A protean performer, as comfortable in small groups as leading large ensembles, his most recent projects include Trance, a two-piano duo project with fellow Cuban virtuoso Gonzalo Rubalcaba and, before that, an extensive tour, celebrating 40 years of his founding of Irakere, a band that, with its bold fusion of Afro-Cuban ritual music, popular Afro- Cuban music styles, jazz and rock, marked a before and after in Latin jazz. Fittingly, the celebration culminated in a Grammy for the Best Latin Jazz Album of 2016 for Tribute to Irakere: Live at Marciac (Jazz Village /Comanche Music).
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, rock and more, into an organic, personal style that has both, a distinct style and substance.
His first teacher was his father, the great pianist, composer and bandleader Ramón “Bebo” Valdés. By the age of three, Chucho 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, he formed his first jazz trio and in 1959 he debuted with the orchestra Sabor de Cuba, directed by his father. Sabor de Cuba is considered one of the great orchestras in modern Cuban music history.
As it turns out, Chucho is perhaps best known as the founder, pianist and main composer and arranger of yet another landmark ensemble in Cuban music: Irakere (1973-2005).
Not well known outside Cuba, Irakere was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie, who was visiting Havana on a jazz cruise, in 1977. The following year, producer Bruce Lundvall, then president of CBS, went to Cuba on Dizzy´s advice, heard the band live and signed it on the spot.