Winner of six GRAMMY® and three Latin GRAMMY® Awards, the Cuban pianist, composer and arranger Chucho Valdés is the most influential figure in modern Afro-Cuban jazz.
Tribute to Irakere: Live at Marciac (Jazz Village /Comanche Music), a celebration of 40 years of Irakere, the iconic band he founded and directed for more than three decades, won a Grammy as the Best Latin Jazz Album of 2016.
As a performer and composer, Chucho 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.
Dionisio Jesús "Chucho" Valdés Rodríguez, was born in a family of musicians in Quivicán, Havana province, Cuba, on October 9, 1941. 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). Playing an often breathtaking mix of jazz, rock, classical and traditional Afro-Cuban music, this small big band marked a before and after in Latin jazz.
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. The same year Irakere debuted, unannounced, as “surprise guests,” at Carnegie Hall as part of the Newport Jazz Festival. Selections from that performance were later included in Irakere (CBS), the band’s debut recording in the United States. The album won a Grammy as Best Latin Recording in 1979.
Chucho stayed with Irakere until 2005. Through the many changes the band experienced over the years, he remained the one, essential constant. But Irakere’s success had its personal costs, as Chucho’s talent as a pianist was largely obscured by his responsibilities as a leader.
In 1998 — having won his second Grammy the previous year for Habana (Verve), this time as a member of trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s group Crisol — Chucho launched a parallel career as a solo player and small-group leader.
An enormously fruitful period followed, 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 in 2005, and now focused on his solo career, Chucho won Grammys for Juntos Para Siempre (Calle 54, 2007), the duet recording with his father, Bebo; and for Chucho’s Steps (Comanche, 2010), which introduced his new group, the Afro-Cuban Messengers.
His most recent major project as bandleader was Irakere 40, a tribute celebration that resulted in his most recent GRAMMY.