Bebo Valdes: Influential pianist and bandleader

Seen as part of the old society following the revolution in Cuba, he left the country for good

The music of Cuba, and subsequently other Latin American countries, did as much to influence international pop music in the second half of the 20th century as jazz and blues did in the first half. The pioneers in this respect were Cubans such as Machito and Pérez Prado, who left the home country in the 1930s and 1940s, bringing their sounds to North American audiences.

The pianist and bandleader Bebo Valdes pursued a successful career while remaining in Cuba until the end of the 1950s. Resident musical director at Havana's Tropicana Club, when the city functioned as a more exotic Las Vegas for wealthy North Americans, he was credited with developing the mambo, which became internationally known after Prado emigrated in 1948. According to the much younger Paquito D'Rivera, whose musician father counted Valdes among the customers of his instrument shop, the pianist was influenced by the senior Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona, and especially by the intensity of his left-hand work.

The two-way communication with North American musicians, through their records and visits to Cuba, inspired Valdes's interest in jazz, and an example of his early playing is preserved in a 1952 studio jam session by “Andre's All Stars”, which was released in the US. In a commercial vein, he recorded with Nat King Cole on the album Cole Español (1958), for which he also coached Cole's pronunciation. More significantly, he taught from the age of four his son Jesus (nicknamed Chucho), subsequently famous as a piano soloist and leader of the band Irakere.

Following the Cuban revolution of 1959, Valdes was seen as representing the old society and he decided to emigrate without his wife or his five children, living first in Mexico and briefly in the US. On tour in Europe in 1963 with the band of Lecuona, who had also left Cuba, Valdes fell in love with a Swedish woman and started a new family. Earning his living by playing in hotels and restaurants, he remained a Stockholm resident for 45 years, toiling in happy obscurity.

Meanwhile, he was unable to see his pianist son for 18 years. When the American commercial embargo against Cuba eased under the Carter administration, and musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz went on sponsored trips to Havana, Irakere were allowed to perform in New York and Bebo travelled to see them there. But it was not until the mid-1990s that Bebo and Chucho first recorded together, the idea having come from Paquito D'Rivera, a former member of Irakere who had defected to the US.

The first attempt was declined by Chucho, but the resultant production Bebo Rides Again (1994) became the first recording in 34 years by El Caballón (The Big Horse), D'Rivera's nickname for Bebo. A successful reunion the following year in California, Ninety Miles To Cuba, included a single-take duet by the two pianists on the Cuban standard “The Peanut Vendor”. In 2000 they were seen in the Spanish director Fernando Trueba's film Calle 54, which included other Cuban musicians such as bass-player Cachao (Orlando Lopez) and the Puerto Rican timbalero Tito Puente.

Bebo went on to record further albums, gaining Grammys for El Arte del Sabor (2002) and Bebo de Cuba (2006), and he was filmed by Trueba in Brazil for the movie El Milagro de Candeal (2004). One notable and successful collaboration was with the Spanish singer Diego El Cigala, their album Lágrimas Negras being a combination of Cuban rhythms with flamenco vocals, which also won a Grammy.

A documentary about him, Old Man Bebo (2008), by the young filmmaker Carlos Carcas, won an award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and a final duo with Chucho was recorded in 2009 (Juntos Para Siempre/Together Forever). He also composed new music for Trueba's charming animated film, Chico Y Rita (2010), about the love affair between a pianist and a singer, based on incidents from his own life.

In 2007 Valdes moved to Spain, attracted partly by the weather and the language, partly by the proximity of Diego, Trueba and, at times, his son Chucho. He returned to Stockholm shortly before his death. D'Rivera has written that, unlike jazz musicians elsewhere who were content to imitate North Americans, Cubans “have been considerably more creative and original, and have contributed elements of their indigenous musical language to the jazz idiom,” naming Bebo as his earliest example. Valdes's own modest verdict, however, was: “All musicians want to be famous and I think I've recently experienced some of the biggest moments of my life.”

Dionisio Ramón Emilio Valdes Amaro, pianist and bandleader: born Quivican, Cuba 9 October 1918; married firstly Pilar (three sons, two daughters), secondly Rose Marie Pehrson (two sons); died Stockholm 22 March 2013.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home