At this week’s San Francisco Virtual Jazz Festival, SFJAZZ streams a tribute to one of the most important and influential figures in Cuban music – pianist and composer Ernesto Lecuona. He is honored by three of today’s greatest Latin Jazz pianists – Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Michel Camilo – in a concert recorded at an SFJAZZ concert in May 2017.
Ernesto Lecuona was a prolific composer who probably wrote close to 1000 songs – numbers such as Malagueña, Andalucia (popularly known as The Breeze and I), Siempre en Mi Corazon (You are Always in my Heart), La Comparsa and Noche Azul – but he also composed operettas, ballets and an opera.
Originally taught to play the piano by a sister, Ernesto Lecuona was first known as a concert pianist, having furthered his studies in Paris with none other than Maurice Ravel, but his career took off in the 1930s, during which Lecuona composed the scores for four MGM films, and his group – known as the Lecuona Cuban Boys – enjoyed a highly successful tour of America. Lecuona was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1942 film Always in My Heart, and in 1943 became the cultural attaché to the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC. After the War, he returned to his farm in Cuba, but left in 1960 following Castro’s revolution, and never performed publicly again. He died while on holiday in the Canary Islands in1963.
Cuban pianist, composer and arranger, Chucho Valdés – a highly respected figure in modern Afro-Cuban jazz – is known for his distinct style which, apart from Afro-Cuban jazz, incorporates elements of classical and rock music. “One of the world’s great virtuosic pianists”, says The New York Times, he’s won six GRAMMY® and three Latin GRAMMY® Awards, of which the most recent was Tribute to Irakere: Live at Marciac, a celebration of the 40-year success of the band of which he was co-founder – with Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval – and which he directed.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba – described by The New York Times as “one of the greatest musicians in jazz …. a pianist of almost supernatural abilities” – was born into a musical family in Havana, and initially trained as a classical pianist, obtaining a degree in music and composition from Havana’s Institute of Fine Arts. He now tours internationally as a solo pianist – both jazz and classics – and as a band leader, having developed a unique style. In 2002 he won two Latin GRAMMY© Awards – for co-production, with bassist Charlie Haden, for their album Nocturne on the Verve label, and his Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio won the award for Jazz Album of the Year for their album Supernova (Blue Note Records). His 15 GRAMMY® nominations include five for Jazz Album of the Year.
Pianist, composer, bandleader and producer, Michel Camilo is said by Jazz Review to be “one of kind when it comes to piano jazz explorations, and his unique playing style is all his own”. With a doctorate from Berklee, a Latin Grammy Award for the 2000 Verve album Spain and a 2004 GRAMMY in the Best Latin Jazz Album category for Live at the Blue Note, he is known for his brilliant technique, his artistry and virtuosity – spanning jazz, classical, popular and world music. At the age of 16 he became a member of the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, and made his debut as a conductor of the Orchestra in a recital in 1987, the year in which he became musical director of the Heineken Jazz Festival, a post he held through 1992.
The Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona by Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Michel Camilo can be seen on the SFJAZZ Fridays at Five session on June 25th at 5.00 pm (PT), 8.00 pm (ET), and for night owls, at 1.00 am (BST) and 2.00 am (CEST). Access to Fridays at Five – along with the Virtual San Francisco Jazz Festival – is available with SFJAZZ Digital membership, starting at just $5 per month, and $50 annually. For more details, visit the SFJAZZ website.
Also this week, SFJAZZ is streaming the High School All-Stars Virtual Summer Concert – on Thursday, June 24th. Free to view, this performance comprises two ensembles – the Big Band, led by Paul Contos, and the Combo, led by Dann Zinn.
The SFJAZZ High School All-Stars is a pre-professional training program for high school jazz musicians in the Bay Area, providing students with mentorship and clinics with leading jazz professionals. Normally, the students rehearse and perform at the SFJAZZ center, get to record a studio album and appear at music festivals and competitions. Things have been a bit different this year, though, which has meant that the students have had to rehearse outdoors, in distanced sections, or via video conferencing. Nevertheless they’ve put together this fabulous online performance which can be accessed via the SFJAZZ website at 5.00 pm (PT), 8.00 pm (ET), 1.00 am (BST) and 2.00 am (CEST) on Thursday, June 24th.
Information sourced from:
SFJAZZ program notes
Ernesto Lecuona AllMusic