Bebo Valdes celebrates 90 years with more music

Paul White, The Associated Press


Paul White, The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK – At 90, Bebo Valdes is still unstoppable.

The legendary jazz musician, who just landed one more Latin Grammy nomination, is celebrating his nine decades with a music tour in Spain along with his son and fellow jazz star, Chucho Valdes.

Dionisio Ramon Valdes Amaro, his complete name, was born Oct. 9, 1918, in the Cuban town of Quivican. After studying music in the Municipal Conservatory of Havana, he worked in 1943 as musical arranger for the Communist Party’s radio station.

In 1948, he started a successful decade as pianist and arranger of the iconic Tropicana club, which gave him the chance to travel all around the world. In 1960, after Fidel Castro took power, he decided to leave everything behind and left the island for Mexico.

Eventually he settled in Sweden, where he lived for more than 40 years until last year, when he moved to Malaga, Spain.

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The musician spoke about his musical career and life lessons in an e-mail interview, because he was too tired to do it otherwise, according to the publicist for the multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy winner.


AP: Congratulations on your birthday and your new Latin Grammy nomination. What does this mean for you at your age?

Valdes: I never expect the nominations so they are always doubled-appreciated.

AP: Are you attending Thursday’s ceremony in Houston?

Valdes: No. They have advised me not to take long flights. But I hope they allow me to make a big jump soon so I can visit my friends in North America.

AP: What is the secret for your longevity?

Valdes: If I tell you it will no longer be a secret … (laughs). But, between you and me, I don’t drink and I don’t smoke.

AP: How’s your composition process? How does music come to your head?

Valdes: I don’t look for it, it comes by itself. But I live surrounded by notepads to write down ideas as soon as they appear.

AP: What is the best advice you have ever received?

Valdes: The one I got from my mother Caridad Amaro – that I should study to improve myself.

AP: Your biggest success?

Valdes: The last (concert).

AP: If you could change something about your past, what would it be?

Valdes: That the Crack (The Great Depression) of 1929 had never occurred. My father Emilio was an accountant at the city council of my town, Quivican, and he would spend months without getting paid.

AP: You once told us how you left Cuba and how you’d never return. Now that Fidel Castro is no longer in power, has you position toward the island changed in any way?

Valdes: No, because government hasn’t changed.

AP: What message do you have for the new generation?

Valdes: The one my mother gave me, and the one I gave Chucho: work hard to go on. And to believe in the Holy Spirit because it cleans and transforms you for better.

AP: The biggest satisfaction and biggest struggle of having reached age 90?

Valdes: The biggest difficulty has been to undergo illnesses typical of my age. The biggest satisfaction has been to heal (from those illnesses) so I can keep playing the piano and that people like it.

AP: How would you like to be remembered?

Valdes: With the heart I’ve put when making music.