Dressed in a green, striped flannel shirt and a blue backwards cap, Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés walked onto the stage looking like an ordinary man. That is, until he started playing the piano, making the word “ordinary” an insult.
“It’s the best of jazz pianists,” said Julie Greene, marketing director of the Staller Center. “Chucho Valdés is a legendary artist. For students who have never seen jazz before, they can have the best of the best.”
Valdés performed January 29 in the recital hall of the Staller Center at Stony Brook University, with songs from his latest album, Chucho Steps, winner of the 2011 Grammy award for Best Latin Jazz Album.
“He plays to his own music,” said Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center. “He really connects with the audience. There’s nothing more exciting than him playing our recital hall. He’ll bring to us a night of great Latin jazz and great high-level jazz.”
Valdés is on tour in the United States and is performing at Carnegie Hall in New York. His band, the Afro-Cuban Messengers, uses piano, cello, drums, bass, trumpet and saxophone, and his sister, Mayra Caridad Valdés, provides the vocals for the group.
“Just look at the inspiration and passion,” said audience member Stacey Torrann. “I just think that they’re trying to express their culture through their instruments. It’s like going back to Cuba with that percussion session.”
A multiple Grammy-winner, Valdes has performed with some of the greatest jazz musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea and Herby Hancock. The New York Times named him, “the Dean of Latin Jazz” and “one of the world’s greatest virtuosic pianists.” Valdés attributes his Afro-Cuban roots as the main influence of his music.
“The majority of what people take is the African-Cuban rhythms mixed with jazz,” he said. “The rhythm that I bring is what they take with them.”
Valdés performed a number of songs, including “Obtabla,” which received a standing ovation. But what enchanted the audience the most was the contribution of the band. Audience member Jacqueline Corkey described the band members as “possessed” as they played.
“It was painful not to dance,” she said. “The music is all about the rhythm. They’re marvelous.”