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KEYBOARD Magazine Gonzalo Rubalcaba Redefines Jazz Piano

Gonzalo Rubalcaba Redefines Jazz Piano

BY ERNIE RIDEOUT

Interview translated by Rebeca Mauleon-Santana

“This is only my second tour of the United States,” says Gonzalo Rubalcaba as we drive across San Francisco Bay. “We are just getting to know each other.” It’s astonishing to hear him say this – after all, he’s been amajor force in jazz piano and Cuban music for years. Ever since Discovery, his debut recording for Blue Note, it seems that all anyone can talk about is his phenomenal speed, articulation, power, and unique blend of Cuban and jazz styles – but it’s true. The world at large has had much more opportunity to become acquainted with Gonzalo than we have inthe States, thanks largely to the U.S. State Department’s ongoing embargo against the Castro government. But that’s astory we explored in our August 1991 interview with Gonzalo, and amoot point at that. He now resides in the Dominican Republic, and as he makes additional appearances in the States, his albums are becoming more readily available as well. One aspect of Gonzalo’s playing that we in the States have only experienced on disc is his writing for electronic instruments. Synths played amajor role in his work with Projecto, his pioneering fusion band, and they even make appearances on recordings of his current group, the Quartetto Cubano, such as Rapsodia (Blue Note). “I see technology as an extension of what you can do with music,” says Gonzalo. “I use a Yamaha KX88, aKorg T1, and an Akai S3200. I first compose with asequencer, and then of course record the natural band sound over the sequenced sounds. Then I try to reach abalance where you can’t feel the pressure of the live music on the sequencing, or the other way around. That’s the most difficult thing to reach when you’re working with technology.” With the release of Diz (Blue Note), the influence that Dizzy Gillespie had on his life became public. “I met Dizzy in 1985 at the Havana Jazz Festival,” recalls Gonzalo. “He was, is, and will be forever a vital reference, not only musically, but also spiritually. It was wonderful getting to know him and messing around with him. He was like my father.” Given the influence of Cuban music on Dizzy, it’s a touching tribute that his music would hold sway over Gonzalo. Indeed, over the course of a recent set at Yoshi’s in Oakland, California, the Quartetto Cubano used “Woody ‘N’ You” almost as a leitmotif, the familiar A section making brief appearances throughout the evening. At one point it was swinging. At another, it was the subject of a massive montuno that Gonzalo subsequently displaced by a sixteenth-note, then augmented, then diminished. Finally, they brought it back around to the familiar head, which brought the packed house to its feet. Once across the Bay in the Keyboard studio, we asked Gonzalo to show us how he achieves this remarkable synthesis of Cuban montuna and jazz. Since his reply is rather technical, you may find it helpful to refer to Rebeca Mauleon-Santana’s article, “The Heart of Salsa,” in our January 1996 issue.

Your montunos occur on unexpected divisions of the beat. Tell us how you work with them.

