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The Music of Life: Albert Rivera’s Lifelong Passion and Pursuit of Jazz

By Elan Lederman

Albert Rivera, packing up materials after class (Photo by Elan Lederman)

Since he was 12 years old, Albert Rivera, a professional jazz saxophonist and professor at SUNY Purchase, has felt the subconscious drive to pursue his passion in life: music. From an early age, music provided the foundation for Rivera’s understanding of life and its complex factors. With that, Rivera has been able to hone his craft and share his eclectic musical knowledge with students.


“I can definitely say that I am doing what I feel like I was meant to do in this world from an early age. Nothing compares to playing [music],” said Rivera.


Rivera simply could not envision himself pursuing any interest or career path other than music. Rivera continues to tour and gig throughout the country when he is not professing at Purchase.


“I remember hearing a couple of albums that I borrowed from the library, and [the music] was so over the top that I gravitated towards it and eventually I went to play in the jazz band,” said Rivera.


One particular album that stood out to Rivera early in his life was John Coltrane’s posthumously released 1998 album titled “Living Space.” This record was the foundational makeup for Rivera’s music journey, not to mention, an introduction to his idol. “I remember hearing my first Coltrane record and that was it. That was what I was going to do.”


As Rivera put it, “I remember the album had a black cover and orange lettering. It changed my life.”


Rivera studied music in high school, with a focus on soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones. He went on to play with ensembles and travel the country for gigs.


“His experience in numerous musical situations allows him to bring a wide amount of wisdom into the classroom,” said David DeJesus, an assistant professor of Music at SUNY Purchase College.


"I remember loving it,” Rivera said. “By that point when I was 16 or 17, I had put so many hours and time in [to music] and I just wasn't in love with the idea of academics anymore. I studied a lot, and I was super into a bunch of different things like math and what not, but music was just no comparison. I knew I wanted to be in a music conservatory and continue studying early on."


“He’s passionate about his subject and talks about his own experiences as a jazz artist, which is cool to listen to. It's a lot more interesting when your teacher is invested in their work and the subject they teach,” said senior Aliya Deen, a student of Rivera’s.


Albert Rivera, playing saxophone at Twin Cities Jazz Festival (Photo by Kevin Mason)

Pursuing one’s passion does not come without cons and obstacles, though. “That is the way of success,” Rivera said, “going down and up. As long as going up outweighs the downward movement, you’re being successful. The obstacle is consistently trying to better yourself. The hardest obstacle is consistency.”

For almost two years, Rivera has instructed jazz ensembles and music history classes at SUNY Purchase. His focus has been to share his love of music, specifically jazz, with students while still instructing the foundational knowledge of jazz music.


Peter Malinverni, a professor of jazz studies at SUNY Purchase College and colleague of Rivera’s said, “Sometimes, someone can be a wonderful musician, but not have the gift of inspiring excellence and the desire for improvement in younger folk. Luckily, Albert has both facets covered, and in good measure.”


Dylan Silva, a senior, non-music major and student of Rivera’s said, “He seems to be more like everyone else than emitting a ‘teacher-like aura’ if you will. I find it admirable and highly respectable that he has the ability to play jazz and its various other forms. But overall, he's a cool teacher and I enjoy that he conducts himself and the class to be more talkative rather than heavily assignment based.”


Albert Rivera, playing the saxophone (Photo by Felix Manuel)

"He’s a terrific player, while being able to connect with students on a personal level and show them how to get the best out of themselves. A winning combination, really,” said Malinverni.

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