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Pianist Plays Jazz, Classical, Invests Like Buffett: Interview

Michel Camilo
Michel Camilo in the green room of the Blue Note jazz club in New York. The Grammy Award-winning pianist, who performs at the Blue Note tonight through Sunday, records both jazz and classical albums. He's also an avid stock fund investor whose portfolio had a 41.9 percent gain in 2009. Photographer: Patrick Cole/Bloomberg

After pianist Michel Camilo plays the last song and his fans stream out of the Blue Note, he switches to his other keyboard, a laptop computer, to check his investment portfolio.

As passionate an investor as he is a pianist, Camilo says that while his portfolio is currently up 15 percent in the recession, he has had better than 20 percent annual returns many years. Last year his portfolio had a 41.9 percent return. He’s bullish about the Miami-based Fairholme Fund, which has had a 64 percent return during the past year.

Among the picks he’s proudest of: Bestinver International and Bestinfond FI run by Francisco Garcia Parames, one of Spain’s best fund managers in the past decade. Bestinver had an 81 percent return in the past 12 months, prompting the founder of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. to seek investment tips from Parames.

“Warren Buffett made a trip to Spain to get to the guys at Bestinver, because they use his guidelines,” Camilo, 56, said during an interview in the Blue Note’s green room. “I would say I’m performing better than Buffett now -- because Fairholme and Bestinver are performing better than Buffett’s company.”

The Santo Domingo native’s classical chops and jazz virtuosity keep him busy, whether in trio settings or as a guest soloist with symphony orchestras around the world. At the Blue Note, he’s playing a “best of” program culled from the 18 albums he has recorded during the past quarter century.

‘Birks Works’

Among those on the song list and requested by fans: “Blackie,” from his 1993 album, “Rendezvous,” a tune named after his dog. One of his personal favorites is “Birks Works,” written by jazz trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie. (Early in his career, Camilo played with the bebop master.) Bassist Charles Flores and drummer Cliff Almond make up Camilo’s rhythm section.

“Now that I’m a much more mature player, I get to look at these songs from a different angle,” said Camilo.

Santo Domingo exposed Camilo to Latin rhythms and he studied classical music at the Dominican Republic’s National Conservatory of Music for 13 years. He joined the country’s National Symphony Orchestra at age 16.

Next month, Camilo will turn to the classical repertory, performing George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and an original composition, “Concerto for Piano & Orchestra No. 1,” as a guest soloist with Denmark’s Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. He’ll repeat the program with the Orquesta de Camara Andres Segovia in Boadilla, Spain.

Camilo performs at the Blue Note, 131 W. 3rd St. in Manhattan, at 8:00 and 10:30 tonight through Sunday. Information: +1-212-475-8592; , at 8:00 and 10:30 tonight through Sunday. Information: +1-212-475-8592;

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