Pianist and composer.
Jesús "Chucho" Valdés was born on October 9, 1941 in Havana, Cuba.
As son of well-known Ramón "Bebo" Valdés, Chucho was in close contact with skillful performances since he was only three years old, when he first listened to his father playing the piano and then reproduced the same music on his piano at home. Therefore, his first music reference comes from this prodigious source.
His professional career began in 1959 with the "Sabor de Cuba" band led by his father. During the rehearsals of Bebo`s orchestra, he accompanied Benny Moré on the piano and, with boleros and guarachas, he gained a unique experience in the way of phrasing the Cuban popular music. Chucho was also acquainted with the fundamental skills of Master Ernesto Lecuona when he visited the Valdes` house. Young Chucho was even able to listen to him playing an important repertoire of Cuban classic and popular piano pieces and more than once he played the piano for Lecuona. This inherited tr easure has been amassed by Chucho and reproduced with a contemporary essence.
During the 1960s, he organized his first jazz group. In 1963, he became pianist at the Orquesta del Teatro Musical de la Habana and in 1967 he joined the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna conducted by Armando Romeu. He was launched to the international arena through his performances with the jazz bands (quartets and quintets) organized by this orchestra. Some time later, Chucho was acknowledged by the specialized media as one of the most important jazz pianist in the world. During his work with these orchestras, he developed the broadest repertoires, from music for theater to Cuban dancing popular music.
In 1973, Chucho Valdés founded his Irakere orchestra together with a group of musicians from the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna. Irakere paved the way for new groups performing Cuban popular music due to its orchestral format, the orchestrations and the bass and rhythmic sections.
For many years, Chucho has acted as President of the Jazz Plaza International Festival in Havana which has attracted prominent representatives of this genre to perform with young up-and-coming jazz musicians in Cuba.
His vast discography nurtures from his recordings with Irakere and outstanding international musicians either with his quartet or as soloist. Some of the most significant pieces include: "Invitación", as a tribute paid to two eminent Cuban pianists from the 19th century, namely, Cervantes and Saumell; "Antología y evolución de la música popular cubana", two volumes where he performs with important Cuban musicians; and "Desafíos", together with Omara Portuondo where the bolero genre has contemporary elements.
Throughout his professional life, Chucho Valdés has received countless awards: Doctor Honoris Causa at the Havana and Victoria Universities in Cuba and Canada, respectively; the National Music Award in Cuba; the keys to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Madison and Neuilly Cities in the United States and the key to Ponce City in Puerto Rico. He has also received three Grammy Awards with the CD entitled "Misa Negra" (with Irakere, in 1979), the CD entitled "Habana" (with Roy Hargrove`s Crisol Band, in 1997) and "Live at the Village Vanguard" (2000).
For the younger generations of Cuban musicians, Chucho Valdés represents an unparalleled technical, expressive and creative school, the constant presence of a jazz language on stage and the skill of great jazz experts in the world.
Chucho is currently developing the work he previously promoted with Irakere, though he is also using smaller formats as, for example, his jazz quartet, and piano solos or together with guest musicians. But he is always looking for the roots of Afro-Cuban music and inserting it to both the Cuban music and the Latin jazz.
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 comperes a popular weekly Sunday jazz show. In conversation with Jason Koransky for Down Beat 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."
Irakere means "forest" in Yoruba language. Rescued from the memory of the ancestors, this word flies around the world in the wings of a vigorous and ever renovated music. At the end of the 60s, when in Cuba appeared a generation of artists specialized in strings, wind and metal instruments, a creative spirit gradually animated Cuban music in general. As a result of that movement, representative of Cuban genuine popular roots, the most versatile contemporary group was created, capable to smash the myth considering Europe the master of harmony; Asia, the kingdom of melody; and Africa, the exclusive source of rhythm. All that melts in a sound: Irakere.
In 1973, Jesús "Chucho" Valdés, director, saw his dream come true: to mix the syntheses of the Cuban roots with the most expressive universal sonority, one of the most important and remarkable features of the group.
Due to the teaching vocation of Irakere, many of its members became famous personalities of the musical world, such as: José Luis Cortés, Orlando Fences "Maracas", Germán Velazco and others. Irakere includes in its shows artful concerts with classic movements of claves, maracas and drums; beautiful rumbas and traditional dances with multicolored and simultaneous rhythms, together with a sonority based on a sophisticated technology. This versatile contemporary musical group, therefore, is able to offer symphonic orchestra, camera, jazz band, rock groups, trios, quartets and jazz quintets formats, as well as typical groups for the delight of the most demanding dancers.
Irakere group and its virtuoso creator "Chucho" Valdés, appear in "The Jazz Book"; they have more than 25 phonograms and a Grammy Prize in 1979, the first one granted to a Cuban group. They have also been awarded some Golden Records, as well as many acknowledgements and favourable critics by the media.
"Chucho" Valdés, pianist and director, soul and nerve of Irakere, is the son of the legendary Cuban "Bebo" Valdés. Considered as one of the best pianists in the world, "Chucho" is a virtuoso whose influence has been significant for all the jazz new musicians, Cubans and foreigners as well. Irakere, during its more than three decades of existence, has performed in several countries of Europe, Asia, África and America, and participated in all the most important international jazz festivals.
Triumphant in Cuba and in other latitudes, Irakere is the ever vigororus and frondose forest, thanks to its main trunk, "Chucho" Valdés.