Chucho Valdés on Bebo: "Teacher, father, friend"
Where does the coincidence end and the mystique begin? I often ask myself, when I check the time several times a day and see the clocks dialing the same number every time (3:33, 11:11, 5: 55 ...), or when I think about how likely it is that in In the same town a father and a son are born, on the same day of the year, both destined to decisively mark the musical history of their country through the piano.
October 9 is not only the prelude to the celebrations for the beginning of Cuban independence, but also the day that life, Bebo and Chucho Valdés had the pleasure of setting as their birthday date in their native Quivicán. In 2018, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Bebo and his 77, Chucho decided to return to his village to reencounter with his family and sentimental roots, to pay tribute with a concert at the local cinema to his father whose shadow grows with over the years.
After the stroll of rigor with the authorities of the town by the government and the church in which they gave him a copy of the christening party of Bebo-sí, visit to the church accompanied by local officials, in case the vindication of Bebo seemed to them a symbol too small of the change of the times-, Chucho arrived at a cinema Quivicán that for the man that has done of the Ronnie Scott and the Village Vanguard his habitual spaces must have been like returning to the youthful days of touching where there was a gap. But what does it matter that this is a room of a lost place in Cuban geography, if this is where Dulce embraces her, the 90-year-old lady who changed diapers as a child, if this is where people celebrate it from simple admiration? and honest, people may only know about Bebo and Chucho de oídos, but he feels that this gigantic man has done something important in life and it is from there. In the cinema there is a documentary about her work - something insipid for what she deserves -, awards and decorations, and a concert that was supposed to be her and ends up being a family download through which three generations of Valdés, four if we count the tutelary angel of Bebo, who surely observed everything pleased from some corner.
To all these, we had previously coordinated an interview with Chucho for that day. It was supposed to be a kind of road conversation, of those that are so well seen in documentaries, and I confess that I was a bit delighted to play to evoke memories while the trees, signs and asphalt were moving outside. But the reality wanted everything to be less glamorous, that we had to activate our paparazzi mode and pursue Chucho to Quivicán with the hope of interviewing him there, to finish talking once we returned to our starting point, the capital Hotel Nacional.
Luckily for us, Chucho Valdés is a gentleman by word, one of many traits that he shares with Bebo. After one o'clock in the morning, after the exhausting excursion to Quivicán, he sat down to talk with us about those ties more than familiar between him and his father.
For Chucho it is a bit difficult to separate the memories of Bebo Papa and Bebo musician; From a very young age he remembers it there, at the piano, practicing, writing, making arrangements.
It is not surprising that when the vocation began to pull, another relationship began between the two of them, then as musicians. While Chucho studied classical piano at the conservatory, Bebo introduced him into the ways of Cuban music and jazz. "To get to play with him, at 15 or 16 years old, in the orchestra, he taught me Cuban music at home," he says. "He taught me to play the basses and he did the tumbaos; and then he invested, and I made the tumbaos and he the low ones. So He was already a teacher, father and friend. "
It is common for children to see their father as their first hero, but in their case, who found the piano early and had a Bebo Valdés at home, is justified even more.
Bebo was an innovator, recalls Chucho. "He was one of the architects of the filin movement; In his early stages he was arranger of all of them. I saw José Antonio Mendez, in Portillo de la Luz, I saw everyone - Osvaldo Farrés, Arsenio Rodríguez himself, Lecuona, all those greats - who met in the house, to comment. He was arranging for José Antonio, the piano parts. The house was like a musical center, being a very small child. It was impressive to see José Antonio when he premiered My girlfriend, tell my dad: 'Look what I wrote yesterday'. The first arrangement of Contigo en la distancia Bebo did it. He did it to a very famous Cuban singer whose name was Olga Guillot "(it is a bit sad that nowadays it is necessary to clarify that Olga Guillot was a famous Cuban singer, but that's what it is).
After the initial years, specifically from 1960, the relationship between Bebo and Chucho Valdés, the relationship between Bebo Valdés and the physical Cuba, would have a hiatus. A hiatus of almost two decades, in which Bebo became an anonymous hotel pianist in Sweden and Chucho rose to fame as one of the most virtuous pianists of contemporary jazz. As is inevitable in this type of rupture, rebuilding the broken takes much more time.
From the initial reunion of 1978 until the death of Bebo in 2013, Chucho and Bebo will try to resume their musical and spiritual conversations. In this way, it is essential that perhaps it is the true reunion, that moment that Fernando Trueba picks up in the film Calle 54, in which the two meet after who knows how long and put their hands on two pianos. There, looking at each other and with an air of complicity that captures the film, both give one of the most beautiful versions that have ever been interpreted The troupe of Lecuona. On the one hand we have the sobriety and lyricism of Bebo, and on the other is the exuberance and passion of Chucho. The document captures as few the essence of Cuban music. Not for pleasure Trueba himself defines it as "the love story of the film".
For Chucho it was obviously amazing. "I wanted to hear what he was doing, rather than playing myself, right? Because I have not heard him like that for a long time, "he says. "There was also an intercommunication, because we did not rehearse any of that. We had the practice of a lifetime, when I was a child. He looked at me and I knew what he wanted. I laughed when he signaled to me because I knew which road I was taking. At that time we did not realize they were filming us. We moved to the house here in Havana, where we sat at the piano. And then we realized, when we finished, that it was a film. That's why it's so spontaneous. "
In his last years, in which he received a flood of recognitions and awards as a reborn star, Bebo lived with Chucho in Benalmádena, Málaga. Partly to take care of it, partly to recover something that maybe was already unrecoverable at that point. Fortunately, they were able to fulfill an old dream of Chucho, which was to record a record in duo. There we have the lovers of both styles the album Juntos para siempre, an album whose songs were all recorded in first shots and which, of course, won its Latin Grammy in 2009, but which for them was something more valuable, was to return home, to be, effectively, together forever.
With the passage of time, the figure of Bebo has been rearranged in the place it deserves in the history of Cuban music and in the recognition of the public. Maybe none of this would have happened if Chucho was not that giant he is, or if he had decided to cut ties with Cuba as his father did; Maybe without Paquito D 'Rivera and Trueba and Cigala and all those who were involved in his return to the stage, it would not be another entry in Cuban music encyclopedias.
When we asked Chucho if he would qualify his father as jazzman or interpreter tells us that "neither one nor the other. I would tell you two things. There are artists who come as limited edition, there are only a few. But he is not limited edition, but unique. That is one. As there is only one Snowball, nor is there another Rita Montaner. These are unique examples. It does not repeat anymore. " Luck that poetic justice exists.
Rafa G. Escalona
Certified Journalist. Father of a music magazine.