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June 25, 2022



Winner of six GRAMMY® and three Latin GRAMMY® awards, Cuban pianist, composer and arranger Chucho Valdés is the most influential figure in contemporary Afro-Cuban jazz.

A Prothean performer who offers solo performances just as comfortably as leading small and large ensembles, his latest project, Jazz Batá 2, is a unique piece that revisits an idea he first explored in 1972: a piano-jazz trio with drums whip in place of a conventional set of traps. Batá are hourglass-shaped sacred drums used in the ritual music of the Yoruba religion, better known as Santeria. Released on November 16, 2018, Jazz Batá 2 marks Chucho's debut on Mack Avenue Records.

A few days earlier, on November 13, Chucho received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences ™ at a ceremony during Latin GRAMMY Week in Las Vegas. Chucho was also inducted into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame and received the DC Jazz Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, and his name joined an excellent list that includes Kenny Barron, James Moody, Ellis Marsalis, George Wein and Dave Brubeck. Chucho also enjoyed a different kind of honor, personally satisfying as a pianist and performer, as he made his debut at the historic Tchaikovsky in Moscow last March.

Finally, in August, Chucho and pianist, composer and educator Rebeca Mauleón presented "Decoding Afro-Cuban Jazz: The Music of Chucho Valdés & Irakere" (213 pages, Sher Music Co.). This volume provides an overview of Cuban music; Biographical information; and the story of Chucho's Irakere, a band that marked before and after Latin jazz thanks to a bold fusion of Afro-Cuban ritual music, popular Afro-Cuban music styles, jazz and rock. The book also includes cover sheets for 11 of Chucho's most famous compositions, including classics such as "Misa Negra", "Mambo Influenciado" and "Bacalao Con Pan", as well as a glossary of Afrocuban terms and rhythms.

A very active performer, in early 2018, Chucho completed a two-year tour with  Trance, a duo project for two pianos. Trance was a dramatic shift in sound for Chucho as it followed the 40th anniversary of the birth of Irakere, a group that in every way suggested a small big band. The extensive tour was graced by the live recording "Tribute to Irakere: Live at Marciac" (Jazz Village / Comanche Music), which in 2016 won the Grammy for the best Latin American jazz album.

Born to a family of musicians in Quivicán, Havana, Cuba, on October 9, 1941, Dionisio Jesús "Chucho" Valdés Rodríguez distilled elements of the Afro-Cuban musical tradition, jazz, classical music, rock and more. an organic, personal style that has both expressive style and substance. His first teacher was his father, the great pianist, composer and band leader 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 any key. He began studying piano, theory and solfege at the age of five, and continued his formal musical education at the Conservatorio Municipal de Música de la Habana, which he graduated from at the age of 14. A year later he founded his first jazz trio. 1959 made his debut with the orchestra Sabor de Cuba, directed by his father. Sabor de Cuba is considered to be one of the greatest orchestras in the history of modern Cuban music. As it turns out, Chucho is perhaps best known as the founder, pianist, principal composer and arranger of another breakthrough ensemble in Cuban music: Irakere (1973-2005). Not very well known outside of Cuba, Irakere was discovered by Dizzy Gillespie, who visited Havana on a jazz cruise in 1977. The following year, producer Bruce Lundvall, then CBS president, traveled to Cuba on Dizzy's advice, heard the band live and signed it on the spot.

In the same year, Irakere made his unannounced debut as "surprise guests" at Carnegie Hall as part of the Newport Jazz Festival. Selected songs from this show were later featured in Irakere (CBS), the band's debut recording in the United States. The album won a Grammy Award as Best Latin Recording in 1979. This original band featured future stars of world jazz such as Paquito D'Rivera and Arturo Sandoval, but over the course of its rich, long life, Irakere has become a rolling university of Afro-Cuban music, as well as featuring influential musicians such as the late Miguel "Angá" Díaz; Jose Luis Cortés (who later founded NG La Banda) and Germán Velazco.

Chucho remained in Irakere until 2005.

Thanks to the numerous changes the team has experienced over the years, it has remained the only necessary constant. But Irakere's success came at a personal cost, as Chucho's talent as a pianist was largely overshadowed by his responsibilities as a leader.

In 1998 - after winning his second Grammy the year before for Habana (Verve), this time as a member of the trumpeter Roy Hargrove's group Crisol - Chucho began a parallel career as a solo musician and small group leader.

An extremely fruitful period ensued, 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 recordings by quartets 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.

Chucho has since also won a Grammy for Juntos Para Siempre (Calle 54, 2007), a duo recording with his father Bebo; as well as the Chucho Steps (Comanche, 2010), which introduced his new group, Afro-Cuban Messengers.

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