Influential Latin Jazz Maestro Bebo Valdes Dies at 94

Bebo Valdés
Bebo Valdés
Dionisio Ramón Emilio Valdés Amaro, better known as Bebo Valdés, died in Sweden today. Although his regular residence was in Benalmádena (Spain), he traveled to Sweden two weeks ago to be close to some of his children who live in Sweden. He was 94 years old.

Bebo Valdés was a legendary pianist, composer, band leader and arranger who helped shape Cuban music for the last 60 years. His son is the renowned pianist and composer Jesus “Chucho” Valdes.

Bebo Valdés was born on October 19, 1918 in Quivican, Cuba. His family had Spanish and African roots. He graduated from the Conservatorio Municipal in Havana in the 1940s and worked as an arranger with legendary composer Ernesto Lecuona.

Bebo began his career as a pianist in Havana nightclubs during the 1950s. In June 1952, he started performing at the RHC Cadena Azul, (a radio station with 11 branches throughout Cuba, second in the national rating, then owned by Amado Trinidad Velasco), where the world debut of a new rhythm, Batanga, took place. After the first show on Sunday, June 14, at 1.30 p.m., the following Sundays in June he performed at similar times, promoting the new rhythm. He performed daily along with his 22-piece band, from 8.00 to 8.30 p.m.

Bebo Valdés became the director of the famous Tropicana Club in Havana in the pre-Castro years. He explained that in 1963 he had to “decide between love and art” and chose the first, getting married in Stockholm. He stayed in Sweden and spent nearly 30 years in anonymity.

In 1994, Cuban musician Paquito D´Rivera invited him to record an album. The release was titled Bebo Rides Again and featured a selection of Cuban classics together with original pieces by Bebo Valdés.

Bebo regained his status as an essential Cuban musician when Spanish film director Fernando Trueba featured Bebo in his film Calle 54 in 2001, after so many years out of the recording studios.

Bebo Valdés and El Cigala
Bebo Valdés and El Cigala
It was Trueba who had the idea of putting Bebo Valdés (85 at the time) and Flamenco singer El Cigala (who was 35), together to record Lagrimas Negras, an all-time classic album that recreates songs such as “Lagrimas Negras”, “Corazon Loco”, “Se me olvido que te olvide” and “La bien paga”.

Lagrimas Negras became Bebo’s best known collaboration. Bebo and Diego El Cigala used boleros as their medium, Spanish as their language, and together they created Afro-Cuban influenced boleros with a distinct flamenco personality. Lagrimas Negras has become an international best seller, with over 700.000 copies sold all over the world, 300.000 in Spain.

In 2003 Bebo Valdes received the Donostia Award at the 38 edition of San Sebastian Jazz Festival (Spain), classified by him as the “best in the world.” Valdes received the award from San Sebastian city mayor Odon Elorza, at the City Hall, with the presence of El Cigala, with whom Valdes performed at the Festival.

Bebo and Chucho Valdés
Bebo and Chucho Valdés
Bebo recorded eight albums for Trueba’s Calle 54 Records and also appeared together with Brazilian star Carlinhos Brown, with a leading role in the documentary El milagro de Candeal, filmed in the Candeal favela in Salvador de Bahía (Brazil). Bebo’s CD Bebo De Cuba (Calle 54 Records) won a 2006 Latin Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album.

After many years of separation, Bebo and his son Chucho were reunited and recorded Juntos Para Siempre (‘together forever’) in Spain.

One of Bebo’s last works was the soundtrack for the animated film ‘Chico y Rita’ featuring illustrations by Javier Mariscal. This movie was nominated for an Oscar in 2012.

During the past years, Bebo resided in Benalmádena, in southern Spain’s famed Costa del Sol. His son Chucho also moved there in 2011 to be closer to his father. Bebo never missed a chance to praise his son Chucho Valdés’ qualities, whom he called superior to him concerning musical taste and “absolute ear“, although Chucho only modestly replied that he was nothing but “his follower, his sequel.”

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