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Our ongoing series on the 2017 Jazz Gallery Gala honorees continues today with legendary Cuban pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdés.

Valdés grew up in a very musical family in Cuba—his father Bebo led the orchestra at the famed Tropicana Club in Havana. Chucho’s talent was clear from a young age, and he recorded his first record, Jazz Nocturno, in 1964 at the age of 23.

In the early 1970s, Valdés formed a band called Irakere featuring some of Cuba’s top musicians, including Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval. The group sought to create an organic blend of traditional Afro-Cuban forms with progressive jazz and the results were scintillating. Drummer and Gallery-regular Dafnis Prieto grew up watching Irakere on television. In a feature on Mr. Valdés in the New York Times, Prieto offered the following reminiscence:

I remember hearing and looking at so many different sounds and instruments. The batá drums from our Afro-Cuban tradition plus the American drum set, the electric bass and the guitar, the singer, the horns. Everything sounded so unique and fresh.

Despite the political divisions between Cuba and the United States, word of Irakere’s intoxicating blend of Latin dance music and virtuosic improvisation spread quickly overseas. In 1978, Irakere was signed to Columbia Records by Bruce Lundvall and performed at a special Newport Jazz Festival Concert at Carnegie Hall. The group’s debut record on Columbia, featuring recordings from that concert, won a Grammy the next year. Check out the group’s live show from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey in 1979 so get a sense of their infectious energy.

Over the ensuing years, Irakere became a finishing school for Cuba’s finest young musicians, much like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Valdés continued to record and tour regularly, stretching his music in new directions. In 1993, Valdés released a record of solo piano music for Blue Note, and a few years later, would perform solo in New York for the first time at the nascent Jazz Gallery through the work of co-founder Dale Fitzgerald. This began a long-running relationship with the Gallery, which became a sort of home-away-from-home for Valdés in New York. In summer 2003, Valdés was supposed to play a week at The Village Vanguard, but ran into visa issues. When Valdés was eventually able to enter the United States a couple of weeks later, he made up the shows at the Gallery.

Now 75 years old, Valdés shows no sign of slowing down, still bringing his distinct brand of Afro-Latin jazz to concert halls and festivals all over the world. Check out Valdés playing a spirited duo version of “Blue Monk” with fellow countryman Gonzalo Rubalcaba at this year’s International Jazz Day celebrations in Valdés’s hometown of Havana.

Please join us at the Player’s Club next Monday evening to celebrate Mr. Valdés and our other distinguished honorees. For more information about the event and tickets, please visit http://jazzgallery.nyc/about-2/2017-gala/

Design by The Jazz Gallery

Today, Jazz Speaks continues its series on the 2017 Jazz Gallery gala honorees with a feature on writer and producer Michael Cuscuna.

From working as progressive rock DJ to producing albums from artists as diverse as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Bonnie Raitt, Cuscuna has quite the wide-angle perspective on American music. It is this perspective that has made Cuscuna such a vital voice in the curation and preservation of jazz as a producer of reissues for Blue Note and his own Mosaic Records. In the interview below, Cuscuna describes his approach to putting together a strong reissue collection.

Cuscuna has three Grammy awards to his name—two for producing reissues of work by Nat King Cole and Billie Holliday, and a third for his liner notes in the complete set of the Miles Davis Quintet’s Columbia albums, 1965-1968. Todd Barkan, a producer-colleague of Cuscuna’s and former director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, offers the following recollection:

From his earliest years as a Philadelphia disc jockey through his world class production and a&r work for Atlantic, Impulse, Arista, Blue Note, Columbia, Sony, and his own Mosaic label, Michael has for over five decades provided an unfailing standard of excellence, taste, and integrity for all of us who work for and with this music.

When I first moved from San Francisco to New York in 1983, it was my longtime friend and colleague Michael Cuscuna who graciously and generously provided me a place to live for my first year of working here in the City. Michael has likewise created a vital and essential home for the best jazz music and musicians in the world during his entire distinguished career.

Please join us at the Player’s Club next Monday evening to celebrate Mr. Cuscuna and our other distinguished honorees. For more information about the event and tickets, please visit http://jazzgallery.nyc/about-2/2017-gala/

Design by The Jazz Gallery

Next Monday, May 15th, we at The Jazz Gallery are excited to host our annual honors gala, where we celebrate the vital contributions of jazz-world leaders from both on and off the bandstand. This year, our honorees include pianist Chucho Valdes, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, producer Michael Cuscuna, and administrator-philanthropist Arthur H. Barnes. This week at Jazz Speaks, we will be featuring stories about these luminaries and their work.

