Latin jazz pianist Chucho Valdés performs Friday with quintet
Published: Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 6:15 p.m.
His piano has that luminous, exquisitely piquant sound; an effervescent vibe that says “jazz” and “Latin” in equal parts. And why not? At age 71, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés is old enough to have been directly influenced by Thelonius Monk and Bud Powell, while also having the good fortune of being raised by one of Cuba’s first families of Latin sounds.
Valdés, who performs with his quintet on Friday at University Auditorium, was the son of Cuban big band leader (and pianist) Bebo Valdés, long venerated for his tenure as music director for performances at the Tropicana and other Havana clubs in the ’40s and ’50s.
Young Chucho learned his musical lessons well: By his early 30s, he had co-founded the highly influential contemporary Cuban jazz group Irakere — which along with Valdés, also served as the first major musical platform for saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.
Despite limited performances in the U.S. and abroad, Irakere wowed audiences with a self-titled, 1979 album that was recorded live at the Newport and Montreux jazz festivals.
Though Sandoval and D’Rivera both defected from Cuba in 1981, Valdés remained in his homeland and saw his stature as a musician grow over the years due to prolific recording (producing more than 80 albums), more extensive touring and winning four Grammy awards and three Latin Grammy awards.
The most recent Grammy came in 2011 for “Chucho’s Steps,” an album recorded by Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers that serves nearly as a world tour of jazz homages. With its syncopated percussion and locomotive melody, the song “Zawinul’s Mamba” is a fitting tribute to Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul (who died in 2007), while “New Orleans” offers a blast of post-bop horns and piano before segueing into a Latin groove, and “Chucho’s Steps” offers an uptempo showcase of the pianist’s bravura technique.
According to bios, The New York Times dubbed Valdés “the dean of Latin jazz,” a fitting title given the propensity to bestow the more common but no less appropriate designations “jazz great” and “jazz giant.” But to paraphrase the Bard: a thrilling pianist by any other name would soar as sweet.
Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at email@example.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.