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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Tata Güines was born Federico Arístides Soto Alejo on June 30, 1930 in, the poor town of Güines east of La Habana in the province of Havana in Cuba. He made his first drums out of milk cartons and sausages. But, by the 1950s he was working with such top Cuban musicians as Arsenio Rodriguez, Luciano “Chano” Pozo, Bebo Valdes, and Israel “Chachao” Lopez.
In the late 1950s he formed a band with the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn called Quinteto Instrumental de Musica Moderna, which was later changed to Los Amigos. Güines moved to New York City in 1957 and quickly immersed himself in the jazz scene paying with Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Miles Davis at Birdland. As a percussionist, he performed with Josephine Baker and Frank Sinatra.
Tata returned to Cuba in 1959 after Fidel Castro came to power in the Cuban Revolution which he helped fund by contributions from his earnings as a musician. For a while instrumentalists fell out of favor with the Cuban public and his popularity diminished. However, by 1979 his star began to shine once again with his work in the Estrellas de Areito sessions, recording for Egrem, the Cuban state record company, which revived the old descarga style.
By the 1990s, he was considered an old master and frequently toured. He recorded with the young conguero Miguel Diaz on the 1995 Pasaporte that garnered them the Egrem Album of the Year award, the equivalent of a Grammy in Cuba. He has played with pianist Bebo Valdes and singer Diego El Cigala Lágrimas Negras (Black Tears) that won a Latin Grammy, and has performed with saxophonist Jane Bunnett.
Conguero and tumbadora player, percussionist and composer Tata Güines, who during his career spanning six decades was known as the “King of the Congas” and who was important in the first generation of Afro-Cuban jazz, passed away on February 4, 2008 in his hometown of Havana.
Andrea Brachfeld was born on May 3, 1955 and grew up in a household where it was mandatory to take the piano. She began her study at age six for seven years but at age 10 she discovered she could I found out of class if she took flute. Adding the instrument to her lessons she entered the High School of Music and Art in 1969, majoring in the flute. There she met and played with, Noel Pointer, Nat Adderley Jr., Dave Valentín, as well as Angie Bofill, Kenny Kirkland, Fred Hersch and Rodney Jones among many other musicians. But it was Noel who taught her how to write music down.
She went on to attend the Manhattan School of Music and study with Hubert Laws, Jimmy Heath, George Coleman, and Mike Longo, who helped her develop her own improvisational style. She began her professional career as a musician at age 16, composing music for the quartet she put together. Her breakthrough moment came in performance as the flutist for the popular Latin band Charanga ’76, catapulted her into Salsa history and fame as the first female flutist to play this music in the United States.
Andrea has performed and recorded jazz, Latin jazz, Charanga, funk, country western, and devotional music. She received the Louis Armstrong Award, Chico O’Farrill Lifetime Achievement Award, the Pionero Award, and the Tribute to the Charanga Flutes. She has six CDs out as a leader, another 17 as a side woman and is a member of the Wallace Roney, “Universe” Orchestra playing Wayne Shorter’s long lost music originally written for Miles Davis.
She has presented her flute and composition workshops and has performed with Hubert Laws, Rufus Reid, Winard Harper, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Nestor Torres, Wallace Roney, Dave Valentín, Wycliffe Gordon, Hilton Ruiz, Steve Turre and Wayne Wallace. Flutist, piccolo player, composer and educator Andrea Brachfeld continues to perform and record.
Tito Puente was born Ernesto Antonio Puente on April 20, 1923 at Harlem Hospital in New York City and spent the majority of his childhood in Spanish Harlem. As a child his mother sent him to 25-cent piano lessons and by the age of 10, he switched to percussion, drawing influence from jazz drummer Gene Krupa. He later created a song-and-dance duo with his sister Anna in the 1930s, intending to become a dancer, but an ankle tendon injury prevented him pursuing dance as a career. When the drummer in Machito’s band was drafted to the army, Puente subsequently took his place.
After serving three years in the Navy during WW II, Tito used the GI Bill to study music at Juilliard School of Music, taking conducting, orchestration and theory. During the 1950s, Puente was at the height of his popularity, and helped to bring Afro-Cuban and Caribbean sounds, like mambo, son, and cha-cha-cha to mainstream audiences. He moved into more diverse sounds, including pop music, bossa nova and others, eventually settling down with a fusion of Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz genres that became known as “salsa” (a term that he disliked).
Tito has received the key to the City of New York, the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal from the Smithsonian and been inducted into the National Congressional Record. He has won five Grammy Awards, and won a Grammy at the first Latin Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Tropical Album for Mambo Birdland. He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 and has his timbales on display at theSmithsonian.
He has had a post office in Spanish Harlem named after him, an amphitheater in San Juan Puerto Rico, performed at the closing ceremonies for the 1996 Olympics, appeared as himself on the Simpsons episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,
In early 2000, he shot the music documentary Calle 54. After a show in Puerto Rico, percussionist, timbale player and bandleader Tito Puente suffered a massive heart attack and was flown to New York City for surgery to repair a heart valve but complications developed and he died during the night of May 31 – June 1, 2000.
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Carlos “Patato” Valdes was born on November 4, 1926 in Cuba and learned to play the conga in his native land. Moving to New York in 1954 he began playing around the city working with Willie Bobo in Harlem. Known by his nickname “Patato”, he invented and patented the tunable conga drum in the late Forties that revolutionized use of the instrument as earlier drums only had nailed heads.
Since the 1950s Patato is among the Congueros that were in highest demand in the Latin Music and jazz world. He played, toured and recorded together with singer Miguelito Valdes, Perez Prado, Tito Puente, Machito, Herbie Mann, Cachao Lopez, Cal Tjader, Kenny Dorham, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones among others. He also worked in the bands of and toured Europe with Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones and Mario Bauza.
Patato acted in and composed the title song of The Bill Cosby Show, contributed to the soundtrack of the film The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, gave Bridget Bardot mambo lessons in the film “And God Created Woman, led his own band Afrojazzia and toured Europe once again and mastered to the delight of his audiences, the art of actually dancing atop his congas during his performances.
For over 60 years Valdes demonstrated in his conga playing how a musician could combine technical skill with superb showmanship, fusing melody and rhythm, and understanding the rhythm is rooted in dancing. Carlos “Patato” Valdes, whose spontaneity and charm enabled him to bring together audiences of varied backgrounds and cultures to the Afro-Cuban rhythms and who Tito Puente once referred to as “the greatest conguero alive today”, passed away on December 4, 2007 in New York City.
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