Pianist Chuchito Valdes is heir to a great Cuban jazz tradition which started with his grandfather, Ramon Emilio “Bebo” Valdes, and continued with his father, Dionisio Jesus “Chucho” Valdes. Both musicians have been revered throughout the jazz world for decades: Bebo for creating the batanga rhythm and for serving as the director of Havana’s Tropicana club, and Chucho for founding Irakere, one of Cuba’s most esteemed jazz bands and one Chuchito led for two years after his father’s retirement. Between father and son they have been awarded nine Grammy awards and numerous other accolades.
Bebo Valdes was a major influence on the lively Cuban music scene that emerged after World War II. While a pianist at Havana’s glamorous Tropicana nightclub, he worked with a parade of Cuban singing star, composed film scores, and recorded for Verver. In 1958 he arranged Nat King Cole’s Cole Espanol album and formed the Cuban-bop band Sabor de Cuba, which included his then teenage son Chucho on piano. Sabor de Cuba is considered one of the great orchestras in modern Cuban music history.
Chucho is perhaps best known as the founder, pianist and main composer and arranger of yet another landmark ensemble in Cuban music: Irakere. Not well known outside Cuba, Irakere was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie, who was visiting Havana on a jazz cruise, in 1977. The following year, producer Bruce Lundvall, then president of CBS, went to Cuba on Dizzy´s advice, heard the band live and signed it on the spot. The bands bold fusion of Afro-Cuban ritual music, popular Afro- Cuban music styles, jazz and rock, marked a before and after in Latin jazz. Chucho would go on to win six Grammys and three Latin Grammy Awards. Today he is considered the most influential figure in modern Afro-Cuban Jazz.
Bebo Valdes passed away in 2013. Prior to his death his fame was refreshed through his reunion with Chucho in the 2000 documentary film Calle. Chucho continues to perform, as comfortable in small groups as in leading large ensembles.
Chuchito honors his legacy by forging his Afro-Cuban sound in a way that he describes as “distinct but along the same path” as that of his two immediate predecessors. Within his own Mambo, Danzon, Timba, Guaguanco, Classical, Bebop, Danzon, Cha-cha-cha and Son Montuno compositions, he infuses rock and funk rhythms and melodic structures to build upon – rather than repeat – the music of his family.
See Chuchito with his trio at the JAS Cafe, Feb. 1-2, 2019. Tickets are available here.