Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes dies in Sweden at 94
MADRID — Renowned Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, a composer and bandleader who recorded with Nat “King” Cole, was musical director at Havana's legendary Tropicana Club and a key participant in the golden age of Cuban music has died in Sweden at age 94.
The news of his death was confirmed by Cincy Byram, the agent of Valdes' son Chuco Valdes, who is a well-known musician in his own right. A cause of death was not given.
The senior Valdes studied piano and later taught it to Chucho (Jesus Dionisio Valdes), who went on to become a founding member of the internationally acclaimed Cuban-based jazz band Irakere.
The father began playing accompaniments at Havana's famous night clubs in the 1940s. He then worked with singer Rita Montaner as her pianist and arranger from 1948 to 1957, when she was the lead cabaret act at the Tropicana.
His orchestra Sabor de Cuba also accompanied singers Benny More and Pio Leyva at the club. It was during this period that he and rival bandleader Perez Prado developed the mambo, a rhythmic style of dance music that swept the world. Valdes and his orchestra devised another rhythm called the batanga which he said helped differentiate his sound from Perez Prado's.
The senior Valdes maintained a parallel interest in jazz music and took part in many important sessions, some recorded on Cuba's renowned Panart label.
“I was a jazz musician from a very young age,” Valdes once said. “I started playing like the first jazz pianist I heard, a guy who was popular when I was a kid: Eddy Duchin.” He said other influences were Fats Waller, Art Tatum, and Bill Evans.
In 1958, he worked on Nat “King” Cole's album “Cole Espanol,” collaborating with arranger Nelson Riddle on the orchestral backing tracks that were all recorded in Havana. He also worked with singers Lucho Gatica and Mona Bell.
Following Fidel Castro's communist revolution in 1959, Valdes left Cuba, traveling to Mexico in 1960 accompanied by singer Rolando La Serie, but without his children.
Valdes said one day a revolutionary guard went to his house demanding the pianist accompany him to a plaza where Castro was giving a speech. “I asked if there was going to be music there and he replied to me that Castro was music,” he said, adding that he then knew it was time to go.
After a brief stay in the United States, Valdes set off on a European tour.
Valdes went to Stockholm in 1963 for a concert with the Lecuona Cuban Boys and fell in love with a Swedish woman, Rose Marie Pehrson, a cavalry officer's daughter.
They got married the same year and he settled in Sweden. He described it as the most important moment of his life.
“It was like being hit by lightning,” he said. “If you meet a woman and you want to change your life you have to choose between love and art.”
Valdes lived in Stockholm until 2007 where he often struggled to interest people in Cuban music and Latin jazz. He earned a meager living playing in restaurants, on boat cruises and in some of Stockholm's finest hotels, although he said he did once consider becoming a bus or taxi driver.
Valdes was not able to see his increasingly well-known and Cuba-based son Chucho until 1978 when he visited New York for the first time in 18 years and attended a concert.
The father often told an anecdote of how a Cuban regime minder came up to him after the concert and said, “See how well we have shaped your son?”
He said he retorted, “I'm very glad, but when was that? Because Chucho played piano at home with me when he was four years old and at 16 he joined a band called Sabor de Cuba, my band.”
Valdes' career got a late boost in 1994 when he teamed up with saxophone player Paquito D'Rivera to release a CD called “Bebo Rides Again.”
“All musicians want to be famous and I think I've recently experienced some of the biggest moments of my life,” Valdes told Svenska Dagbladet.
Nine years later Valdes worked with Spanish singer-songwriter Diego Cigala on “Lagrimas Negras,” a flamenco-jazz fusion style CD that won Best Record of the Year by the New York Times. The experience attracted him to Spain where he settled after leaving Stockholm.
Valdes then worked with Chucho to release the CD “Juntos para Siempre” (Together Forever) in 2009. The father and son toured Europe at least twice.
Valdes won five Grammy Award in the categories of Best traditional tropical album and Best Latin jazz albums: two for “El arte del sabor” in 2002, one for “Lagrimas Negras” in 2004 and two for “Bebo de Cuba” in 2006.
Asked how he found the energy to keep performing he said, “What else would I do? Watch TV? No, I'd rather play the piano. I will play until I die.”
Valdes is survived by wife Rose Marie, daughters Mayra and Miriam, sons Raul, Jesus “Chucho,” and Ramon (born in Cuba) and Raymond and Rickard, who are Swedish.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kent State provocation with ‘blood’ sweatshirt denied
- Pirates analyst Kent Tekulve recovering after heart transplant
- Steelers veteran defenders want young teammates to step up
- New approach on offense has Pirates in playoff contention this season
- Crosby appreciates his relationship with Penguins fans
- Pitt football coach Chryst refutes analyst Wannstedt’s opinion
- Steelers’ Brown combats disruptive defensive ploys
- Peters is thriving with help from sibling pairs, including star twins
- WVU suspends starting cornerback Worley indefinitely
- High school roundup: Penn-Trafford girls continue winning run
- Jury acquits Ford of assaulting police, deadlocks on other counts