Zahili Gonzalez Zamora

Assistant Professor
Affiliated Departments

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Zahili Gonzalez Zamora is a pianist, composer, bandleader, arranger, and educator. Born in Manzanillo, Cuba, she started playing piano at the age of 6 and graduated from the National School of Music with a performance degree. Her passion for music has taken her to Canada, South East Asia and the United States. Her Afro-Cuban jazz trio, MIXCLA, has headlined at the landmark Scullers Jazz Club in Boston since 2018. MIXCLA has also performed at the 59th Monterey Jazz Festival, the 2016 Stave Sessions as part of the Celebrity Series of Boston, the 2015 Montreal International Jazz Festival and other highly respected venues and festivals.

Zamora is always moving forward, guided and driven by her music and the need to grow as an artist and a person, and to share her music and love of life with others. She aspires to inspire and be a messenger for a journey that is not only her own, but also one that resonates with others. As a person out of her comfort zone for the sake of her work, she feels most defined by her Cuban heritage and her status as an immigrant. Her rich musical background, career experience, and extraordinary improvisation skills render her a leader in the modern Latin jazz idiom and an influential, emulated musician.

Career Highlights
  • With her trio, MIXCLA, has headlined at the 59th Monterey Jazz Festival, the 2016 Stave Sessions by the Celebrity Series of Boston, the 2015 Montreal International Jazz Festival, and Scullers Jazz Club in Boston in 2018 and 2020
  • Worked with artists including Canadian Juno-winning jazz trumpeter Ingrid Jensen; flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle; Grammy-winning gospel singer Kim Burrell; WOMEX and Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement award winner Totó La Momoposina; and percussionist, composer, and singer Rubén Rada, among many others
  • Recipient of a Live Arts Boston grant (2018)
  • Winner of the Duke Ellington Award
  • Winner of the Wayne Shorter Award 
  • Awarded the 40th annual DownBeat music award under the Outstanding Performance category (2017)
  • Two-time nominee with MIXCLA for the Boston Music Awards under the Jazz Group category (2018 and 2019)
  • Finalist at the D.C. Jazz Prix Competition
  • B.M., Berklee College of Music, jazz composition and jazz piano performance
In Their Own Words

"In both performance and teaching, I always aspire to inspire."

"Teaching and performing require the same set of skills and personal traits: intense empathy, the drive to excel, the urge to make students or audience members curious, the ability to stay present for each moment as it comes. I insist on mastery of the material for my students and myself. Only then are you free to perform. If you’re holding back, protecting yourself, your work will suffer, as both teaching and performing require that you let yourself be wonderfully vulnerable. That’s why artists make good teachers: because we’re not afraid to do that. I want to challenge both student and audience. I am there to guide, to be on level ground so the same electric charge that exists between teacher and student can exist between performer and audience. Just as each audience is a wonderful surprise, so each student cannot be anticipated, but only discovered for who they are and where they are on their journey. In both practices, honesty is crucial—with yourself, your student, your audience."

"What I want for students, first, is rhythmic independence. That ability comes from my background as a Cuban musician, and it’s something I love to teach. My heritage allows me to be a direct source for students who want to explore Afro-Cuban jazz. As an immigrant, I have different cultural influences: Cuban music, of course, but also gospel, blues, funk, American, and classical. The work of classical music gives you a solid technique, high personal standards, and a greater understanding of craft. You can’t have artistry until your technique is perfect. I also hope students finish the semester with a love of composition."