Bebo Valdés is the last remaining giant from the Golden Age of Cuban music. In 1952 he recorded for American producer Norman Granz the first Cuban Jazz jam session in Havana. His big band, Sabor de Cuba, was one of the island's finest. Additionally, he was pianist for the Tropicana orchestra, and music consultant for the fabled cabaret. He performed on Nat King Cole's best-selling album Cole Español, and taught the American vocalist how to sing in Spanish. Mr. Valdés was the Quincy Jones of his day, writing charts for the island's top vocalists, including Olga Guillot, Rolando Laserie, Celeste Mendoza, Fernando Alvarez, Xiomara Alfaro, Celia Cruz, Pío Leyva and Beny Moré. Along with René Hernández, Chico O'Farrill and Pérez Prado, Mr. Valdés is widely considered to be one of mambo's signature arrangers. His own rhythm, batanga, featured the sacred Afro-Cuban batá drums for the first time in a big band setting, and was considered to be years ahead of its time.
Mr. Valdés left Cuba in 1960 and worked briefly in Mexico and Spain as music director for a variety of singers (Lucho Gatica) and labels (Hispavox), before touring Europe with The Havana Cuban Boys. It was on that tour, in 1963, that he met his current wife in Stockholm. He raised a family in Sweden and slowly faded from the limelight, touring the Arctic Circle and playing piano bars. It was Paquito D'Rivera who coaxed him back to the recording studio in 1994 for the comeback album, Bebo Rides Again, setting in motion one of the most remarkable third acts in music history.
Mr. Valdés was one of the featured artists in Fernando Trueba's 2000 Latin Jazz documentary, Calle 54, where he performed memorable duos with Cachao and son Chucho, of Irakere fame. While in New York, he recorded El Arte Del Sabor, which earned him his first two Grammys. Two years later came Lágrimas Negras, his million-selling record with Flamenco vocalist Diego "El Cigala". To date, Mr. Valdés has won a total of 7 Grammys (2 American and 5 Latin). His current U.S. release, Live At The Village Vanguard, recorded with Spanish bassist Javier Colina, is presently nominated for a Latin Grammy.
Mr. Valdés turned 90 on October 9th, 2008.