Talking with Valdés translates into an audience with Fats Waller, Bud Powell, or Bill Evans in 20th century jazz terms.
Austin Chronicle: I tell people you’re the Jimi Hendrix of jazz piano.
Chucho Valdés: Whooooooaaa! Well, God, I don’t know what to say. I try my best, but Jimi Hendrix was one of my inspirations. He was a genius.
AC: The way you manhandle your instrument, I wonder how tall you are.
CV: 6 foot 4.
AC: Does your size play into your playing? You look like a basketball player to me. One doesn’t get such forcefulness out of Keith Jarrett.
CV: Well, but obviously we’re very different players. For me, Keith Jarrett is one of the greatest pianists ever, and one of my favorites. I think the difference has more to do with the fact I’m coming from a Latin background. The whole Latin thing is more aggressive, more rhythmic.
AC: What’s your favorite Duke Ellington tune?
CV: For me, Ellington has so much that’s beautiful. There’s one that’s not Ellington, but he played it. A Billy Strayhorn tune, “Lush Life.” Ellington’s the most important figure in American jazz.
AC: What does jazz have to offer today’s youth?
CV: Jazz helps them unravel the harmonics of music and analyze the possibility of improvisation. Whether you like hip-hop or dancehall or whatever – rap – that’s a basis for you to like jazz. Jazz weaves into the other forms and yet gives you so much more to explore. – Raoul Hernandez