Gonzalo Rubalcaba – DAGA at Mancini 2 – “Joan” by Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba perform “Blue Monk” at International Jazz Day La Havana

Herbie Hancock on Chucho Valdes and Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Herbie Hancock at the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert From Havana Cuba April 30, 2017

Playing jazz is a moment of shear beauty where everything comes together, creativity, spirit wisdom hopefulness amazing grace … like Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdes… two of the most gifted jazz pianists of all time. Blending tradition with innovation, power with elegance, haunting lyricism with subtle beauty, these two icons represent the best of jazz. Throughout their dynamic careers they pushed boundaries, expanding the possibilities of jazz, sculpting sounds that bring vitality and passion to the music.

Their performance this evening epitomizes co-operation, an essential ethic of jazz and the definition of jazz day. They’ve uplifted the spirits and soothed the souls of legions of fans who find courage empowerment and deliverance within their music. – Herbie Hancock


Gonzalo Rubalcaba y Chucho Valdés en premier mundial en La Habana

Gonzalo Rubalcaba y Chucho Valdés en premier mundial en La Habana



Engaging in a 90-minute conversation with Gonzalo Rubalcaba can be a little overwhelming, something like listening to one of this great pianist’s performances. He begins by mentioning his recent tour of Poland with a singer he knows there, Anna Maria Jopek. This casual reference leads to a discussion of the tangos they performed – yes, Polish tangos, which, he says, are fundamentally similar to Argentinian tangos as well as to the tangos he heard as a boy in Cuba. In fact, Rubalcaba, who is 53, felt so comfortable performing Polish tangos with Jopek – so culturally at home — that he began slipping a danzon composed by his grandfather, Jacobo Rubalcaba, into their shows. And now, as he mentions his grandfather’s legacy, memory guides the pianist toward his own Havana upbringing in the 1960s and ‘70s: his immersion in Cuban folkloric and popular music and the fact that his first instrument was the drum — as well as the fact that his conservatory teachers, most of them from the Soviet Union, regarded the rhythmic music of the streets with disdain. Even so, his compositional training remains profoundly important to him: He currently is “recomposing” a symphonic work that he wrote as a student at the National School of Arts in Havana, in 1983. And now – neatly bringing the conversation full circle — he mentions that his main composition teacher there, the Cuban composer Roberto Valera, was trained in Poland.

Actually, that was just the first 10 minutes of the conversation, which also touched on Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Haden, two of his early jazz mentors. But those few minutes are enough to give a sense of how Rubalcaba’s mind informs his musicianship: the intellect and focus, the marshaling of vast amounts of information, which he decodes to create musical stories told with precision, with an accumulating energy that arrives with a rhythmic jolt, and – increasingly as he gets older – with exquisite touch, with charm and reflection: “The music that we play today should reflect the journey of our lives,” he says.

All of those qualities should be in play next month (May 25-28) at SFJAZZ as Rubalcaba joins two other virtuosos – pianists Chucho Valdes and Michel Camilo – in a tribute to the pianist and composer Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963), whose canon is synonymous with Cuba’s pianística tradition. Every Cuban pianist must come to terms with Lecuona, whose music bridged the popular and classical worlds; his renown as a composer in Latin America is often compared to that of George Gershwin in the United States. He penned popular hits: “Malagueña” is instantly recognizable to almost anyone. But he also composed symphonic works and piano suites, matching harmonic subtleties with infectious ostinato bass lines, never losing sight of what Rubalcaba calls the “essence of Cuban music, the black factor, the African roots. In Cuba we found a way to explore and develop all those roots together with the European classical music, and together with the music of other countries, like Mexico, and with America’s jazz culture. This may be the big benefit that Cuban music has – the openness to collaboration, accepting influences from the outside without being afraid of losing what we have. We believe it’s important to be in contact with what is out there.”

For Rubalcaba, Lecuona offers a template for going “out there” in so many ways.

“Lecuona was a complete musician,” he explains. “He used to play his own music, but he was also able to play Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Chopin, Schumann. He was able to compose for different types of ensembles – chamber music, symphonic music — and he wrote I don’t know how many songs, with lyrics, many of them very famous in his time. And then he also became a businessman, who created this amazing” – he pauses, searching for the right word – “this amazing corporation. He made a huge show with his orchestra and singers and dancers and they were able to tour around the world,” stopping at Carnegie Hall in 1953. “So he worked many directions in his life, and I think he’s a great example of how much you can do in life when you really are focused.”

Rubalcaba could be describing his own work ethic.

In September, he performed a Bartok concerto with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. In the following months, he performed with Chick Corea. He toured Europe with his New York-based quartet, paying tribute to Haden. He recorded with Jopek and is now about to record with the Spanish flamenco singer Esperanza Fernandez, with whom he has an ongoing collaboration. He also is going on the road with Valdes; on April 30, the duo will perform at the International Jazz Day celebrations in Havana, and they, too, plan to make an album. There is much more: Rubalcaba is increasingly drawn to video projects. He has been learning about electronics and ambient sounds from his 27-year-old son Joao, a music producer in Brooklyn.

