Pianist, composer, arranger and multiple Grammy winner, Chucho Valdés is one of Cuba's finest ambassadors of Latin jazz. Born into a musical dynasty and building on his homeland's legacy as bandleader and founder of some of the island's most influential ensembles, Valdés is first and foremost a piano dynamo. His vast, rhapsodic improvisations and technical mastery, grounded in classical training, send jazz in unexpected directions - a journey on which audiences enthusiastically embark.
Jesús Dionisio Valdés was born in Quivicán, Cuba, on October 9, 1941. The son of Cuban music giant Bebo Valdés, a pianist and former musical director of the famed Tropicana night club, Chucho quickly followed in his father's footsteps. He started taking piano lessons at age 5 and by 15, the piano prodigy was already leading his own band.
In 1960, the elder Valdés defected from Cuba, but Chucho decided to stay behind. In 1967, he formed the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna and, six years later, founded Irakere, which assembled an impressive roster of musicians, including trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera.
Although Valdés and his fellow musicians were generally considered as Cuba's top jazz orchestra, they were seldom allowed entry into the United States. Irakere succeeded in making waves overseas all the same, becoming the first ever Cuban ensemble to win a Grammy in 1979.
In 1993, Valdés made his first visit to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, firing up the intimate Gesù concert hall with the smouldering sounds of son. He returned four years later as part of the newly formed Crisol, a Cuban-based ensemble founded by American trumpeter Roy Hargrove. That same year, Crisol won the Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Performance for its debut album Habana. Valdés took home another Grammy in 2003 for his disc Live at the Village Vanguard.
Five years later, he reunited with his 88-year-old father on Juntos Para Siempre, which featured a composition by each musician for the other: Preludia Para Bebo and A Chucho. The two generations of piano masters triumphed in "a pure victory lap," according to the New York Times review.
In 2009, the 67-year-old artist took the Festival stage in the company of his self-titled quintet and, later, his sister, dancer and singer Mayra Caridad Valdés. The sold out performance kicked off with a few Duke Ellington standards before moving on to complex jazz fusion numbers, and then some... Valdés, a consummate showman, received three rousing encores from an appreciative crowd.
The 2010 release Chucho’s Steps—Grammy winner in the Best Latin Jazz Album category—found the Cuba native saluting John Coltrane, Joe Zawinul and Art Blakey, to name but a few. Border-Free came out three years later.