The Source for Media Coverage of The Arts in Miami.
Articles, reviews, previews and features on dance and music performances and events.
Sign Up
No one logged in. Log in

Chucho Valdés’ Solo Piano Stars in New Cuban Film


Photo:
Written by: Fernando González
Article Rating

Esteban, the debut of Cuban director Jonal Cosculluela being premiered at The Miami Light Project tells the story of a 9 year old, living in Havana with his mother, who’s raising him as a single parent, and his perseverance following his dream of becoming a musician. The challenges seem overwhelming. Esteban and his mother struggle to make ends meet – his estranged father offers little, and unreliable, support; Esteban has to help out selling their home-made beauty products door to door; his school snack is a bun and a bottle of water with sugar. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and Esteban falls in love with the piano.

Convincing a cranky teacher to give him lessons, scamming enough money to pay for them, and getting his mother to go along are just bumps on the road. He has to learn to play the piano.

Esteban gets its South Florida premiere at the The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, in Wynwood, Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.

Naturally, piano music is a key character in the story and to create it and perform it, Cosculluela and producer Maritza Ceballo, keeping with Esteban´s spirit, pursued Chucho Valdés, one of the greatest living pianists and composers in Cuban music. Improbably, Valdés accepted.

His soundtrack, which he improvised while watching the scenes, is both delicate and deeply affecting.

Unlike Esteban, Valdés, the son of the late Bebo Valdés, one of Cuba’ leading pianists, arrangers, and bandleaders, had his first teacher, and his first piano, at home. But as he noted in a recent conversation, he knows about Esteban´s struggles.

Chucho Valdés spoke of that and more to Artburst from his home in South Florida.

How did you get involved in the film? Like the teacher in the film, you started by saying “No.” What convinced you to do it?

The producers came to see me about doing the soundtrack for the film and flat out I told them ‘Thank you, but no. No way.’ I wasn’t interested. I had a very complicated schedule of concerts and travel and I had no time. But they kept at it and said they would wait for me — and they gave me the script and I got interested in the story.

Also I saw them [Cosculluela and Ceballo] so enthusiastic, making their first movie with such love, such dedication. I’m always moved when I see young people trying to do something. So I said, ‘Yes but,’ and the conditions were that it was solo piano and that we recorded it at my home studio in Málaga. And that’s what we did.

How did you work on the music? Director Cosculluela mentioned in an interview that, to his dismay, he realized, too late, that he had shot close-ups of the hands of the piano player hitting the keys, so you were boxed in and had to compose to those images.

I improvised the music to the images. Joel had a clear idea of where he wanted the music. I wrote a theme, the professor’s piece, “Diego,” which appears in fragments throughout the film and you get to hear finally in full under the credits. But yes, they shot sequences of the hands at the keyboard, playing a melody — and [the actor Manuel Porto] does not play the piano, so there is no sense of rhythm, tempo or anything; I had to study what keys he was hitting and how, and create a melody to fit the images. Let me tell you, I was ready to quit. (He laughs).

There is more than one Valdés involved on this film. Here’s a bit of trivia: your sister Miriam, a piano teacher in real life, appears in the film as the head of the jury testing Esteban.

Yes! Miriam is the best piano teacher in Cuba — especially for kids who are starting with the piano. She is unbelievable. And she taught the basics to both Esteban (Reynaldo Guanche) and the professor (Porto).

Was there anything in the film that made you think in your own story with the piano?

Yes, beginning with the passion that Esteban has for the piano that makes him jump the gate at the professor’s house. In my case, when my dad went to work I would jump on the bench and start searching for the notes he had played, and little by little, note by note, I would find them and they tell me that’s how I started. The cat was out of the bag one day when [dad] left for the Tropicana and realized he had forgotten some music, so came he came back to the house and heard someone playing the piano. He opened the door and saw me playing and asked my mom, “What’s going on?” and she told him: “That’s what he does every time you go to work.”

As for not being able to pay for classes, as a kid I had my teacher at home, but when my father left in 1960 [Chucho was then 18] I became the breadwinner of the family and what I made playing was not enough to pay the bills and my lessons. In those days, 20 pesos was a lot of money and bought the food for the family.

