time writing about them in a wonderful interview with Az Samad!
I practiced every single day, even when I was really sick with a cold or flu, and I made sure everybody knew my name.
The album was also made possible by recording engineer/guitarist/friend/producer/ owner of Maritime Music Studio and Pulp & Fizz record label, Jake Pardee. Jake planted the idea in my head of making an album, quite possibly ten years before I decided to make it. He is great to work with! And of course, the generosity and patience of Bradley Royds, mixing and mastering engineer. Bradley makes sure to listen to my ideas of how I dream to sound like. My friend Skuli Thorsteinson and Jake pushed me to make an album. Joe Morris inspired me to record an album by making me believe I could do it. I am now convinced I can. Zak reminds me to keep going. Scott is always down for the ride. So — shred ahead!
Having all of them by my side led me to want to make an album. I had written some music I liked playing. I began traveling and enjoying how those pieces were evolving, unfolding and teaching me how to play them. That is something Grammy award winner, saxophonist Joe Lovano instilled in me. He told me once “let music teach you how to play it” That was one among MANY lessons I learned studying with Lovano and performing with him and his Berklee ensemble.
What are you currently up to? Any upcoming projects or a new record?
My new album is currently in production.. Javier Rosario Trio Vol. II is coming! Oh what a shred fest that is going to be!
It was recorded during the pandemic, in the summer of 2020. It was fun and hard to make. The music was extremely difficult to execute, but we did it. Zak, Scott, Jake, Bradley and I cannot wait to release it.
The joy of music and the constant search for more is what keeps me going.
This year I have the opportunity to participate at a wonderful music festival, Fête de la Musique by Community Music Center of Boston. What a blast! My trio recorded a video of Ghost Town and The Road Ahead, a composition which will be part of Javier Rosario Trio Vol. II. The Road Ahead is also another one of my compositions, which when people hear it, they just tune in, follow the emotional thread of the piece and are uplifted by the energy with which we play every time.
What keeps you playing guitar and making music?
The way the guitar works is absolutely perfect for me. It makes sense. Of course, you have both hands doing different things. But once I get past that point, it is absolute joy once I get into it. The joy of music and the constant search for more is what keeps me going. It does not seem to end, if you are always wanting more and let your imagination take you places. The rest is making up a way to do things on the guitar and then finding a way to make a living. So far so good!
Great stuff Javier, thanks again for taking time to do this interview & all the best for your upcoming projects!
Guitar virtuoso, composer, bandleader, educator and recording artist, Javier Rosario is the first ever Michel Camilo Scholarship winner. The scholarship was an initiative of the Dominican born, Grammy, Latin Grammy and Emmy Award winning pianist. It has been the first scholarship of its kind in the history of the Dominican Republic, where Javier was born in Santo Domingo. In 2006, Javier attended Berklee College of Music with full scholarship, graduating with the highest ratings ever given to a guitarist. In 2009, he performed at the Berklee Jazz and Blues Guitar Night: a concert which only featured the very top players of the entire school. In 2010, Javier decided to further his studies at the Longy School of Music of Bard College with a master’s degree. There he was acknowledged by his guitar teachers as possibly the highest-level guitarist ever to enter the jazz program.
Among some of the musicians Javier has performed with are: Joe Lovano, John Lockwood, Matt Savage, Zachary King, Scott Kiefner, Aaron Holthus, Avery Logan, Bob Edinger, Vardan Ovsepian, Jeff Galindo, Phil Grenadier, Bret Willmott, Hoo Kim, just to name a few. Javier has performed at Blue Note in New York City, Casa de Teatro Jazz Festival, A-Town Jazz Festival, Strand Theater, Massachusetts’ State House, Cornelia Street Cafe, St. Botolph Club, Berklee Performance Center, Pianos NYC, Shrine World Music Venue, Silvana, Port City Blue, Riverwalk Cafe & Music Bar, Radio Bean Jazz Fest, Thunder Road, Tonic, Community Music Center of Boston’s Fête de la Musique, just to name a few. Javier is a faculty member at Community Music Center of Boston, Passim School of Music, Amigos School and Morse School in Massachusetts. During the Spring 2021, Javier was a Community Engagement Programs Teaching Artist at Community Music Center of Boston and Boston Collegiate Charter School. Javier has been a clinician at the National Conservatory of Music in the Dominican Republic since 2009. In late June 2021, Javier received the Community Music Center of Boston Marilla MacDill Award for Teaching Excellence and Community Service.
In late December of 2019, Javier released his debut album Javier Rosario Trio, Vol. I: A Celebration of Life which has been nationally and internationally reviewed. Javier’s music has been played on the radio in the Dominican Republic and NHPR New Hampshire Public Radio, All Things Considered with Peter Biello: NHPR Summer Music Series Kicks Off With A Few Recommendations.
Find out the latest news about Javier on his website: javierrosarioguitar.com
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