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 Pianist and Composer Roberto Fonseca Announces 'Yesun'

GRAMMY®-nominated Cuban pianist, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, composer and bandleader Roberto Fonseca is set for the release of his new album, Yesun, October 18 via Mack Avenue Records.

Combining jazz sensibility and deep roots in the Afro-Cuban tradition, Yesun is the Havana-born artist's ninth solo album. The record delves into the music of Fonseca's homeland of Cuba while keeping its sights set firmly on the future, weaving in electronic beats, spoken word, retro-modern keyboards, Fonseca's vocals and more.

"Yesun is the album I've always wanted to make," says Fonseca of a record that combines everything from jazz and classical music to rap, funk, reggaeton and electronic music. "All my influences are here. All the sounds and vibes that make me who I am."

In celebration of the upcoming release, JazzTimes is premiering the album track "Aggua" alongside a new music video directed by Joseph Ros.

"This tune felt very natural to write," says Fonseca of "Aggua," on which he plays grand piano, analog keyboards and percussion, as well as contributing bossa-nova style vocals. "I wanted to represent my Cuban roots with a tumbao"-the core rhythm that nourishes salsa, mambo and Latin jazz-"and I wanted to shake up some stuff."

Fonseca will tour the U.S. this coming spring in support of the album, with upcoming shows set for New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, DC, Seattle and Portland.

Yesun is a trio album whose 13 original tracks are bolstered by Fonseca's regular bandmates, drummer Raúl Herrera and longtime double bassist Yandy Martínez Rodriguez. Guests include Grammy-winning American saxophonist Joe Lovano, lauded French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, Grammy-nominated Cuban rapper/singer Danay Suárez, famed Cuban bolero diva Mercedes Cortés and a capella group Gema 4.

Yesun follows 2016's ABUC, praised for its "incandescent Cuban contrasts" by The Guardian. That same year, Fonseca served as Artistic Director of the inaugural Jazz Plaza Festival in Santiago de Cuba. Most recently, he received the prestigious Ordre des Arts Letters (Order of Arts and Letters) from the French Ministry of Culture.


1. La Llamada (feat. Gema 4)
2. Kachucha (feat. Ibrahim Maalouf)
3. Cadenas (feat. Danay Suárez)
4. Por Ti
5. Aggua
6. Motown
7. Stone of Hope
8. Vivo (feat. Joe Lovano)
9. OO
10. Mambo pa la Niña (feat. Gema 4)
11. Ocha
12. No Soy de Esos
13. Clave

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Janio Abreu: Cuba is a Source of Inspiration

With a certain scent of virtuosity and concert, Janio Abreu and his band are involved in the activities for the 34th Jazz Plaza Festival.

«Every year more foreign artists come and they are interested in playing in Cuba», said the young composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, in an exclusive interview with CubaSí, and he added: «they come and they even pay for everything just to perform in the Festival and drink from the sources of Cuban music».

As for the participation of Janio Abreu and Aires de Concierto in the Havana appointment of jazz, he told us: «We’ve had the opportunity to play with Dave Wekcl, Grammy award winner, drummer for Chick Korea for many years, and he has come to play with my band, Janio Abreu and Aires de Concierto, but to play my music, something incredible I never dreamt of, but he preferred to play our music, and said that he wanted to steal away the essence of all the rhythms we have and that is what we do».

For the talented musician who moves from clarinet to Sax like fish in the water, one of the main attractions of Jazz Plaza for the foreign musicians «it’s about that, they see Cuba as a source of inspiration and a rough diamond; they want to drink from that source and memorize all the secrets of our rhythms and culture».

Undoubtedly it’s also a space of growth for Cuban creators: «We Cubans have a habit, and that is we record a disk and in the studio we change many things, and Wekcl heard the album, read the scores I sent him, listened to the changes made and he himself rewrote them, and when I was about to explain the changes to him, he already had them on writing, that is, it’s a great level of seriousness and professionalism regarding music».

Aires de Concierto will also be presented together with Victor Goines. On this project Janio commented: «He was my teacher in the United States, he is member of the Lincoln Center Big Band and a personal friend. I already recorded a DVD with him under Bis Music record house named Our Musical Inheritance, and we will be at the Jazz Café on the 18th and at Cervantes Ward on Sunday 20th at 11:00 a.m., where another DVD will also be recorded with Bis Music.

«The first album was named Our Musical Inheritance because the Cuban rhythms are present, his music versioned with Cuban rhythms and my music, of course, based on Cuban rhythms: there are different rhythms, nengon, pilon, changüi, and in this next album we will include mambo, danzón, chachacha…»

What does the Jazz Plaza mean? It seems a simple question for Janio Abreu: «It’s a very enriching experience for us and, especially it spurs us to keep on working so that now that there’s so much influence of other music, let’s see the worth of ours, of cultivating it us who have running through our blood, for the new generations».

