Cuban pianist Chuchito Valdes closes 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series, April 13
If you go …
What: Cuban pianist Chuchito Valdes, the final performance of the 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series.
When: 6 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 13; doors open a half-hour before each 60-minute performance.
Where: Ludwig’s Terrace, Sonnenalp Hotel, 20 Vail Road, Vail.
Cost: $35; first seating is sold out.
More information: Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service and a full bar are available at an additional cost. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.
VAIL — Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, Chuchito Valdes, like his father, the great Chucho Valdes and grandfather, Bebo Valdes, possessed an uncanny knack for playing the piano from the start. Nearly 50 years later, he remains inseparable from the instrument. When not touring or performing, not a day goes by in which Chuchito isn’t thirsty for some time on the keys.
Chuchito’s foray into the profession began after attending the musical school of Cuban legend Ignacio Cervantes, whom Chuchito names along with his father and grandfather as an inspiration. He began performing at age 16 with Cuban vocalists Pello el Afrokan, Anibel Lopez and Jamaican-born trumpeter-vocalist Bobby Carcasses. After his father left Irakere, the iconic Cuban jazz ensemble he’d founded, Chuchito replaced him as leader and arranger.
Eventually, Chuchito launched his own band, composing spicy Afro-Cuban jazz numbers and earning one Latin Grammy nomination after another, beginning in 2002. He continues touring the world, performing fast-paced, feel-good numbers, most recently from his 2015 release, Horizontes.
Freshly landed in the United States for a round of gigs across the Midwest, Chuchito’s first comment during a phone interview is a warning that his English is not so good. But his passion is crystal clear.
“My inspiration is the music,” he said. “For me, the music is everything.”
Chuchito’s style is distinctly Afro-Cuban in nature, capturing the spirits of several genres cultivated throughout the history of his native country, including Son, Cuban Timba, Danzon and Guaguanco. His harmonies also take on flavors of Caribbean, bebop and cha-cha-cha. The foundation of his musical artillery, however, is classical.
“My teacher, he told me I need play first classical music and later jazz,” Chuchito said. “For the jazz, the piano is muy importante to everything.”
On stage, Chuchito Valdes is so enraptured in the sound emanating from the keys he’s furiously slapping that his hands become a blur. Without a microphone, he’ll call out and sing throughout his set. He’ll sporadically launch onto his feet and sit back down as if his own rhythms have him attached to marionette strings. His head bobs and rolls with every note. If anything is obvious — besides the ecstatic nature of his performance — then it’s that Chuchito takes his role in the Valdes musical dynasty seriously.
“My grandfather prepared the future for my father and my father for me. The sound is different, but it’s still the style, the Cuban music,” he said. “The future because of me is one direction on the piano — different sounds but with my (father and grandfather’s) education.”
There is no such thing as a day off for him when it comes to the piano because that would be like a day without food. He said playing, to him, is like breathing.
“Every day, every day, I play every day,” he said. “If I no play … I no happy.”
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