Cuban-Born Bassist, Composer Brings the Rhythm to Saint Leo Students
Meet Mauricio J. Rodriguez, a bassist, composer, and adjunct music professor at Saint Leo University with a wealth of international music experience.
Mauricio J. Rodriguez has been immersed in music for over a half-century having performed, composed, and taught around the world. For the past seven years, he has shared his knowledge with Saint Leo University students as an adjunct professor of music.
The 61-year-old hails from Camaguey, Cuba. He now resides in the Town 'n' Country area of Tampa, FL. He and his wife, Ana Maria Cardoso, have a daughter Claudia and a late son,
Jose. They also have a 10-month-old granddaughter, Isabel.
Rodriguez recalls when he first picked up a musical instrument.
"For my seventh birthday, my dad bought me an acoustic guitar," Rodriguez explains. "This was back in the late 1960s when the Beatles and Rolling Stones were huge. I remember hearing their music on the radio in Cuba at the time. As a kid, I wanted to be a star like them."
At age 13, he enrolled at a music school where he took classes every Monday through Saturday.
"We had to pass an audition which required me to play an instrument and sing. I ended up choosing to play the double bass."
While in his third year there, he and some fellow students formed a jazz band. He recalls how they had to transcribe all of their music using pen and paper.
He later briefly served in the Cuban Army but got out to continue his musical pursuits. In the 1980s, he was a member of the popular Fervet Opus jazz quartet and toured around the world.
In 1994, the Rodriguez family moved to Venezuela where he found some new opportunities to teach music. For over six years, he taught at the Aragua Conservatory and served as master of its symphony orchestra double bass section. However, the circumstances there were similar to Cuba. So, the family eventually made its way to Florida.
Upon arriving in the U.S. in 2001, Rodriguez performed for Yacht StarShip Cruises for seven years. Like so many others, he fell on hard times when the recession hit in 2008.
"I found myself working at a car wash for $7.50 an hour," he confides. "I was also working on my master's degree in music performance at USF at that point and practicing music at night, so needless to say, it was a challenging time."
Ultimately, he was hired for a position in the music and arts department at a local church. He briefly taught music at East Lake High School and Tarpon Springs High School in Pinellas County as well.
On the side, he has performed with renowned jazz musicians and groups, including Nestor Torres, Marty Morell, Guisando Caliente Latin Jazz, the Daniel Giron Trio, and Fusion Beat. Since 2017, he has been a composer-in-residence with the Miami Symphony Orchestra and the Miami International Academy of Double Bass.
According to Rodriguez, a friend of his told him about a teaching opportunity at Saint Leo University in 2014.
"They initially hired me to play for a few concerts," he says. "Then Dr. [Cynthia] Selph recommended me for an adjunct position to teach there."
He has taught Spirits of Rock and Roll, Jazz Ensemble, and Music Production. He helped launch the music production course in 2015.
"This class looks at how to create and produce music using the latest technology. We really have a state-of-the-art classroom with Mac computers and the latest software for our students to learn."
Not only does the class focus on audio production technology, but it also helps students find innovative ways to distribute their content.
"In the past, you would have to find a producer and record label to get your music out there. Nowadays, there are so many platforms on which everyone can distribute music as well."
He teaches classes at both University Campus and online. In addition to his courses, Rodriguez directs the Saint Leo Rhythm Machine which performs at numerous campus events throughout each academic year. He also provides private cello and bass lessons to students.
He explains what he believes sets Saint Leo University apart from others in terms of its music instructors and faculty in a broad sense.
"Saint Leo is all about our faculty. In our music department, we have such quality instructors with tremendous backgrounds. Not only that, though, but they are practitioners who are actively creating music and performing outside of the classroom. This is something you don't always find in other schools where faculty are so enriched in research and academia."
According to his department colleagues, Rodriguez has made a wonderful impression on the university.
"Mauricio is a passionate, phenomenal musician, composer, and producer," says Dr. Chantelle MacPhee, chair of Saint Leo University's Department of Language Studies and the Arts. "I am very proud to have him as an adjunct instructor for us in the Music Department teaching private lessons, the jazz ensemble, and music production."
Dr. Cynthia Selph, an assistant professor of music at Saint Leo, also can't say enough about his background and commitment to his students.
"Mauricio has been one of the pillars of the music faculty here at Saint Leo," Selph says. "He was indispensable last year when we had to record all performances of the 2020-21 academic year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Our students continued to learn and grow as performers largely due to his expertise in recording and producing their music videos."
She notes how one of his former music production students, Michael Williams, has been successfully working in the music industry with well-known artists such as Taylor Swift (read that full story here).
"Very few universities offer every student, regardless of their major, opportunities to learn from musicians who are so successful in the music industry. Saint Leo students need to know about the amazing opportunity they have to study with such an accomplished and masterful musician and producer."
Rodriguez recently released a new album called Luz (which translates to "light" in English).
"It took me 16 years to compose this album," he confides. "When the pandemic hit last year, I realized it would be a good time to finally officially put this album together."
Some of his good friends helped him financially to record and produce the album. One well-known saxophone player recorded parts for free for him, another helped him engineer the sound of the album, and a famous Cuban painter rendered the artwork for the album cover.
"I dedicate this CD to all of my friendships because of their support," he explains.
Luz features 10 selections, four of which are original compositions. According to this review from Bass Magazine, the album infuses "Latin jazz with lighter-than-expected ensembles, subtle but virtuosic solos, and new rich melodies."