This idea of augmenting or diminishing the rhythmic presence of the montuno really has to do with the percussive elements at that moment. Everything having to do with the montunos is not written or notated. There may be some general harmonic framework as a guide, over which one might feel free to create spontaneous rhythmic cells. Historically, the montuno has always been a part of the ABC’s of Cuban music, stemming mostly from the son, the danzon, and from other traditional forms, including the bolero-cha, the boleromontuno, etc., combined with other Latin musical influences such as the cumbia, samba, bachata, Puerto Rican rhythms, and so on. So here we see that the signature of our music is the montuno, which is also played outside of Cuba, sometimes with different results. The most important thing is that any instrument can play the montuno, not only the piano, but the guitar, a trumpet, the bass, even a harp! I have also been interested in playing a little less simply, with slightly more harmonic complexity to the montuno. It wasn’t until the 1950s and ’60s [in Cuban music] that the harmonic aspects of montuno playing became more advanced – influenced of course by early Impressionist harmony – with musicians like [Antonio] Arcano, [Israel Lopez] Cachao and his family, Enrique Jorrfn, and Rafael Lay, among others, who took it upon themselves to expand the harmonic possibilities of the tumbao, not only with the obvious harmonic instruments such as the piano, but the bass in particular. From that point on, the harmony became increasingly complex, and rhythmically, the accents begin to change. What I have tried to do is “re-create” myself with all of this history, and take on not only these aspects of Cuban music, but of jazz as well, even from the sometimes obviously strong elements of pop and rock, which of course also have many of the same ancestral roots as American and Latin music. In a nutshell, I’m not trying to make any qualitative statement with all of this that any style is better or worse than another; rather, they are transparent, and are the result of varying degrees of rhythmic development, particularly the popular styles that are closely linked to folkloric music. For example, in “Woody ‘N’ You,” where the basic harmony is [as in Example 1, page 491, I tried to transform or invert the harmony. That is to say, I look for a different harmonic space that functions with the theme [Example 2, page 50]. Then in the bridge, we try to play with the rhythm, such as when the melody is in eighth-notes, we try to put triplet figures in the rhythm section to create an echo to the tune. Then we repeat the head with yet another harmonic texture [Example 3, page 50]. That same harmonic framework can be outlined in montuno-like phrasing as well [Example 4, page 52]. This can have any number of possibilities or versions according to the musician’s imagination. It’s interesting how certain cultures – such as the North American – “know” (or need to know) where the “one” is, as opposed to other cultures who “feel” where the beat is. There is a difference; sometimes we can understand or learn a concept without feeling it, when it’s explained.

How can one learn to feel it?

I think it’s a generic problem.For example, a while back I went to Brazil to do a series of solo concerts. I played also with some Brazilian musicians, and later one night they took me to a dance club to see a pianist who plays Cuban music. She said she had learned through recordings, but wanted to know how she could play with a more Cuban feeling. I told her the only way was to go to Cuba. It’s important to be surrounded by the cultural codes which provide you with certain required ingredients: interpretation, diction, behavior, communication, which – as a true artist – one adapts or converts into his or her art, whatever that may be. I don’t doubt that there are people who have an easier time than others assimilating aspects of a foreign culture. This is certainly a function of individual talent, or perhaps geography.

Of course, Cuban culture is very rich and varied. Cuban musicians tend to be quick, very able, and perhaps this is due to the richness of our music, and its rhythmic complexity. Cubans seem to easily assimilate other styles of music, perhaps due to this concept of rhythmic independence which is so prevalent in our music. You see this with classical musicians in Cuba, although perhaps they haven’t achieved the notoriety or recognition. But nevertheless, there has always been a high level of artists, both composers and performers, that have maintained a fluid connection with new developments [in classical music]. The same appears in Cuban popular music, where – despite the fact that these musicians have been cut off from many sources of information and resources – they have been able to develop their skills with influences from beyond Cuban geographic boundaries. We also see this in the last century, where Cuban classical and nationalist composers such as [Manuel] Saumell, [Ignacio] Cervantes, Amadeo Roldan, [Alejandro Garda] Caturla who were always in step with the latest in European musical innovations – never became “Europeanized” composers. They were always very nationalistic, but not in a limited or closed sense; rather, it was a responsible nationalism, dedicated to the exploration of all of our codes, as well as the search for other sources of inspiration. What can I say about this Cuban – rather, this Latin American (but especially Cuban) music? Perhaps North Americans have a clearer understanding of the Cuban clave, for example, which has not only a metric but a spiritual meaning and connotation, and has so many variations which affect the dance, the harmony, thousands of things. Now, many musicians feel the concept of clave without having to adhere to such a strict relationship. You could say that early styles utilized the clave as a type of leitmotif, and you had to play (or compose) without altering it. Now there is more freedom to break the rules, to add an odd measure here and there; the clave disappears and re-appears. Perhaps the u.s. hasn’t been as in touch with these new developments in Cuban music.

Melodic variation is an essential part of your style as an improviser. How do you approach the concept of variation?

