Here in South Florida, we’re somewhat spoiled when it comes to Latin music. As the Gateway to the Americas, our region has long attracted musicians from Latin America and the Caribbean, from the mambo craze of the 1940s and ’50s to the Latin-pop explosion spearheaded by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine in the ’80s. Artists such as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz found adoring audiences here, the latter of whom, following her death in 2003, had her body brought to Miami for a public viewing before she was buried in New York City. Quite naturally, due to our proximity to the island 90 miles due south, Cubans — many of them forced into exile by the Castro regime — have contributed enormously to the cultural tapestry of our area.
Hard-won triumphs are woven into the stories of South Florida-based Cuban pianists Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, both of whom are profiled in this issue. Valdés’ father, pioneering Cuban jazz pianist Bebo Valdés, lived in exile in Sweden for decades, leaving behind a family and a home he loved dearly. Nearly 20 years would pass before he had the opportunity to reunite with Chucho, when the younger Valdés’ band Irakere performed in New York. Their moving reunion is chronicled in a chapter from an unpublished memoir written by Chucho Valdés with former JAZZIZ
editor Fernando González. González also spoke to the maestro, who recently turned 80, about a new work he was about to premiere at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami and other cities around the world.
Rubalcaba’s journey was equally fraught. In Cuba, jazz was all but forbidden, deemed the music of the “enemy” (i.e., the United States). And yet, Rubalcaba’s talents would not be denied, as he caught the ears of American jazz giants Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Haden, who endeavored to bring him to the U.S. despite political blowback from both countries. The pianist finally managed to wrangle a work visa and exhilarated audiences in the States, even as Cuban exiles protested outside his concerts in the early ’90s. Eventually, the furor died down and Rubalcaba, a Grammy winner and critical favorite, put down roots in South Florida, raising three kids in suburban Coral Springs. In this issue’s Traditions column, Rubalcaba talks about reuniting with longtime friends and champions, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, with whom he recently released a trio album.
Since its inception, jazz has embraced what Jelly Roll Morton called “the Spanish tinge,” which was particularly pronounced in New Orleans. A favorite son of the Crescent City, Wynton Marsalis has long realized the importance of Latin music in the fabric of jazz, and he leans on bassist Carlos Henriquez to make sure the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra plays it correctly. Henriquez, also profiled in this issue, shows love for his Nuyorican upbringing on his recent album, The South Bronx Story
. And, expanding our reach into South America, Peruvian vocal legend Susana Baca discusses the cultural and political passions fueling her latest recording, Palabras Urgentes
A multifarious mural comprising many cultures and colors, jazz is difficult to imagine without the signature contributions of Spanish-speaking peoples. Nor would we want to — Michael Fagien