I was studying with Rosario Franco, a tremendous teacher, and many times I had no way of paying her, but she gave me lessons anyway. And later I was studying with Zenaida Romeu, and she saw what was happening, I was working but it was not enough and, like the professor in the film, decided not to charge me anymore.

South Florida premiere of Esteban, the debut film of Cuban director Jonal Cosculluela, featuring Reynaldo Guanche, Yuliet Cruz and Manuel Porto, is presented by Miami Light Project in collaboration with Horns to Havana; June 13-15, 7:00 p.m.; The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami; tickets: $10, available at miamilightproject.com or 305.576.4350.

 


Leave a comment...
Must be Logged in
No one logged in. Log in
Leave a comment...
Was this helpful?
No Very

Captcha Image

About The writer

{module_webapps,16730,i,{tag_writer_id}}

Here’s a riddle – name the 1892 box office flop panned by critics for lack of seriousness and for casting too many kids, which has now transformed into a force of nature timed to occur yearly..

It happens every year, right around Thanksgiving, productions of the Nutcracker pop up from coast to coast, marking the start of the holiday season. But on Saturday, Miami audiences have the ..

As Art Week approaches, Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick’s Alma Dance Theater is getting ready to add its distinctive voice, rehearsing for the upcoming performance of “Flowers” at the C..

Promising a night of airiness and ardor, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami will bring “Ballet’s Pointe of Passion” to the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, where the company joins an att..

Great friendships can nurture and prod an artist to make greater work. Think Pablo Picasso and Wifredo Lam, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Such is also the case fo..

It’s a tall order to present a season as surprising as it is moving, as disturbing as it is delightful. Miami-Dade College’s Live Arts 2017-2018 season -- Ojala/Inshallah: Wishes from the Mu..

It was only a few decades ago that finding a professional, locally produced performance was an aerobic dance in itself. But after the Miami City Ballet (established 1985), the New World Schoo..

A 50th anniversary calls for gold in celebration. But Balanchine’s “Jewels”­—a sublime marriage of music and choreography from 1967—brings Emeralds, Rubies,and Diamonds. Those pre..

When the Limon Dance Company returns to Miami-Dade this weekend, it brings with it the powerful vision of founder José Limon. He was a man deeply concerned about and connected to the humanity..

When Cardi B, with her trademark no-filter attitude, raps in her recent hit “Bodak Yellow” – Now I don’t got to dance/I make money move – she has something to sing about, with her smash hit N..

Despite a packed show schedule, including performing with the Frankfurt Opera in “Rinaldo,” Sarasota native, dancer and choreographer James McGinn had a chance to discuss the upcoming dance-opera ..

Anniversaries usually celebrate the success of a partnership with symbolic gifts of crystal, china, silver and gold. For the Arts Ballet Theater of Florida, the company celebrates 20 years of..

The songs are familiar; the love story is also familiar but made fresh in “On Your Feet!,” the musical biography that comes to Miami this week. The narrative of Emilio and Gloria Estefan meet..

Dance lovers in Miami know that for the past two decades the International Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) has made the city in September a magnet for the brightest stars in the world of bal..

Orlando Taquechel, dance critic for two decades at the El Nuevo Herald (and now a contributor to Artburst), will have a book signing and discussion of his new book, “La danza in Miami (1998-..

The name Flamenco conjures the machine-gun snap of heels, arms arched overhead, the flick of red fabric and laser-like glares from beneath the starched black brim of a Cordobes hat. At the ed..

Watching Neri Torres rehearse is a study in focus and concentration. She demonstrates each step with an ease developed from years of immersion in the study and performance of Afro-Cuban ..

Miami-based organization Delou Africa has been the ambassador of African dance and drumming in South Florida for the last 30 years. It started as a performing company, and has since expanded..

Miami Beach’s old city hall on a Thursday evening in June made a surreal set up for anyone familiar with tango’s broody scene -- a large cozy room full of cheerful, laughing, and smiling..

When Ballet Flamenco La Rosa takes to the stage this weekend, it will present a program based on traditions which were handed down through the ages. A program filled with the mysteries of fl..

