Chucho Valdés was born Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, the son of famed pianist Bebo Valdés, on October 9, 1941 in Quivican, La Habana, Cuba. His first recording sessions as a leader took place in early 1964 at Areíto Studios of Havana. These early sessions included Paquito D’Rivera on alto saxophone and clarinet, trombonist Alberto Giral, flutist Julio Vento, Carlos Emilio Morales on guitar, Kike Hernández on double bass, Emilio del Monte on drums and Óscar Valdés Jr. on congas.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, these would be the members of his jazz combo, whose lineup would often change, sometimes including bassists Cachaito and later Carlos del Puerto, and drummers Guillermo Barreto and later Enrique Pla. In 1967, Valdés and his band mates became founding members of Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, together with many other well-known Cuban musicians. This all-star big band would back singers such as Elena Burke and Omara Portuondo.
By 1973, Chucho along with other members of the Orquesta founded Irakere that bridged songo and Afro-Cuban jazz. He would simultaneously continue his solo career, eventually signing with Blue Note Records, which allowed him to realize international exposure.
In the late 1990s, he focused on his solo career, leaving directorship of Irakere to his pianist son Chuchito. He played occasionally with his father until his death in 2013. Since 2010, Chucho performs with a backing band known as The Afro-Cuban Messengers.
Pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger Chucho Valdés, whose career spans over 50 years, has received critical media acclaim, won five Grammy Awards, contributed two original compositions to Roy Hargrove’s Crisol band’s Havana project, and was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He has two dozen albums recorded as a leader and continues to perform, compose record and tour.
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Jon Ballantyne was born on October 8, 1963 in Saskatchewan, Canada and started playing piano at a very early age with formal study at the age of six. His father Fred a pianist and both parents jazz enthusiasts, he was listening to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Duke Ellington records from the time he was born. His mother also took him to see Oscar Peterson when he was five.
After the early years of trying to understand his father’s blues-based approach to piano, classical piano studies, and a stint in a garage rock band as a young teenager, Jon decided to immerse himself in jazz and won a scholarship to North Texas State University. As an honors student there, he was asked to play in small group formats with visiting artists Elvin Jones, Ron Carter, Joe Henderson, Nat Adderley, Michael Brecker, Emily Remler, Bob Mintzer and Peter Erskine.
He went on to study at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada with Dave Holland, Dave Liebman, Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Cecil Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, John Abercrombie, Don Thompson, Julian Priester, Karl Berger, Eddie Marshall and Steve Coleman. He also studied in New York with Barry Harris, Kenny Barron, Richie Beirach, Hal Galper and JoAnn Brackeen.
This led to a performance career sharing the stage and studio with Joe Henderosn, Roy Haynes, Dewey Redman, Pepper Adams, Billy Hart, Paul Bley, Phil Woods, Bill Goodwin, Drew Gress, Don Braden, Joe LaBarbera, Ray Drummond, Bennie Wallace, Avishai Cohen, Clark Terry, Jimmy Guiffre, P. J. Perry and a host of others.
An educator, Jon has conducted clinics at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Northern Colorado, McGill University, University of Toronto and Concordia University in Montreal. He has recorded nine jazz albums and received two Juno Awards. Based in Manhattan, pianist Jon Ballantyne continues to perform, record and lead a quartet featuring bassist Boris Kozlov, drummer Jeff Hirshfield and saxophonist/bass clarinetist Douglas Yates.
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Aaron Parks was born on October 7, 1983 in Seattle, Washington. He studied piano at the University of Washington at the age of 14 through the Transition School and Early Entrance Program as a double major in computer science and music. At 15 he was selected to participate in the GRAMMY High School Jazz Ensembles, which inspired him to move to New York City and transfer to the Manhattan School of Music.
During his final year in school Aaron began touring with Terence Blanchard’s band and recorded three albums with him for Blue Note Records, including the Grammy-winning A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). He went on to tour with Kurt Rosenwinkel, and he has recorded for Blue Note as a leader. He is a member of James Farm, a quartet with saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland.
Parks has seven albums to his credit as a leader, and more the two-dozen as a sideman working with Daisuke Abe, Amanda Baisinger, Walter Smith III, Kendrick Scott, Christian Scott, Gretchen Parlato, Lage Lund and many others. He can be heard on the soundtracks to Their Eyes Were Watching God and Spike Lee films Inside Man, She Hate Me and When The Levees Broke.
He won first place as a Cole Porter Fellow of the American Pianists Association, and third place at the Jas Hennessy Piano Solo Competition at Montreux and in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. Pianist Aaron Parks continues to compose, record, perform and tour.
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Norman Simmons was born October 6, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois. His childhood was filled with the sound of the big band era and he was captivated by the Duke Ellington Orchestra broadcasts he listened to over a neighbor’s radio. He started teaching himself at the family piano, progressing quickly and by age 16 enrolled in the Chicago School of Music, where he completed his studies in four years.
Simmons kept a steady gig leading the house trio at Chicago’s hottest jazz club, The Beehive, where his group would back touring greats like saxophonists Wardell Gray, Lester Young and Charlie Parker. He formed his own group in 1949 and began recording in 1952. Norman’s composition Jan was a hit for tenor saxophonist Paul Bascomb in 1953. In 1966 his arrangement of Ramsey Lewis’ Wade In The Water became a huge commercial success. Later, after leading a nonet at the C & C Lounge, Simmons began accompanying jazz singers in 1958 and quickly earned a reputation as an exceptional accompanist.
Norman became widely known for his work with vocalists Helen Humes, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Anita O’Day, Dakota Staton, Ernestine Anderson, Betty Carter, and Joe Williams, Norman has also performed and recorded nearly two-dozen albums as a sideman with Johnny Griffin, Red Holloway, Roy Eldridge, Harold Ousley, Warren Vache, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Scott Hamilton, Clifford Jordan, Von Freeman, Cy Touff, Victor Sproles, Wilbur Campbell, Al Grey and Bjarne Nerem.
Simmons’ arrangements have been heard through his work with Johnny Griffin on his White Gardenia and The Little Giant albums as well as Teri Thornton’s Devil May Care sessions. His personal catalogue is small only having five albums as a leader or co-leader.
As an educator he has taught at Paterson State College in New Jersey since 1982 and also participated in the Jazzmobile program for 20 years, fostering music education at New York’s public schools. Arranger, composer, educator, and pianist Norman Simmons continues to perform, record and tour and has been a member of the Ellington Legacy Band since 2002.
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Donald Ayler was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio on October 5, 1942, the younger brother of saxophonist Albert Ayler. He took up the trumpet as a child and went on to work with his brother in the mid-1960s but in 1967 had a nervous breakdown, which affected his brother’s life as well.
In 1970 his brother’s death affected him deeply. After that he worked with a septet in Florence but never led a recording session of his own. To this day, Donald remains best known for his jazz performance and recordings with his brother Albert.
Trumpeter Donald Ayler, who played in the free, avant-garde and mainstream genres of jazz, suffered a sudden heart attack on Sunday October 21, 2007, and passed away at home in Northfield, Ohio.
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