The concept of variation is of course an elementary aspect, particularly as a method of composition stemming from improvisation. There are various possibilities: melodic, metric, dynamic, expressive, generic (where the actual genre or style may be changed), or mood. There is really no music which doesn’t have within it some structure of variation. I think this is an essential human quality, notto repeat constantly in the same way, but rather to vary. We can’t precisely reproduce the same thing the same way – you may be precise in the interpretation, but it still has some sort of variation in its message. Perhaps the most important thing is to develop a larger harmonic plane – more than rhythmic – from which to proceed. Cubans tend to build on rhythmic foundations, and this has often limited us in terms of composition. Ideas such as form, dynamics, structure, voicings, use of exotic scales – these have been my concerns as a composer and as an improviser. I like to look at all of these aspects. Within popular music there is a problem: It is rare to find a wide range of dynamics in popular music. There might be one dynamiC level for the beginning [of a tune], and another for the vamp section. Whereas, in something by Beethoven, for example, you may find everything from pppp to fffff, and everything in between. This is a necessary expressive tool, one that perhaps hasn’t been as explored within popular music, but it is one which is very important. The other things to take into consideration when you’re improvising are pre-conceived ideas and extensions of the actual theme, or independence from it. I use both approaches. There are some tunes which have such strong themes that the resulting variations are easy and flowing. There you can use the obvious tools, or decide not to have such obvious restrictions. I like to consider a complete break from the rhythm, moving it ahead or behind – not by accident, but with purpose with a consensus between the musicians, who embellish behind the improviser. There is communication without limitations. Sure, we all have individual experiences – sometimes you feel the strong presence of [drummer Julio] Barreto, of [bassist] Felipe [Cabrera], or Reynaldo [Mel ian, trumpet]. But we are all working toward a common goal.

How did you develop your extraordinary hand independence?

You have to get away from the left-hand role of pop music, which is usually more sedentary – just using block chords. In time, this causes the “death” or lessening of the role of this hand. The idea is that we work to take away these barriers and utilize both hands, not only for chordal accompaniment, but we expect the same technical requirements of the left hand. Music is music, and we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the idea of left and right. But I am right-handed, so I have to develop the left hand more. If we are conscious of this, then we can break away to other ideas such as other scales, which may have other fingering (or technical) requirements, as well as broader (or artistic) requirements. I think we should have this exposure at an earlier age, instead of [being taught] the obvious chronology of major scales, then minor scales, then, at a higher level, the modes. In other words, we want to bring to non-classical music the same diverse palette of scales and other requirements so essential to musical creativity. For example, a normal major scale could be used to develop a different hand position, as well as a different musical mood. You can experiment with the fingering, which poses a series of other possibilities. Changing the starting point within the scale, or transposing it, forces you to select a different mental structure, as well as fingering, touch, and articulation. The average pianist tends to play with the hands very close to the keyboard, similar to the old German school which requires you to keep phrases and fingerings within a smaller spatial range. Then came the Russian school, which stipulated one should articulate more, flexing the fingers as much as possible for increased strength. Of course, this doesn’t mean you use the same techniques for all music. jazz pianists tend not to articulate as much, perhaps because many have a strong classical background. They may have a harder time with more legato passages, as they tend to play more staccato. The more you can vary your articulation, the more colorful and varied your expression. Perhaps for pop music this variety is unnecessary. But it is necessary if it will be used for the sake of the music.

How do you develop your dynamic power?

