Cuban pianist, composer, and arranger Chucho Valdés is the most influential figure in modern Afro-Cuban jazz. In a career spanning more than 60 years, both as a solo artist and bandleader, Mr. Valdés has distilled elements of the Afro-Cuban music tradition, jazz, classical music, rock, and more, into a deeply personal style. Winner of six GRAMMY® and four Latin GRAMMY® Awards, Mr. Valdés, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Science last year and was also inducted in the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame.
His most recent project, Jazz Batá 2, won a Latin Grammy as Best Latin Jazz album and was selected as one of Billboard magazine’s list of The 50 Best Latin Albums of the Decade. Jazz Batá 2 revisits a revolutionary idea Mr. Valdés first recorded in 1972: a piano jazz trio featuring batá drums, the sacred, hourglass-shaped drums used in the ritual music of the Yoruba religion in Cuba, in place of the conventional trap set
Born in a family of musicians in Quivicán, Havana province, Cuba, on October 9, 1941, Dionisio Jesús "Chucho" Valdés Rodríguez, has distilled elements of the Afro-Cuban music tradition, jazz, classical music, and rock into an organic, deeply personal style.
His first teacher was his father, the pianist, composer, and bandleader Ramón “Bebo” Valdés. By the age of three, Mr. Valdés was already playing the melodies he heard on the radio at the piano, using both hands and in any key. He began taking lessons on piano, theory and solfege at the age of five and continued his formal musical education at the Conservatorio Municipal de Música de la Habana, from which he graduated at 14. A year later, Mr. Valdés formed his first jazz trio. In 1959, he debuted professionally with the band Sabor de Cuba. The ensemble, directed by his father, is widely considered one of the great orchestras in modern Cuban music.
Fittingly, Mr. Valdés made his early mark as the founder, pianist and main composer and arranger of another landmark ensemble: the small big band Irakere (1973-2005). With its audacious mix of Afro-Cuban ritual music, Cuban dance music, jazz, classical music, and rock, Irakere marked a before and after in Latin jazz. Irakere’s self-titled debut recording in the United States won a Grammy as Best Latin Recording in 1979.
While he remained with Irakere until 2005, Mr. Valdés launched a parallel career in 1998 both as a solo performer and a small-group leader. It marked the beginning of an enormously fruitful period highlighted by albums such as Solo Piano (Blue Note, 1991), Solo: Live in New York (Blue Note, 2001) and New Conceptions (Blue Note, 2003), as well as quartet recordings such as Bele Bele en La Habana (Blue Note, 1998), Briyumba Palo Congo (Blue Note, 1999) and Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 2000), which won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album.
After leaving Irakere, Mr. Valdés won Grammys for Juntos Para Siempre (Calle 54, 2007), the duet recording with his father, Bebo; and, Chucho’s Steps (Comanche, 2010), which introduced his new group, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.
But that didn´t mean to forget past achievements. In 2015, Mr. Valdés celebrated the 40th anniversary of the birth of Irakere, his iconic band, with a world tour. A resulting recording, Tribute to Irakere: Live at Marciac (Jazz Village / Comanche Music), won a Grammy for the Best Latin Jazz Album in 2016.
Chucho Valdés, considered the most influential figure of modern Afro-Cuban jazz, goes on a world tour featuring concerts with American jazz greats Dianne Reeves and Joe Lovano, evenings of solo piano, intimate shows with his Chucho Valdés quartet, and the debut of an Afro-Cuban suite performed by two dozen musicians.
The Cuban pianist, composer and arranger, celebrates his 80th birthday with the world premiere of “La Creación”, “The Creation”, at the Adrienne Arscht Center in Miami on November 5th, 2021.
It uses many of the chants that are sung to the different saints in the Yoruban language, and some in Spanish, fused with jazz, with African music, with pure Caribbean rhythms and with the blues.
“La Creación” is played, also in November, at the Philharmonie de Paris, and at the Barcelona Jazz Festival.
“I think this is my most important musical work ever because it brings together everything that I’ve learned in my life, and this is the ideal moment for its debut. It goes much deeper than anything I’ve done up until now”.
Besides six Grammy Awards and four Latin Grammy ‘s, Chucho Valdes has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. His name is in the Hall of Fame of Latin Composers.
Along a more than 60 years long career as a soloist of his orchestras, Chucho Valdes has learned how to blend to perfection, the elements from traditional afro-cuban music, with jazz, classic music, and rock n’roll, all with a very personal style.
Valdés keeps on with his classes at his virtual academy of music, Academia Chucho Valdés, www.chuchovaldesacademy.com, a channel dedicated to share his knowledge of Cuban music and afro-cuban jazz, through individual classes taught by Zoom.
Before becoming a full-time piano performer, composer and arranger, Chucho had studied to become a teacher. His admiration for his uncle Emilio, who became an important educator in Cuba, and his early vocation, fulfilled his early years.
But then came the music, and the chance to perform together with the orchestra of his father, the great pianist Bebo Valdés. His long lasting career started there, stepping up to the highest.