Arthur Barnes’s contributions to the life and culture of New York City have spread far and wide—from Gramercy Park to Police Athletic League ball courts and beyond. But as a life-long New Yorker, Barnes knows full well that jazz is one of the city’s cultural lifebloods. He has served on the Board of Governors for the Jazz and Contemporary Music Program at the New School and as chairman of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, helping spread the art form to new generations of players and listeners alike. Hank O’Neal, chairman of the Gallery’s Board of Directors, offers the following appreciation:

Arthur Barnes is a guy who gives a lot of himself and gets things done. On time, with as little bother as possible and in the process helps a lot of people and spreads good will, helping young people, jazz musicians and other civilians. I remember one day I was walking past the neighborhood police station on 12th Street that masquerades as the headquarters for the Police Athletic League. There were a couple of burly guys with heaters on their hips loading up a truck with something for a PAL event. I stopped to talk for a minute and asked what they were up to and one thing led to another and I mentioned I had a friend on the PAL Board. They looked at me suspiciously and said, “Who?” I said, “Arthur Barnes” and suddenly it was all smiles and “he’s the best” and things like that. I know what PAL does, but still don’t know what he did for them, but he must have done it well because those two guys knew all about it.

I first met Arthur in the 1990s when he joined the Board of Governors for the Jazz and Contemporary Music program at The New School. He didn’t just join it, he ran it for a few years and with him at the helm we had some our best Beacons In Jazz events. He turned the Board over to me and I tried, but he was much better at such things. We served on another Board together: the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. He ran that one as well, for about a decade. He didn’t turn that one over, thank goodness. It was far too complicated. Maybe even for him.

In early July 2003, I was in Los Angeles working on a documentary film and one segment featured Clint Eastwood and Ray Charles. It was shot at Charles’s RPM Studio and I still vividly remember Ray making his entrance. He had a lit cigarette in each hand. It was a tough interview because Ray was coughing a great deal, there were few takes that lasted more than a minute or two but the was still great energy and good feeling. A month or two later Arthur told me he’d hired Ray to take part in the HIP music festival he was organizing. I told him to make sure he had a sub because even though Ray sounded good and was playing well, he seemed a little fragile. He did and neither of us was surprised when Ray was unable to perform and died a couple of months later.

In 2008, I was finishing up the English language edition of my book The Ghosts of Harlem. I always try to get interesting or unexpected but appropriate people to write introductions for my books and one night it occurred to me the perfect choice was Representative Charles Rangle, who had represented Harlem in Congress for forty years or so. It took two phone calls, me to Arthur and Arthur to his high school buddy, who wrote a terrific introduction. It was so good that if you look up the book on Amazon it says the book is by Hank O’Neal and Charles Rangle. Maybe not, but it doesn’t bother me.

A couple of years ago Arthur celebrated his 85th birthday with a fine party at The National Arts Club, where he’s also on the Board. There were 85 guests and I was proud to be included. To say that Arthur is well connected is kind of an understatement. I was solo that night and found myself seated at a table with Mayor Dinkins and Congressman Rangle, who were not. A little latter we were joined by Governor Paterson and all three had a great time poking fun at Arthur and suggesting he shouldn’t get married at such an advanced age. Governor Paterson is Arthur’s godson; Congressman Rangle is his closest friend from high school. I don’t know exactly where Mayor Dinkins fits in; maybe he was or is a tennis partner. But if you want to get anything done uptown, clearly Arthur should be your first call.

Please join us at the Player’s Club next Monday evening to celebrate Mr. Barnes and our other distinguished honorees. For more information about the event and tickets, please visit http://jazzgallery.nyc/about-2/2017-gala/

Photo by Marc Minsker (Wikimedia Commons)

This Saturday, May 6th, The Jazz Gallery is proud to welcome saxophonist and all-around polymath Andrew White III back to our stage. White has traversed a huge range of music throughout his singular career, playing bass with Stevie Wonder and the 5th Dimension, oboe with the American Ballet Theater Orchestra, saxophone with Cannonball Adderley, transcribing the solos of John Coltrane, and leading his own multifaceted groups. Back in 2014, the Gallery hosted White’s first NYC show in over two decades and we’re pleased that he has continued to perform on our stage.

Before coming out to see Mr. White this Saturday, check out our wide-ranging interview with him, as well as this recent review from Michael J. West in the Washington Post. (more…)

Jonathan Finlayson. Photo by Everett McCourt.

In a recent interview with KXCL Radio in Missouri, trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson noted how busy 2016 had been, filled with residencies across the country with Steve Coleman and Five Elements, as well as the release of his second album with his band Sicilian Defense, Moving Still (Pi Recordings). 2017 hasn’t been a let-up either—over the next few months, Finlayson will play at the Village Vanguard twice (with Coleman and Mary Halvorson), travel to Europe with Coleman and guitarist Liberty Ellman’s group, and premiere new music by Henry Threadgill at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

But before Finalyson begins his summer of heavy touring, we at The Jazz Gallery are once again proud to welcome him and Sicilian Defense back to our stage, this Friday, May 5th. Featuring Miles Okazaki on guitar, Matt Mitchell on piano, John Hébert on bass, and Craig Weinrib on drums, this fleet-footed and endlessly-adaptable group has only grown tighter over the several years it has played together. Check out the tracks from their recent album below, but know full well that this only scratches the surface of what this top-flight ensemble can do in the moment.

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