Lágrimas negras para Bebo.
(Black tears for Bebo)
The legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés, famed as the founder of Latin Jazz, died at the age of 94 in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday 22 March 2013.
Born in Quivican, Cuba in 1918, Ramón Emilio Valdés Amaro became a central figure in Cuba’s golden age of jazz, and he worked as a pianist, bandleader and composer in clubs such as the world-renowned Tropicana Club in Havana.
Valdés also played a central role in the development of the Mamba and he became one of the most sought after jazz pianists of the 1950s, performing with some of the greatest artistes of the era, including Nat King Cole and Woody Herman.
After Fidel Castro’s victory in 1959, Valdés left Cuba believing that there was no place for him there after the revolution: he left his wife and five children behind and fled to Mexico City with the singer Rolando Laserie.
He lived for a brief period in the USA but eventually moved to Stockholm, where he was instrumental in the propagation of Afro Cuban and Latin Jazz music. He was to spend almost thirty years in exile in Stockholm, marrying again, and living a life of relative anonymity. Bebo earned his living a as pianist in the lounge of a hotel in Stockholm for more than twenty-years, before being persuaded to record again in 1994: This recording, Bebo rides again, was to re-launch him and his music, and was soon receiving world fame once again.
He went on to participate with Madrid born film-maker, Fernando Trueba, in the Latin jazz documentary called Calle 54 in 2000: it was during the filming of this celebrated documentary that he reunited with his son Chucho for the first time since leaving Cuba.
In 2001, he received a Grammy for the recording El Arte de sabor, however, one of the highlights of his new-career came when he teamed up with the Madrileño flamenco singer Diego el Cigala, to work on what was to become the award winning Lagrimas Negras.
Lagrimas Negras reached double platinum sales figures and was awarded five Spanish, and two Latin, Grammy awards. He toured extensively with El Cigala to promote the Cd, giving sell out performances to audiences worldwide, and they received rave revues and acknowledgements where ever they went.
Bebo continued to play the piano long after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and he spent his final years living in Benalmadena in Málaga; often in the company of his son Chucho, from whom he had been estranged for almost forty years, before music brought them back together.
A documentary about Valdés called Old man Bebo, won its director Carlos Carcas, the prize for Best New Documentary Filmmaker at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. Bebo’s music was again featured in a Fernando Trueba film, Chico y Rita, which was loosely based on Bebo’s life, and this animated film was nominated for an Oscar in 2012.
His last studio album, which he recorded with his son, was aptly named Bebo y Chucho Valdés; together forever, and on this recording, father and son, both giants in stature and in music, performed classics from the Cuban canon, including many of Bebo’s compositions.
He was one of the greatest jazz pianists of his era and his music had touched people around the world, especially in Spain where his fusion of Cuban jazz, coupled with the gypsy-flamenco voice of Diego el Cigala, made him a house-hold name.
He was the BB King of the piano, a man who shared his birthday with the late John Lennon, and a musician who earned an equal respect with whomever he performed: a gentle giant of Cuban music whose nimble fingers will be greatly missed from the keys of world music.