Chucho Valdés says closeness with father endures despite distance

Chucho Valdés admits it isn’t easy to live so far away from his father, legendary jazz pianist Bebo Valdés, who has lived in exile in Europe for the last 50 years. However, he says their “love endures distance and time.”

“His influence lives in my work 100 per cent,” Chucho Valdés said in a recent interview. “I practically owe my whole career to him — the whole education on what the jazz genre is, the Afro-Cuban music, the Latin American rhythms, the music from Brazil and also the big classics.”

The Cuban jazz musician, who’s touring the United States for the first time in seven years, recently released Chucho’s Steps, his first solo project in as many years. Recorded with The Afro-Cuban Messengers, the CD follows Juntos para siempre (Together Forever), the acclaimed production he created with his nonagenarian father that won the Grammy this year for best Latin jazz album.

Chucho’s Steps includes various tributes, like “New Orleans,” to the famous Marsalis jazz clan; the title track, which pays homage to John Coltrane and his masterpiece “Giant Steps;” and “Zawinul’s Mambo,” to Austrian pianist and composer Joe Zawinul, who Valdés cites as an integral inspiration for the development of his compositions and technique. “I love this album, it is a sample of the new work we are doing, the new artistic combinations of Afro-Cuban music and jazz,” Valdés said. “It is a tribute to many musicians and the audience and reviewers have responded very well to it.”

But Valdés, who is one of the most prominent pianists, composers and arrangers that have emerged from Cuba, is still awaiting his father’s approval. He said Bebo will likely listen this week and that he hopes he will like it: “It is in the line of my father’s style in some moments.”

Bebo left Cuba for Mexico in 1960, a little after Fidel Castro took power, because he didn’t agree with the regime. Eventualy he moved to Sweden, where he lived for 40 years before moving to Spain in 2007. Valdés, 69, said despite the distance between them, he sees his father, who taught him how to play the piano at the early age of 3, very often. They recently spent some time together in Málaga, Spain, where Bebo lives, and will spend holidays together there in December.

In the interim, he is excited to be back touring in the United States. “Here I cannot ask for more,” he said. “This is working well with the audience, the music is very profound and the reviews have been good, wonderful”.

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