Jazz, Main Stage

A Look Back at the Birth of Afro-Cuban Jazz with Chucho Valdés & Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Chucho Valdés is inarguably the godfather of modern Afro-Cuban jazz. When the legendary pianist founded his revolutionary band, Irakere in 1973, he didn’t know his ensemble would lay the groundwork for Cuban music to transcend political and musical barriers, and inspire generations of jazz artists.

One of these artists who looked up to Valdés is the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Twenty years younger than Valdés, Rubalcaba exploded onto the international jazz scene in the 80s with his Afro-Cuban fusion band, Grupo Proyecto.

Coming together for the first time as a piano duo in America, these two groundbreaking artists will only perform twice in America before touring across the major jazz centers of Europe. Using both of the New England Conservatory’s Steinway pianos at Jordan Hall, these two musical masters will perform with the pianos arranged face-to-face, communicating their musical passion and improvisations with each other and the audience. Their show Trance speaks to the profound musical collaboration and legacy the two pianists share.

Let’s take a look back on the legacies of Valdés and Rubalcaba, and the influences they’ve had on Afro-Cuban jazz:

From the Beginning: Irakere

Irakere is founded behind the Cuban Iron Curtain in 1973, and whispered about throughout most of 1970s. The group is launched into the consciousness of jazz lovers everywhere in 1979, after winning their first Grammy. This video was recorded in Venezuela in 1980, showcasing the breadth of instrumentation the supergroup utilized to bring Cuban music to the world. The same year, Irakere appeared at both the Newport Jazz Festival in New York City and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.


Rubalcaba & Gillespie

Dizzy Gillespie “discovered” Irakere on a jazz cruise to Havana in 1977. He also took a young Gonzalo Rubalcaba under his wing. Here, watch Rubalcaba in the mid-1980’s jam with Gillespie’s band on stage in Cuba.

Chucho Valdés “Irakere 40” at the Lugano Jazz Festival

Irakere, headlined by Valdés, is reimagined at 40. Highlighting the genesis of Afro-Cuban jazz, Irakere 40 revisited arrangements from the past, and broke loose with all-new arrangements of more recent works:


Two Masters Unite on Stage

Tracing their legacy through the decades, Chucho Valdés & Gonzalo Rubalcaba bring audiences their newest project, Trance. The Guardian calls the duo’s performance “immensely vivacious” with “collective swing.” Take a listen for yourself, and hear the legendary duo live in Boston on February 16 at NEC’s Jordan Hall.


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