Biography

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.

Discography

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Chucho ValdÉs Jazz Bata 2
(Mack Avenue Records, 2018)
BUY NOW

Chucho Valdés Jazz Bata 2 

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ONCE
(Patricia Sosa + Chucho Valdés )
Concierto para dos.Comanche 2017)

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Chucho Valdés
Tributo a IRAKERE
Comanche/Harmonia Mundi, 2016)
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Border Free
(Comanche/Harmonia Mundi, 2013)
Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban  Messengers

Calendar

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News

Chucho Valdés announces Jazz Batá, a new project with old roots



Jazz Batá, the new project of pianist, composer and arranger Chucho Valdés, is both a look forward and a closing of pending business.

Comprised by Valdés on piano; Yelsy Heredia, acoustic bass and Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, also a member of Valdé's Afro-Cuban Jazz Messengers, on percussion and voice, Jazz Batá retakes a project that, while largely ignored at the time, proved crucial for the development of Valdés music.

Originally created by Valdés in 1972, a year before he founded the transcendent Afro-Cuban jazz rock ensemble Irakere, Jazz Batá comprised piano, acoustic bass and percussion, specially batá, the hourglass shaped drum that is essential in the ritual music of Yoruba religion, best known as Santeria. In its instrumentation and its sound, Jazz Batá expressed Valdés´s search for the roots of Afro-Cuban music and his deeper Cubanization of jazz and the classic piano jazz trio.

“The recording company couldn’t understand it. They would tell me that it was ‘crazy jazz,’” he recalled. “They would say ‘Who thinks of a jazz trio without a drum kit?’ Well, I did. I was looking for the sound of our roots. The batá drums were not used in popular music then. Those drums, that music, were considered vulgar, something backward. Some dismissed it as just ´A black thing.´ But that´s where our roots are.”

The trio recorded only one album, but the idea “stayed with me,” explained the pianist and composer. “It really bothered me not to follow through with the work in Jazz Batá and I was listening to it recently and thought there was a lot there yet. At the time, we chose to follow another path — and Irakere was a great project.”
“The band Irakere is an outgrowth of the work on Jazz Batá,” said Valdés, who noted that one the most distinctive pieces on the record was titled “Irakere.”

In fact, he credits the sound of songs such as “Bacalao Con Pan,” Irakere’s first great hit, today considered a classic in Cuban popular music, to his experimentations with the trio.

“That was a hit that became an anthem and, to this day, even more than 40 years later people still requests it,” said Valdés. “And it was the breakthrough for African percussion in Cuban dance music.”

“The repertoire of Jazz Batá is made of almost all new music,” he announced. “After all, while we are based on that original trio, we are doing something very different here. There are years of experiences and development in between. I believe this is going to be even better than the old trio.”

Beginning on April, 2018, Jazz Batá will perform in the United States and Europe. The trio plans to enter the studio to record at the end of the tour.