Bebo Valdes dies at 94

Bebo Valdes has died in Sweden at age 94, Renowned Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, a composer and bandleader who recorded with Nat “King” Cole, was musical director at Havana’s legendary Tropicana Club and a key participant in the golden age of Cuban music.

The news of his death was confirmed by Cindy Byram, the agent of Valdes’ son Chucho Valdes, who is a well-known musician in his own right. A cause of death was not given.

The senior Valdes studied piano and later taught it to Chucho (Jesus Dionisio Valdes), who went on to become a founding member of the internationally acclaimed Cuban-based jazz band Irakere.

The father began playing accompaniments at Havana’s famous night clubs in the 1940s. He then worked with singer Rita Montaner as her pianist and arranger from 1948 to 1957, when she was the lead cabaret act at the Tropicana.

His orchestra Sabor de Cuba also accompanied singers Benny More and Pio Leyva at the club. It was during this period that he and rival bandleader Perez Prado developed the mambo, a rhythmic style of dance music that swept the world. Valdes and his orchestra devised another rhythm called the batanga which he said helped differentiate his sound from Perez Prado’s.

The senior Valdes maintained a parallel interest in jazz music and took part in many important sessions, some recorded on Cuba’s renowned Panart label.

“I was a jazz musician from a very young age,” Valdes once said. “I started playing like the first jazz pianist I heard, a guy who was popular when I was a kid: Eddy Duchin.” He said other influences were Fats Waller, Art Tatum, and Bill Evans.

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Bebo Valdes dies at 94