For as far back as he can remember, Pavel Polanco-Safadit has possessed a passion for piano.
“When I was 12, I didn’t have a piano at home, so I used to practice on my mom’s table,” he says. “I only touched a piano once a week for one hour.”
The Dominican Republic native was determined, however, and eventually found a solution. “I would bug the pastor of this little tiny church, which was busy from 7:30 in the morning until 10 o’clock at night,” Polanco-Safadit says. “Finally, two months later, he said, ‘Okay. I’m going to give you a key, but you gotta be out by 7 a.m.’”
With this time restraint, the 12-year-old Polanco-Safadit was forced to wake up extra early in order to get quality piano time in. “My grandfather would get me up at 2:30 a.m., and I’d get ready,” he says. Polanco-Safadit would then get dropped off at the church, where he’d practice diligently in the wee hours of the morning before then heading to school.
“From 3 to 7 a.m., I was a kid in a candy store,” he says. “I think that’s really when I knew what I wanted to do.”
By the age of 14, Polanco-Safadit was teaching others in his community how to play piano. Not surprisingly, he’s still a teacher to this day, working as the director of jazz at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. While he’s not in the classroom, however, Polanco-Safadit also fronts an electrifying Latin jazz group of his own known as Pavel & Direct Contact.
Originally started as a trio, the group has now grown into a local jazz juggernaut, as notable guests players like David Allee, Rob Dixon, and more regularly perform alongside Pavel and company. Having recently released an album titled D’la Calle, Pavel & Direct Contact will perform two shows at the Jazz Kitchen on Friday, Feb. 8.
According to Polanco-Safadit, the first set of the night (starting at 7:30 p.m.) will consist mostly of originals, including selections from D’la Calle. “It will be full of energy from the beginning to the end,” says the pianist. With their second set (starting at 9:30 p.m.), the band encourages showgoers to bring a pair of dancing shoes.
“The second set will feature salsa and merengue, and it will be danceable,” Polanco-Safadit says. “It will be a big band with 11 people on the stage.”
Those who can’t make it out to the shows this weekend can also get a taste of Pavel & Direct Contact’s exuberant sound on Spotify, where 2018’s D’la Calle and 2017’s Rush Hour are both available to stream.