And somehow Rubalcaba, who lives outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida, finds time to teach at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami – all of this adding up to what for most people would be an exhausting regimen. For many years, he practiced six or seven hours at a stretch, every day. No more: “Now I cannot do that. Maybe my neck hurts. Maybe my hips hurt,” he says, sounding amused. “So now I have to split the six or seven hours in different parts of the day. I spend 2.5 hours, and then I stop and I compose or I do this or that and later I come back to the piano and I do 2.5 more. The point is to learn how to get important results without ignoring the reality of your body and your mental state.”
Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Michel Camilo pay tribute to Ernesto Lecuona, only at SFJAZZ May 25-28.

Certain words keep coming up in the conversation: discipline, responsibility, focus.

“My mother was the first person who really put me on this track,” he says. “She was a sweet person, but at the same time she was a very strict person.” He pauses, then adds, “It was impossible to negotiate with her.”

Yolanda Fonseca, his mother, allowed for normal activities: toys, TV, playing with friends. But in school, as in music, Gonzalo learned not only to put in the time, but to “get the best results. You need a plan, or you’re losing time.” This applied to his health, as well. He was asthmatic as a boy: “I had problems with the blood and with my breath, all kinds of problems and – look, I was always in the hospital, but I never lost a year to school. Again,” he reiterates, “my mother was clear that we had to find a way to get out of those health problems.” (Around age 12, he began running, avidly, along the ocean, which made all the difference). “We cannot ignore what you must continue doing in your life, she told me, and that included school and my preparation and training.”

His father, Guillermo Gonzalez Rubalcaba, was a pianist who played with Enrique Jorrin, the violinist credited with inventing the cha-cha-cha. Gonzalo began piano studies around age eight or nine, but he already was playing drums – and played them in the family band into his teens. His parents’ living room was a musicians’ hangout and rehearsal space where he met many of the period’s eminent figures: vocalist Omara Portuondo, pianist Frank Emilio Flynn and Los Van Van drummer Changuito. The latter blew Rubalcaba’s mind, playing scales on coconuts and inventing rhythmic structures that seemed to arise out of Changuito’s “different mental structure.”

Early on, Rubalcaba internalized the perspective of a drummer: “It’s part of my innards. That is the instrument that took me into the music,” he says.

He also was listening to his father’s Art Tatum and Charlie Parker records. After Cuban folkloric music and European classical studies, American jazz improvisation – Keith Jarrett later became a key influence — added a dimension to his playing that took him “into orbit.” By age 17, he was touring Europe with Orquesta Aragon, the venerable charanga outfit, and felt ready to ditch his schooling. It was his mother who insisted that he return to conservatory to study composition.

It made him a more complete musician.

That’s what Gillespie, Haden and other American jazz musicians recognized in him when they began to visit Cuba in the mid-1980s and discovered Rubalcaba – he was the complete package.

By the time he left Cuba in November 1991 – Fidel Castro’s government allowed him to move to the Dominican Republic, where he stayed five years before moving to Florida – Rubalcaba was a certified phenomenon. When he played “Giant Steps” at a festival in Japan in 1992 – you can watch it on YouTube — the musicians standing at the side of the stage, including Michael Brecker, appeared mystified by his prowess.

Back then, Rubalcaba played with an urgency and confidence that verged on cockiness: “When we are young, sometimes we believe that we know a lot,” he comments.

These days, he tends toward a less bravura posture: “It’s impossible for me to play in the same way that I played 20 or 30 years ago. Even if I wanted to, I cannot repeat that, because this is a different reality, a different moment. I’m the same person, the same essence. But I have more experiences, more stories behind me, and all these things are reflected in my music.”

He has three grown children and a wife, Maria, of 31 years. Time passes and he has come to think of himself as “a transmitter” of music, continuing the work of his grandfather and father, who “preserved the memories and the meaning” of the Cuban music of their eras. He will do the same for his own era, for “there’s a spiritual factor in the practice of the music that we cannot avoid. At the end, what is present there is our spirit. It’s who we are.”

  • Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona w/ Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Michel Camilo coming to SFJAZZ May 25-28. Tap here for more info.

La Universidad de Miami dedica una serie de conferencias a la cultura cubana

Miami | 

“El cubano se resiste a homenajear la tristeza”, aseguró el pianista y compositor Gonzalo Rubalcaba en la última edición de los Cane Talks celebrada este jueves en la Universidad de Miami (UM) y que tuvo como objetivo dar a conocer el patrimonio cultural de Cuba y su relevancia para el resto del mundo, gracias a tres ponentes de origen cubano.