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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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Dayme Arocena: Jazz is Really Jelaous

Authenticity? Yes, it’s a good concept to speak about this little girl who becomes great with talent and not with her heels.

I will start by the end of the conversation, just so you can have an idea of ​​what kind of woman is Daymé Arocena who has good reasons to sing jazz shoeless:

"It's just comfort, I'm pretty small, I'm very chubby and people kept telling me to sing on heels, it was a rebellious act on my behalf, because that was not me, I did not feel well, I did not feel comfortable and then against all odds, I decided to be well myself and as the only way I feel well with myself is singing barefooted, it's comfort, just that... "

You see, the right word: authentic, natural, spontaneous, absolutely Cuban like her last album, about which she commented:

"Cubafonia is an album that reveres Cuban music in every sense of the word, that's why we named it like that because we were trying to talk about the musical sound of Cuba, but of contemporary Cuba, of the 21st Century. Cubafonia is an album of 11 unpublished songs, all of them are mine, but inspired by Cuban rhythms, changüí, old rumba, tango congo, chachacha, bolero, guajira, pilon, native rhythms of Cuban music, but from another point of view, a more youthful view, in different languages, the album comprises four languages, there is a changüí song in Spanish, English, French and Yoruba. "

Daymé is one of seven Cubans who have been nominated to the Grammy Awards in the Best Latin Jazz Album category, by the album Oddara, the project Jane Bunnett and Maqueque is young, but it has achieved successes that give it the authority to comment on the involvement of women in the jazz made in Cuba:

"I think women have just started to wake up, they have started to get involved, the important thing is not to get confused, because jazz is a really jealous genre, singing or playing jazz is like making classical music, it's like singing opera, opera singers, for instance, once they’ve mastered opera or classical music they can do everything else, there are people who say: I sing salsa, reggaeton, timba, bolero and jazz, it’s not like that, you sing jazz and from jazz you can sing bolero, salsa, rumba, reggaeton, always with a jazz vision, because what a jazzman has to do every day of this world is to think musically as a jazz player and that is the starting line for all the phenomena of music. All Cuban jazz musicians approach the genres of Cuban music, because it’s our identity, but you have to think as a jazz player first to be able to insert it into the genre, not to insert jazz into rumba, for example, but the other way around the rumba within jazz, because jazz is the most jealous so we want more women to play jazz and do it well ... "

Another topic that her personal experience offers good arguments is the presence of vocals in Cuban jazz:

"Honestly, what is happening with women or with the girls who try to make the genre is interesting, and I talk about girls because we are almost all women who sing jazz, there are not many boys who sing jazz. They are generally attracted to instruments
and not to the singing in this genre. What happens is that there is no information, I tried to find it, but it’s really scarce. Right now what happens is that in Cuba there are many talented people, there are many talented singers, they want to do things, but they lack research and I wish we could have more space for that, because there are talented people in Cuba, there are good singers who could make good sung jazz in Cuba ... Yasek Manzano is one of the people who has supported that idea. He believes in the singers, but he cannot do everything on his own, we need more people like him, we need that the information and space also increase, so that it becomes a real movement, with strong foundations ...

Do you have any personal projects? Of course, besides going to the Grammy Awards ceremony this month ...

"... after I have to sing in this same January, at the Preservation Hall Gala in San Francisco, which is something awesome that they had invited me, because the Preservation Hall has been doing interesting exchanges throughout Cuba for years and then follows for the first time a tour through Australia and New Zealand and starting on April the tours that are like the regular ones, which we always do in the United States and Europe ...

Cubasi Translation Staff / Amilkal Labañino Valdes

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Cuban Music Students to Perform in the USA

Havana, Dec 28 (Prensa Latina) Cuban music students members of the Jazz Band of the Cuban Amadeo Roldan Conservatoire will play at a community concert next January 5 in the USA, the Ministry of Culture has reported here today.

The 14 young players will be traveling to New Orleans on an invitation by the Horns to Havana Project to play at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz and Heritage Center and two days later will perform at the Jazz Education Network.

Two Cuban music professors will be traveling together with the youth band invited by the Jazz Preservation Hall, a prestigious institution in that southern US city.

The Culture Ministry of Cuba highlights this is the first ever exchange of this type, though the Horns to Havana Project has nourished a long relationship with the Cuban Center of Art Schools.

Early this year, the Cuban youth Jazz Band played at a joint session in Havana with the Jazz at Lincoln Center, of the USA.

Cuba has a long standing jazz tradition. This month Havana welcome the 32th International Jazz Plaza Festival, one of the Latin America's most trascendetal events of its type.

Musicians from 10 countries attended the Festival, among them top US jazz players like Terence Blanchard, The Snarky Puppy and Christian McBride.

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With Ozzy in El Submarino

Since the very same day El Submarino Amarillo center was opened—next March it will celebrate its fifth anniversary—we knew that this place was to be like London’s Ronnie Scott Jazz Club, though this is not dedicated to jazz but to rock.

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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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