There are different ways of sending or manipulating strength or power, which have nothing to do with politics! [Laughs.] One way is from the wrist, another from the forearm, and another from the entire arm. Of course, you have to consider your own particular techniques and guide yourself according to your own strength. I use all of these approaches, depending on the song and the force required. Now we are working mostly in an acoustic format, although, of course, we are being amplified, and this has a great effect on the dynamics. The ideal acoustic format would have the drums and piano on the same level, which is impossible, ofcourse. Technology may help to create the sensation of balance, which really isn’t a balance, but rather, amplification. Notwithstanding, the music written today, it seems, tries to put the dynamic levels of the piano and the drums on the same plane. Then you have to – consciously or unconsciously – search for a certain amount of power or strength in the interpretation. This can create problems by establishing an unwanted competition for volume between the instruments, which can also hurt you physically. So, we propose to achieve a level of dynamics within the ensemble – regardless if the music is loud or simply very strong (which is different than just playing hard). We wish to play music that is strong and powerful, not to play with excessive strength and force. You have to take into consideration all of the instruments and their possibilities, and it has taken me quite a bit of time to reach this conclusion now with my quartet. We have a trumpet, drums, and electric bass – which could easi Iy have a much louder dynamic range in the ensemble – with an acoustic piano. So we have spent these years trying to polish this sound, to tame that youthful zeal and desire to play and convince everyone that you can play, in order to get to a calmer and more confident place. Coming back to the aspect of power, as I mentioned. It is not only from the wrist and the arm, but rather from the abdomen. Sometimes I lean back so as not to put so much pressure on my arms.

Do you find that audiences in different countries react differently to your music?

Every audience reflects a culture, a collective experience, a tradition, and I think this is an important learning experience, not only for the audience, but for the performer as well. What I could say is that sometimes it is easier to appear in a particular context as opposed to another. For example, Germany is one context, not necessarily because they simply don’t accept everything at face value, but because of Germany’s enormous history and pioneering of so many musical traditions. They are very prepared, well-trained, and highly critical, which makes them an excellent audience. It has been very beneficial to us to play all over Germany – East and West, in clubs, concerts, festivals, and schools. Of course all European countries have a particular significance; we’ve also played in Eastern Europe, which for many years had been somewhat lim ited or separated, perhaps, in its variety of musical propositions. Some of this had to do with the political situation. But now you see an enormous number of festivals and concert halls are opening their doors to many styles of music. japan is a medium without comparison. There is an audience there for everything! There’s so much going on all the time, every day. You ask yourself, how do they fill the venues? On a given day there will be a circus act, ballet, jazz, rock, and theater, and everything is full. The japanese are an active audience, not merely because of their large population. They go to events. And of course we’ve had important recording work in japan. It has been a very healthy experience for us to work for the japanese public. The United States is new for us, but we feel we belong here. There is a common code here, a feeling of home, and the reactions have been positive. You know when you’re being heard, when you’re being understood. In these concerts we’ve had here at Yoshi’s, I really feel our music has been accepted and understood, even through all of the subtleties and nuances of performance. It has been a wonderful experience. ~

Special thanks to Jose Forteza for his patience and assistance with this interview.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: El Evangelio de la Evolución

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: El Evangelio de la Evolución

