Chucho Valdés Interviewed

When it comes to Cuban jazz — and Cuban music, generally — the name Chucho Valdés looms large, almost regal. The masterful pianist and musical adventurer has helmed multiple hybrid projects over the past 50 years, including his longstanding Cuban/jazz fusion band Irakere, the Afro-Cuban Messengers, and Jazz Batá, who will join him at Campbell Hall on Sunday, October 20.

Valdés has also been a centralizing force in supporting and promulgating Cuban music as director of the Havana Jazz Festival, an educator, and the unofficial cultural ambassador of his musically supercharged country.

Valdés can always be counted on for lively, sophisticated, and exciting music-making, a reputation still in restless motion at age 78. On last year’s album Jazz Batá 2, a latter-day extension of his groundbreaking 1972 album Jazz Batá, Valdés blends his jazz trio sound with the traditional Cuban batá percussionists, a musical language linked to Santeria rituals. While the drums anchor and exoticize the whole, Valdés’s voice on the piano runs alternately hot, swinging, sweet, and sometimes avant-garde, but always with musicality as his guide. He’s a musical treasure whose dynamic live shows belong in the catch-him-while-you-can category.

Do you have any memory of your last visit to Santa Barbara, and Campbell Hall, in 2003 — recognizing that you have played countless cities in many countries over the years?  I remember it was a very beautiful concert where there was a large audience, which was very attentive.

At UCSB, you will be performing music from your Jazz Batá 2 album, a fascinating project connecting both the roots of Cuban jazz and your own personal musical history. Can you tell me about the roots of your concept for this album?  We are based on African tradition in Cuba — the songs, the rhythms, the prayers — and this is fused with elements of jazz. This has worked very well for us. The batá is fundamental in this project, because we don’t really use drums (in the form of a drum set), and then there is a rhythmic relationship between the roles and the piano. It becomes a very nice and very melodic atmosphere.

In your own playing on the album, you move easily between melodic places to swinging and sometimes even avant-garde touches. Do you think in terms of an inside-outside approach to music and piano playing, or is this just a natural blending of your ideas and influences?  It’s a combination of my ideas and influences. It’s in my musical training, and I take all those elements and I mix them in a very organic way — and there’s the difference.

Who would you put on a short list of pianist heroes, and has that list changed over the years?  It has not changed, but new pianists have been added to that list: Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, [Thelonious] Monk, Bud Powell, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Michael Tyner, Orlando Luna, Harold López-Nussa, Alfredo Rodríguez, David Virelles, Omar Sosa, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and many others.

The 1972 album Jazz Batá was a departure from a more strictly jazz direction, and then fed into the musical terrain you explored with Irakere. Is it important for you to continue working with the great history and heritage of Cuban music in your work?  Maybe I’m working with roots and identity and researching to create new rhythmic combinations.

Music is very much in your family lineage, extending down from your father, Bebo, and forward with your son Chuchito. Is it truly a matter of music being in the bloodlines in the Valdés family?  I would say that this is in our DNA and continues also with my daughter Leyanis, who is the youngest pianist in the family and is fantastic.

Do you look back at Border-Free as a special and ambitious project, expressing yet another different aspect of your work?  Exactly. The Border-Free within the same idea is very different from Jazz Batá while still being Afro Cuban music but using drums as a rhythmic element mixed the same with robe and the rest of the Afro-Cuban percussion. But, conceptually, it’s different.

When I interviewed you in 2013, said that you felt young and full of creative energy — almost like an adolescent, musically speaking. Is this also a good and healthy period in your long musical life?  That was a very interesting period, and this period of Jazz Batá is still very important because in this project, we deepen even more Afro-Cuban folklore — and this makes me feel always creative and young.

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Cuban Musician Chucho Valdes to Be Honored at La Musa Awards

Cuban musician Jesus ''Chucho'' Valdes will be honored on Thursday at the 6th edition of the annual La Musa Award due to his career and contributions to that event throughout his 50-year career.

The awards, presented by Spotify and directed by American Broadway producer Richard Jay-Alexander, highlight the development of Latin music and the global association of composers who, as Valdes, contribute so much to contemporary music.

The renowned pianist will also receive the Latin Grammy Award for Musical Excellence 2018 during a gala on November 13 in Las Vegas, the United States.

The Latin Recording Academy announced both recognitions in which Valdés' outstanding artistic career, his unique vision and contributions in favor of Latin music are praised.

According to the president of that institution, Gabriel Abaroa Jr., recognizing the talent of artists who have exceptionally contributed to this artistic expression in Ibero-America during 2018 is a pride.

The Cuban jazz musician has become a world artist, crossing the borders of the Cuban music through his compositions, and with an authentic mix of Afro-Cuban rhythms and roots, he said.

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Cuban Jazz Musician Chucho Valdes Will Receive Latin Grammy Award

Cuban jazz musician Chucho Valdes will receive the Latin Grammy Award for Musical Excellence 2018 at the gala scheduled for November 13 in Las Vegas, according to the Latin Recording Academy.

During the ceremony at the Four Seasons hotel in that city, the Spanish Dyango, the Brazilian Erasmo Carlos, the Dominican Wilfrido Vargas and the Mexicans Jose Maria Napoleon and Yuri will also be recognized.

Argentine Guitarist Horacio Malvicino and Spanish Tomas Muñoz, executives of the record industry, will also receive the award from the Board of Directors of the Academy.

The Musical Excellence Award is given to artists with a relevant background and contributions to Latin music, and even rewards those who, without being interpreters, contribute significantly to music.

Dionisio Valdes Rodriguez, known worldwide as Chucho Valdes, is a Cuban pianist, founder of the Irakere group and author of a successful work in which he mixes jazz with other rhythms such as rock, classical music and Afro-Cuban roots.

For his exceptional work he received four Grammy awards: in 1979 with Irakere and the album Irakere; in 1997, with Roy Hargrove's Crisol and the album Habana; in 2000, with Live At The Village Vanguard; and in 2009, with Juntos para siempre (Together Forever).

In Cuba he was awarded the National Music Prize 2000 as a just reverence for his wonderful work.

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Chucho Valdés Remembers Irakere

Amid his world tour, maestro Chucho Valdés arrived in Spain to offer a unique and unrepeatable concert of his show-tribute to the group with which he revolutionized Cuban music: Irakere. This will happen next July 13, at 9:30 pm, at Madrid’s Circo Price Theater.

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Colombia Applauds Cuban Jazz Musician Chucho Valdés

Bogotá.- After a presentation to packed houses in Bogotá, the famous Cuban musician Chucho Valdés will offer several concerts in the Colombian cities of Medellin and Barranquilla, where he will perform the repertoire of legendary group Irakere.

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