Jesús Valdés Rodríguez, better known as Chucho Valdés (born October 9, 1941), is a Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger whose career spans over 50 years. An original member of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, in 1973 he founded the group Irakere, one of Cuba's best-known Latin jazz bands. Both his father, Bebo Valdés, and his son, Chuchito, are pianists as well. He has won six Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards.
Chucho Valdés's first recorded sessions as a leader took place in late January 1964 in the Areíto Studios of Havana (former Panart studios) owned by the newly formed EGREM. These early sessions included Paquito D'Rivera on alto saxophone and clarinet, Alberto Giral on trombone, Julio Vento on flute, 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 Cachaíto and later Carlos del Puerto, and drummers Guillermo Barreto and later Enrique Plá.
In 1967, Chucho and his bandmates 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. In 1973, Chucho along with other members of the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna founded Irakere, an ensemble that bridged songo and Afro-Cuban jazz. He would simultaneously continue his solo career, eventually signing with Blue Note Records, which allowed him to get international exposure. As a result, Chucho's work has received universal critical acclaim from the media, winning five Grammy awards.
Chucho's father, Bebo, who attained a legendary status as the pianist and director the Tropicana Club orchestra and Orquesta Sabor de Cuba, fled Cuba in 1960, and did not record music again until the 1990s. In the late 1990s, Chucho decided to focus on his solo career, and his son Chuchito replaced him as the pianist/director of Irakere. Chucho and Bebo occasionally played together until the latter's death in 2013. Since 2010, Chucho performs with a backing band known as the Afro-Cuban Messengers.
Chucho has spent much of his time teaching younger generations, either in his homeland of Cuba at the Havana National school (with many famous musicians such as Herbie Hancock), or elsewhere.
Awards and honors
Chucho has won six Grammy awards: in 1978 for the album Live at Newport by Irakere; in 1998 for his contribution to the CD Havana by Roy Hargrove's band Crisol (formed in 1997), with two songs – "Mr. Bruce" and "Mambo para Roy" – written by Chucho; in 2003 for his album Live at the Village Vanguard; in 2009 for his collaboration with his father, Juntos Para Siempre; in 2011 for his album Chucho's Steps, and in 2016 for his album Tribute to Irakere: Live in Marciac.
On October 16, 2006, Chucho Valdés was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
In May 2011, Chucho Valdés was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music
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