With every great new love, the beginning is a crucible of extremes – will it endure for decades or permanently scar?The program for Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami’sJuly 8show, “Fiebre: A N..

With a heightened emphasis on “Noise” as an innovative musical genre, this sixth installment of the Miami Performance Festival International (M/P’17), running June 23 to 25, challenges South..

After 17 years as a principal dancer with the esteemed San Francisco Ballet, dancing every major role and style possible, Lorena Feijoo is retiring from that company to embark on a new journe..

Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick is a storyteller. Her company Alma Dance Theater brings a particularly female inner world to the stage, through lush and sensual choreography. Nick’s..

Pools are ubiquitous in Miami. They dot the landscape like Jackson Pollock drip paintings. Residents swim or idle the hours away by or in the pool – and dancers of Momentum Dance Company also perf..

May’s “Mujeres” series of strong, multi-faceted, women-focused productions, commissioned for Miami Theater Center’s SandBox space, concludes with Spanish-born dancer-choreographer Carlota Pr..

One could say that Bistoury’s 305 & Havana International Improv Fest, which debuts this Saturday at Miami Theater Center, has been in the works for almost 20 years. In 1999 Cuban-born cho..

We know it’s the holiday season when trees light up, menorah candles start to burn, ubiquitous Christmas carols pipe through drugstores, “The Nutcracker” plays on every stage – and in recent ..

Late last year, on Dec. 20, 2016, Romero Britto and Mark Bryn hosted the Great Artists Series Cocktail Reception at the Britto Fine Art Gallery to celebrate the legendary impresaria, Judy Dru..

Everyone remembers a lost weekend, binge reading a novel whose ending had to wait because the body just gave out. No matter how compelling the story somewhere around the 30th hour the brain s..

Globalization has produced many stories —not all inspiring. But having a Pakistani ensemble become a worldwide sensation by playing Paul Desmond’s immortal “Take Five,” which pianist Da..

When the management of New York’s iconic Apollo Theater approached drummer Gregg Field last year about organizing a concert there in honor of the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth..

They’ve opened a Chanel fashion show in Havana and been featured in Beyoncé’s visual album for “Lemonade.” The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has danced to their music. Their Florida debu..

There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic voc..

Yoli Mayor is a 22-year old Miami native who won over the judges of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” with her power voice (think Adele mixed with Etta James). This weekend, Miami audiences will h..

You might expect something a tad unusual from a jazz band comprised of Bulgarians and Cubans that’s led by the principal percussionist of the Miami Symphony Orchestra. And that’s what you’ll ..

La tradicional temporada de Cascanueces del Miami City Ballet (MCB) tendrá algo nuevo este año. La compañía que dirige Lourdes López ha decidido renovar los diseños de la superproducción que..

El programa que Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) presentó el sábado pasado en su exitoso debut como compañía en residencia del South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC) y a solo ..

Hay pocos artistas que han tenido el impacto en sus disciplinas como el guitarrista Paco De Lucía tuvo en flamenco. En este género, hay un antes y después de De Lucía. Expandió el vocabul..

Dance NOW! Miami, la Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO), Miami Dance Futures y la New World School of the Arts (NWSA) colaboraron el fin de semana pasado para presentar la Daniel Lew..

Esta es una gran noticia para el público amante del ballet en Miami. Tras un paréntesis de diez años en los que solo nos visitó de manera esporádica, la Primera Bailarina mexicana Katia Carra..

Solo hay que aplicar el concepto “seis grados de separación” a uno de los artistas que se han presentado en las Galas de Estrellas del Festival Internacional de Ballet de Miami (IBFM por sus ..

El debut de Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) en noviembre del año pasado fué un acontecimiento artístico y un descubrimiento sumamente agradable. Una sola función en el Miami-Dade Cou..

El festival “Out in the Tropics”, patrocinado por Fundarte en conjunto con el Centro Cultural Español y el Miami Book Fair International, normalmente trae artistas del mundo LGBTQ e hispanoha..

La Gala anual de Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami (CCBM) es un evento que esperan con ansiedad los aficionados al ballet en Miami y, sobre todo, los admiradores del estilo cubano. Desde su deb..