Chucho Valdés playing in Hollywood, FL. Photo by Fernando González ©
The following is an excerpt of a chapter from the unpublished Mambo Influenciado: The Memoirs of Chucho Valdés by Chucho Valdés with Fernando González. As a longtime contributor to and former managing editor of JAZZIZ, I was happy to share with the magazine, with Chucho’s permission, this excerpt of his memoirs. The piece appeared in JAZZIZ’s 2021 Winter issue.
Three Pianos, Two Guitars and a Band From Cuba
The Newport Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall on June 28, 1978, had been billed as “Three pianos and two guitars.” Yet, as John S. Wilson noted two days later in his New York Times review, “All five were there — Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner on pianos, Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine on guitars. But by the end of the evening, they had almost been forgotten in the wake of an unannounced added attraction — Irakere, an 11-piece group from Cuba that had just been brought to New York by Columbia Records.”
Irakere’s appearance was the improbable result of a visit to Havana of a floating jazz festival aboard the cruise ship S.S. Daphne in May 1977. It was the first official U.S. visit to the island since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The truly all-star lineup included Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Earl “Fatha’” Hines and also Ry Cooder, who decades later would stir interest anew of Cuban musical traditions with his Buena Vista Social Club project.