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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Eddie Duran was born Edward Lozano Duran on September 6, 1925 in San Francisco, California. He started learning to play piano at age seven, and switched to guitar by the time he was 12. After about seven months of lessons he began teaching to himself. Within his household was plenty of jazz growing up as his older brothers Carlo was a jazz pianist and Manuel was a jazz bassist.
Duran recorded as leader in 1956 with Fantasy Records, and around 1957, he was the guitarist in the CBS Radio Orchestra under the direction of Ray Hackett for the Bill Weaver Show. While playing with the CBS Orchestra, he met Ree Brunell and performed on her debut album, Intro To Jazz of the Italian-American. The album was the first LP recorded by the short-lived San Francisco Jazz Records label under the umbrella of the radio station.
Throughout the fifties he performed or recorded with his childhood friend Vince Guaraldi, as well as with Cal Tjader in his Mambo Quintet, and Stan Getz. In addition, Eddie was a featured performer and recording artist with several notable jazz combos that included his brothers. By 1960 he was leading his own trio for the next seven years but joined his brother Carlos on Benny Velarde’s 1962 album, Ay Que Rico. From 1976 to 1981 he was a member of Benny Goodman’s orchestras and octet.
Between 1980 and 1982, Duran recorded with Tania Maria, moved to New York City performing in a quartet that he organized and crossed paths with Getz again in 1983 while recording the Dee Bell studio album, Let There Be Love. The list of jazz artist he has performed with extends to Charlie Parker, George Shearing, Red Norvo and Earl Hines among others.
Eddie and his wife Mad (Madeleine) was initially a classically trained flutist, saxophonist and a music educator, continue to co-lead, perform and collaborate on five albums as well as individual endeavors.
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Guillermo Serpas was born on August 1, 1969 in San Salvador, El Salvador and grew up in an environment of rich musical tradition of legendary singers and masterful guitarists of the popular folklore. A gifted musician he was inspired him to learn the highly versatile and lyrical classical guitar. By his early teens he was studying with Maestro Candido Morales.
In 1983, the family moved to Calgary, Alberta bringing the young artist new artistic experiences to embrace. He immersed himself in the music genres of blues, jazz and rock. Guillermo soon joined several local bands and experimented with these different styles, while keeping his focus on classical guitar. He went on to acquire formal studies at the University of Calgary, graduating with a Bachelors Degree in music in 1996.
With his deep Latin roots ever present in his music Serpas has infused rhythmic elements of jazz, salsa, bolero, samba, blues and rock in his performing. Always present is the exotic percussion from his Latin American folklore creating a unique mosaic of sound. He released his debut recording Mi Sol y MI Luna in 2006 with his sophomore project following in 2011 titled Guitarra Bohemia. Guitarist Guillermo Serpas continues to perform, record and tour.
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Claudia Acuña was born July 31, 1971 in Santiago, Chile and raised in Concepcion. She was inspired as a child to perform a variety of music, including folk, pop and opera by Victor Jara and Violetta Parra. Her attention turned to American popular music and jazz at the age of 15 when she first heard Erroll Garner, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra. Upon returning to her birthplace in 1991, she quickly gained prominence on the local jazz scene through live performances and radio broadcasts with visiting artists.
By 1995, Acuña had decided to move to New York City and she began performing at jam sessions and clubs including the Zinc Bar, Smalls and with her own band at the Jazz Gallery. During this period she met pianist/composer Jason Lindner, who remains her musical director. She released her debut album, Wind from the South in 1999 for Verve Records followed by Rhythm of Life in 2001 and Luna in 2004.
In 2009 she moved to the Marsalis Music label and recorded her first session En Este Momento. Claudia has been featured on various recordings with Peck Almond, George Benson, Joey Calderazzo, Avishai Cohen, Mark Elf, Tom Harrell, Antonio Hart, Arturo O’Farrill and Guillermo Klein. She has been the co-curator of a Chilean music festival, the spokesperson for World Vision Chile, her cover of the Antonio Carlos Jobim tune “Suddenly” was featured on the soundtrack for the movie Bossa Nova.
Venturing outside the jazz medium the vocalist garnered substantial exposure by recording a single with House producers MKL and Soy Sos of 3 Generations Walking titled Slavery Days. Vocalist Claudia Acuña continues to perform, tour and record for her Cambridge, Massachusetts based record label, Marsalis Music.
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William “Billy” Taylor was born July 24, 1921 in Greenville, North Carolina but his family moved to Washington, DC when he was five years old. Growing up in a musical family, learning to play guitar, drums and saxophone as a child but most successfully on the piano. He took classical piano lessons with Henry Grant, who had educated Duke Ellington a generation earlier.
His first professional appearance was playing keyboard at the age of 13 and was paid one dollar. He attended Dunbar High School, the U.S.’s first high school for African-American students. He went to Virginia State College, majored in sociology but pianist Dr. Undine Smith Moore noticed young Taylor’s talent on piano, changed his major to music, graduating with a degree in music in 1942.
After graduation a move to New York City saw Billy playing piano professionally from 1944, first with the Ben Webster Quartet on 52nd Street. He met Art Tatum the same night, who became his mentor. He went on to perform with Machito developing his love for Latin music, a tour of Europe with the Don Redman Orchestra, and remained to work Paris and the Netherlands. Retuning to New York he worked with Bob Wyatt, Sylvia Sims and Billie Holiday in a successful show called Holiday on Broadway. A year later, he became the house pianist at Birdland performing with Charlie Parker, J. J. Johnson, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. He would become the longest playing pianist ever in the history of the club.
In 1949, Taylor published his first book, a textbook about bebop piano styles. In 1952 Taylor composed one of his most famous tunes, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, which subsequently achieved more popularity with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Nina Simone covered the song in her 1967 album Silk & Soul and the instrumental is used by the BBC for it’s long running television Film program.
Billy made dozens of recordings in the 1950s and 1960s, had a thriving broadcast career and in 1958, he became the Musical Director of NBC’s The Subject Is Jazz, the first ever television series focusing on jazz. The then new National Educational Television Network (NET) produced the 13-part series that hosted Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Rushing and Langston Hughes and others.
He founded the Jazzmobile in 1961 providing an arts education program via workshops, master classes, lecture demonstrations, arts enrichment programs, outdoor summer mobile concerts, special indoor concerts and special projects. Taylor worked as a DJ and program director on New York radio station WLIB, his trio was a regular feature of the Hickory House on West 55th Street, and from 1969 to 1972 became the first Black American to be musical director and lead a talk show band on The David Frost Show.
By the Eighties the Jazzmobile was producing shows for National Public Radio, receiving a Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting Programs. In 1981, after being profiled by CBS News Sunday Morning he was hired as an on-air correspondent and conducted more than 250 interviews with musicians. He received an Emmy Award for his segment on Quincy Jones. These are just two of the many awards he has received over the course of his career.
By the end of the decade he formed his own “Taylor Made” record label to document his own music. In 1997, he received the New York state governor’s art award. Suffering from a stroke in 2002 that affected his right hand did not stop him from performing almost until his death. He died after a heart attack on December 28, 2010, in Manhattan, at the age of 89. His legacy was honored in a Harlem memorial service on January 11, 2011, featuring performances by Taylor’s final working trio – bassist Chip Jackson, drummer Winard Harper and long-time Taylor associates Jimmy Owens, Frank Wess, Geri Allen, Christian Sands and vocalist Cassandra Wilson.
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