Por Eliseo Cardona  Especial para Anapapaya

La publicación de Inner Voyage en 1999 parecía traer una señal. Poco importaba si era buena o mala, el caso es que tanto críticos como seguidores habituales hablaban de un disco en que el pianista Gonzalo Rubalcaba registraba un cambio de estilo, una nueva actitud de aproximación a la música: de inquieto acróbata del teclado a imperturbable patriarca de la serenidad. Reseñas, artículos o entrevistas se empeñaban en retratar a un Rubalcaba que presentaba sus ideas apoyado en pautas silenciosas, como examinando los misterios de la invención en el laberinto de la abstracción. Música para ser más sentida que escuchada. Rubalcaba lo llamó –y lo sigue llamando– el factor evolución, una etapa que los amigos íntimos califican como su gran obsesión, haciendo juego con el título de su clásico disco de danzones Mi gran pasión. “Siempre estoy buscando nuevas formas de expresión”, señalaba en una reciente conversación telefónica desde su residencia en Coral Spring (Condado de Broward, estado de la Florida). “Es la única forma de crecer artística, musical, espiritualmente hablando”. Para los críticos, este nuevo Rubalcaba también representaba la madurez del artista que ha llegado a un terreno donde el conocimiento, la sensibilidad y la técnica convergen y se dan la mano; no para exponer un insoportable virtuosismo –esa plaga que afecta a muchos músicos cubanos con el polvo del conservatorio sobre los hombros– sino el espíritu mismo de la música, las historias y las ideas que se esconden en los tejidos sonoros. Supernova, su reciente trabajo con su trío, así como Nocturne, el disco de boleros jazzísticos grabado en complicidad con el bajista Charlie Haden, parecerían reforzar el anterior argumento: un músico convertido en el decano de la exploración íntima. El cambio, según el pianista, está relacionado con un deseo de trabajar los aspectos melódicos de la música: “La melodía es el punto de partida de cualquier música”. Rubalcaba fue un niño prodigio que creció en una casa habanera llena de música: su padre, Guillermo Rubalcaba González es un destacado pianista y director de agrupaciones de música popular, además de ser uno de los primeros maestros de Gonzalo antes de que éste ingresara en el Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán. Su pasión por el jazz, comenta el músico, comenzó cuando desempolvó la colección de vinilos de su padre. “Eran cosas de Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller… aunque recuerdo que tenía más discos de vientistas que de pianistas”. En 1985, Gonzalo fue “descubierto” por Dizzy Gillespie durante una visita del trompetista al Festival de Jazz de La Habana. Un año más tarde, lo volvía a “descubrir” el bajista Charlie Haden. Lo demás es historia de traslados, documentos de inmigración, un concierto con protestas infames frente a un teatro de Miami y espléndidas discos y colaboraciones con maestros del jazz norteamericano.

Anapapaya conversó con Rubalcaba a propósito de sus recientes proyectos.

Eliseo Cadona: Gonzalo, comencemos con Nocturne, el álbum de boleros en el que participas y produces para el bajista Charlie Haden. Algunas personas señalaron en un principio que ustedes se tomaron muchas libertades con el género. Digamos que el espíritu estaba ahí, pero no la gramática.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Permíteme contarte un poco sobre la génesis del disco. Charlie [Haden] y yo veníamos discutiendo desde hace tiempo la idea de grabar un álbum de baladas y boleros, y esas conversaciones nos llevaron a intercambiar ideas sobre el lenguaje de ambos géneros, sobre la tradición de ambas músicas en Latinoamérica y sobre cómo se pueden abordar de muchas maneras. Hablamos de técnicas, de la emoción del instrumentista, de su trasfondo cultural. Hablamos además del músico que simplemente hace las cosas como las sientes. Todo eso lo fuimos relacionando con el papel que ha tenido la balada en el jazz. Como te puedes imaginar, fueron conversaciones estimulantes entre dos amigos; o entre hermanos, porque yo a Charlie lo quiero como si fuera mi hermano. Sin embargo, materializar el proyecto fue siempre difícil porque no disponíamos de tiempo para trabajarlo. Pasaba que, o mi agenda estaba cargada, o Charlie tenía otros proyectos. Pero él me lo recordaba siempre, porque es un tipo insistente y hasta terco. Así que el año pasado [2000] me senté en la sala de mi casa y le grabé varios casetes con boleros de distintos intérpretes y bandas que yo admiraba desde hace años. Cuando Charlie recibió la música, el proyecto comenzó a caminar; no había vuelta atrás. Entre ambos hicimos la selección, sin dejarnos llevar por una idea en específico. Lo que sí queríamos era como continuar aquellas conversaciones, pero esta vez en el estudio. Te cuento todo esto porque, en verdad, no teníamos un plan, una agenda. No estábamos siguiendo un manifiesto de estética ni mucho menos queríamos romper con un pasado o establecer nuevas reglas para grabar boleros. El resultado final, por supuesto, lo debe juzgar el oyente, los críticos y los que escriben sobre música. Me interesa conocer tus impresiones. Me preguntas si nos tomamos libertades con el bolero y yo te pregunto, ¿estamos hablando de arte, cierto? Hablamos del arte de la música.