Los Cane Talks, inspiradas en los conocidos Ted Talks, son presentaciones de diez minutos y pensadas para que destacadas personalidades compartan sus experiencias. Inspiradoras y humanas, las intervenciones buscan motivar a la comunidad sobre una amplia variedad de temas.

Michelle González Maldonado, profesora de estudios religiosos, contó durante su conferencia Ocultando a la Virgen María el momento en que su abuela llegó de la Isla y “trajo una imagen de la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre”, una historia familiar que le permitió explicar el sincretismo entre la representación católica de la Patrona de Cuba y la orisha Oshún.

“La Ermita de la Caridad es el epicentro de la identidad cubana en Miami”, aseguró González Maldonado. “La Caridad [llamada popularmente Cachita] nos enseña sobre el poder de los símbolos religiosos, porque cuando nos enfrentamos a la persecución buscamos maneras para salvar nuestras creencias”.

“Las charlas nos hacen entender a Cuba a través de diferentes disciplinas”, insistió el presidente de la UM, Julio Frenk

La académica Lillian Manzor, profesora asociada del Departamento de Lenguas Modernas, expuso el potencial del teatro como una “cultura de la reconciliación” entre los residentes en Cuba y los emigrados. La profesora detalló la importancia del Archivo Digital de Teatro Cubano (ADTC), un repositorio de materiales para estudiar la escena de la Isla.

Jacqueline Menéndez, una de las organizadoras de las charlas, contó a 14ymedio que esperan completar las cien presentaciones antes de que se celebre el centenario de la Universidad de Miami (UM) en 2025. En esta oportunidad se eligió el lema “Improvisación, belleza y resiliencia”.

“Las charlas nos hacen entender a Cuba a través de diferentes disciplinas”, insistió el presidente de la UM, Julio Frenk, en sus palabras de presentación. “La universidad se fundó para ser un puente geográfico y disciplinario” y “Cuba es un país muy importante para este centro”, puntualizó.

“El primer acuerdo que esta universidad firmó con alguna otra casa de altos estudios fue justamente con la Universidad de La Habana”, recordó el rector. “Queremos rescatar la herencia cubanoamericana y tenemos los archivos sobre Cuba más vastos fuera de la Isla”.

El ganador de varios premios Grammy Latino, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, intervino como tercer ponente de la tarde desarrollando una charla titulada La música en mí. El maestro evocó su infancia y recordó que nació “en Cayo Hueso, Centro Habana, un lugar lleno de contrastes y de vida”, y al que catalogó como “un barrio muy musical”

El pianista salió de Cuba a finales de 1990 y se radicó durante seis años en República Dominicana

“La música me ha abierto muchos caminos, me enseñó a observar más que a mirar”, dijo el artista. Sobre el escenario de la UM, Rubalcaba interpretó la pieza El Cadete constitucional, compuesta por su abuelo, y respondió a preguntas del público.

“En mi casa el piano estaba ubicado en la ventana que daba hacia la calle y era difícil concentrarse escuchando las peleas de los vecinos y los comentarios en desacuerdo con el sistema”. Con ironía, el músico evocó los momentos en que “un señor con algunos tragos pedía que le tocara un bolero” aunque él trataba de “practicar una obra de Mozart”.

El pianista salió de Cuba a finales de 1990 y se radicó durante seis años en República Dominicana. Hace más de dos décadas se trasladó a Estados Unidos donde ha creado una relación con profesionales de la música norteamericana.

De sus años en la Isla recuerda que “la gente en medio de todos esos problemas necesitaba reír” y agrega que quiere pensar que esa búsqueda de la felicidad es “una necesidad que tiene todo ser humano”.

Anna Maria Jopek, Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Twe Usta Klamia

“Minione” reached GOLD status and awards were presented to the musicians during 2nd concert in Warsaw on 28th of March 2017.











“Minione” reached GOLD status and awards were handed out to the musicians during 2nd concert in Warsaw on 28th of March 2017.

The award was a great surprise for Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Armando Gola and Ernesto Simpson. At the end of a song Anna fluently went from singing to improvising to the surprise of the musicians. She switched to Polish and told the audience that Gonzalo and the musicians were not aware of the surprise they were about to receive.  The audience applauded while the musicians were astonished as they did not know what was going on. Finally, with the last sounds of Anna’s voice the board members of Universal Music Poland brought out the gold and awarded the gold records on stage. Gonzalo is eternally thankful and feels so blessed to have been part of this production. Gracias to Anna, Armando and Ernesto and to Universal Music Poland as well as to the touring staff that took such wonderful care of us. Also, thanks to Bosendorfer for providing a wonderful piano for the entire tour.


Wonderful Artwork of our concert in San Antonio by Norma Jean Moore


Gonzalo Rubalcaba Quartet live in San Antonio by Norma Jean Moore.


Disk Union Japan … Still Selling Discs ….Domo arigato gozaimasu!

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