Chucho Valdés and Paquito D´Rivera rehearsing for their reunion recording.

Paquito D’Rivera first heard Chucho Valdés at a jam session in Havana in the early 60s. Paquito was 13 at the time. Seven years his senior, Chucho was already “a monster pianist,” as Paquito recalled in his autobiography My Sax Life (Northwestern). It was the beginning of a friendship (and mutual admiration society, Chucho calls Paquito “a genius”) that, over the years, produced extraordinary work. They most notably collaborated in Irakere, the Afro-Cuban jazz-rock small big band that in the 70s, and for the next two decades, set a high watermark in Latin jazz.

Paquito defected while on tour with Irakere in Madrid in 1980 and eventually settled in New York. Chucho, the band’s co-founder, director, principal composer, and arranger, launched a parallel career to highlight his piano playing in 1998 but stayed with Irakere, off and on, until 2005.

For the past four decades, their individual careers continued building as stories of great achievement — but their paths crossed only occasionally. Even brothers have their differences, and their friendship went through trying moments, resulting, at times, in some distancing. But these past few days, the mutual affection, and their joy for having back their old compinche, their partner in crime, set the tone of the music, the rehearsals, and the recording sessions.

Yes, there were old war stories told and laughing involved.

The playing was also pretty good.

Pandemic permitting, it will be a treat having them share stages again.


The “family photo” at the end of the recording sessions at the University of Miami. From left to right, Diego Urcola (trumpet and trombone), Paquito D’Rivera, Chucho Valdés (yes, in matching shirts), Dafnis Prieto (drums), Roberto Jr. Vizcaíno (percussion), and Armando Gola (acoustic and electric bass)