Pongámoslo de esta manera: ¿tú crees que los músicos cubanos de los años 50 o 60 estaban tomándose libertades cuando crearon el movimiento del filin?

Claro que sí. Y lo que hicieron esos músicos es una obra especial, muy original, hecha con el espíritu de diferentes personas tratando de crear. De hecho, yo pienso que así nacen todos movimientos musicales. Gente como José Antonio Méndez o César Portillo de la Luz estaban hablando desde su individualidad, desde su propia visión poética y cultural. Se puede decir que estaban siguiendo la tradición de una poesía cubana muy rica, pero también escribiendo cosas para su tiempo, para el tiempo que les tocaba vivir. Yo crecí escuchando esa música. Cuando yo era niño, en mi casa se escuchaba de todo: boleros, feeling, filin, trova, son y otras cosas. Pero los mejores recuerdos son los de mi padre tocando toda esa música desde su punto de vista, como él la sentía y quería proyectar. ¿Se estaba tomando libertades? Claro que sí. Lo que hicimos Charlie y yo es un disco para nuestros tiempos. O sea, no teníamos una idea preconcebida pero tampoco queríamos tocar cosas que ya estaban hechas. Tampoco nos consideramos expertos en bolero. Por otra parte, yo no entiendo la actitud de ciertos músicos de repetir el pasado, de calcarlo tal cual. Creo que Nocturne en ese sentido es un buen disco, por las diferentes sensibilidades que se juntaron en el estudio de grabación. Fíjate que tienes músicos tan opuestos entre sí [Federico Brito, Ignacio Berroa, Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, David Sánchez], pero todos estaban sintonizados con abordar el repertorio con ideas nuevas. Desde mi punto de vista, yo creo que es absurdo pretender tocar como los maestros. Los maestros nos pasaron un legado y nosotros tenemos añadirle nuestra propia voz.

Tus discos vienen cargados de sorpresas. En Supernova, por ejemplo, regresas al danzón cubano con El Cadete Constitucional, un clásico escrito por tu abuelo Jacobo.

Menos mal que están llenos de sorpresas [risas]. Eso significa que no sigo fórmulas. Pero tal vez sorpresa no es la palabra, sino exploración. O mejor, evolución. Yo creo que mi carrera es eso: una búsqueda continua para evolucionar hacia otras formas de expresión. La idea es crecer artística, intelectual, espiritualmente. Bueno, pero digamos que es una sorpresa haber grabado El Cadete Constitucional, por aquello deque hay quienes esperaban una continuación de Mi gran pasión Para ser sincero, yo no había grabado antes El Cadete porque no me sentía preparado. Yo creoque todo tiene su tiempo y su lugar; grabarlo ahora era el momento oportuno. En cuanto a grabar una continuación de Mi gran pasión, no lo sé. ¿Se le puede pedir a Gabriel García Márquez una secuelade Cien años de soledad?

¿Cómo te preparaste para grabar El Cadete?

Me sentía preparado desde el punto de vista técnico, porque El cadete es algo que vengo tocando desde niño. Pero yo quería buscarle un ángulo diferente, y eso me costó trabajo. Imagínate, esa pieza está muy cerca de mi formación; es una herencia de mi abuelo. No sólo esa pieza, sino muchas otras. En todo caso quería usar más la imaginación. Creo que como artista, si tienes las herramientas y si estás claro en los objetivos, entonces es posible jugar un poco con la tradición. La idea es evolucionar hacia un lenguaje universal. Esto yo no lo tenía claro hace algunos años; este era el momento.

¿Se puede decir que Supernova resume todo lo que has estado haciendo desde que llegaste a Estados Unidos?

