Legendary jazz pianist Chucho Valdes uses ‘universal’ language to connect US and Cuba

An eager audience and applause filled the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts as legendary Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés took the stage with his band.

“He performed with this amazing band and each one of them was probably in their early 20’s and some of the greatest jazz musicians in the planet,” said Neale Perl, President and CEO of the Scottsdale Cultural Council.

The live performance was part of the Center’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“Music is the universal language,” Chucho Valdés said in an interview before the event.

The 8 time Grammy winning Latin Jazz artist serves as an unofficial ambassador now that the U.S. and Cuba are rebuilding their tattered relationship. Even during the embargo the past five decades, the music shared across rough waters did not lose its tempo.

A composer and arranger with a successful career spanning more than 50 years, Valdés began playing piano when he was three years old.

“The ideal situation is to have talent and develop it through education, preparation and sacrifice,” Valdés said.

Though reluctant to discuss the politics and policies that divided the U.S. and his native Cuba he’s happy to talk about people who have formed a bond through his music.

“In many places, in and out of Cuba, people remember me, hug me, and talk to me about specific pieces I have played on the piano,” Valdés said.

Sometimes the connections are personal.

At one performance Valdes recalled a girl hugged him and said her parents saw each other for the first time at one of his concerts.

“Her mother and dad met, went out, got married and then she was born. How powerful is music?”