Chucho Valdes Biography

Jesús Valdés, 9 October 1941, Quivican, Cuba. A giant of Afro-Cuban jazz piano - it is said that the piano bench at the Teatro Nacional is permanently adjusted to fit him - Valdés is the son of legendary pianist and composer Bebo Valdés. Chucho was playing piano before he had even learned to walk properly, tutored by his piano-playing mother in addition to his father. He later played in several Cuban big bands of the 60s, forming his own jazz quartets inspired by American artists such as Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. He co-founded the Orquestra De Música Moderna in 1967, but it was as musical director of the groundbreaking Irakere ensemble that Valdés made his biggest impact on Cuban music. The all-star line-ups of this enduring band, which fuses jazz, Cuban ethnic music and rock, have included legendary Cuban musicians such as Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. In 1978 they became the first modern Cuban group to sign a US recording contract.

In the late 90s Valdés’ own abilities were highlighted by solo works such as Bele Bele En La Habana, that was nominated for a Grammy in 1998. The previous year he was the featured artist on Roy Hargrove’s Grammy Award-winning Habana. As well as exporting Cuban music to the mainstream, he also committed himself to a series of seminars and clinics to teach the music to Latin-American schoolchildren in the USA. In his own country, he co-founded the annual Havana International Jazz Festival, that he continues to oversee as honorary musical director. He also compèred a popular weekly Sunday jazz show. In conversation with Jason Koransky for DownBeat magazine, he produced this useful analogy for the rapid growth in popularity achieved by Cuban music in the 90s. ‘Cuban music and jazz are like the computer world, where you have compatible computers and incompatible computers. Cuban music is 100 per cent compatible with North American music, or Brazilian music, Mexican music, Venezuelan music.’ His son is the jazz pianist Jesus Chuchito Valdés Jnr.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.