Esa es una buena pregunta, pero yo no tengo la respuesta. Eso se lo dejo a quienes escuchen el disco. Ahora bien, he estado experimentando mucho con el formato del trío y yo creo que esto se refleja en este disco. Trabajar con Ignacio [Berroa] y Carlos Henríquez durante todo este tiempo ha sido beneficioso y lo que se buscaba era ver cómo nos sentíamos tocando diferentes cosas. Ahí está la diferencia. El disco tiene muchos caminos y eraesto lo que teníamos en mente. Supernova y, por supuesto, Inner Voyage, se inclinan más hacia lo melódico. Exactamente. En el pasado mi trabajo como pianista y líder estuvo marcado por el aspecto rítmico, por la complejidad rítmica si quieres. Ahora me muevo hacia la evolución melódica, explorando más aspectos. Quiero conectarlo con el fraseo en el jazz y con el vocabulario cubano.

Algunos críticos señalan que abandonaste el estilo mecanógrafo del pasado para concentrarte en algo más poético. [Risas.]

No lo sé, Eliseo, para mí todo ha sido una cuestión de evolución. Como te decía antes, exploro las posibilidades melódicas de mi trabajo. No quiero sonar pretencioso ni dogmático, pero la evolución lo es todo en estos momentos. Por otro lado, no creo que sea un pianista que toca rápido, sino un músico que piensa rápido, sumado a una conexión espiritual con la música. De nuevo, es parte de una evolución. Lo que me hace pensar en lo siguiente: ¿por qué a ciertos críticos o individuos les cuesta trabajo reconocer la evolución en otras personas? Entiendo que la gente no pueda ver todo el contexto de una obra, pero a mí como artista me interesa crear un gran lienzo. Si antes era conservador, ahora quiero tomarme riesgos, y llegará el momento en que combine ambas cosas. Por ahora, busco los riesgos y la ambición estética. Busco sobre todo disciplina en lo que hago. Yo creo que tiene que ver con las primeras formaciones del individuo y la experiencia que a va acumulando.

El bajista Ron Carter habla de ti en estos términos: “El interés de Gonzalo es tocar tantos estilos como lo permita una biblioteca sonora”. ¿Puede decirse lo mismo de ti como compositor?

Absolutamente. Me alegra que traigas este tema porque fíjate que en los últimos años mi interés no sólo se centra en tocar mis propias composiciones sino en escribir fuera de las fronteras de la música cubana, incluso del jazz o el Latin jazz. Supernova refleja el interés de explorar, de mostrar la extensión de mi escritura hacia otros sonidos.

Los pianistas cubanos no tienen problemas a la hora de citar influencias norteamericanas. Digamos que hablan de pianistas como Bill Evans, Chick Corea y otros sin ningún tipo de inhibición. ¿Has visto el mismo interés en los pianistas norteamericanos? ¿Se preocupan éstos por la pianística cubana?

Para ser sincero, no he visto ese interés de los músicos norteamericanos; marcando las excepciones, claro. Y esas excepciones forman un pequeño grupo. Esta es mi opinión, por supuesto. No estoy hablando por otros. Los jazzistas en Estados Unidos conocen a Chucho [Valdés], conocen mi trabajo, y probablemente el trabajo de Hilario Durán. Pero, ¿conocen a [Ernesto] Lecuona, [Manuel] Saumell, Antonio María Romeu y otros? La pianística cubana es otro universo, completamente diferente, y si los cubanos conocen, por ejemplo, quiénes son Scott Joplin, James P. Johnson, [Duke] Ellington, Count Basie, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, etc., no veo por qué los norteamericanos no pueden acercarse a los pianistas de la isla. O mejor, a los pianistas de Latinoamérica.

Habría que hablar también de las nuevas generaciones de pianistas cubanos.

Claro, y te diría que es importante que los pianistas jóvenes estudien la tradición de la pianística en Cuba y no solamente a la generación inmediatamente anterior a ellos.

Gonzalo, tu formación es académica y clásica, pero ¿qué papel jugó tu padre en tu educación?

Mi padre es la figura más importante en mi educación; con él aprendí las primeras lecciones de gramática pianística y luego a ensanchar esa gramática. Mi padre me enseñó a conocer sobre todo el instrumento, a conocerlo íntimamente. Me dio sobre todo la disciplina, las herramientas para concentrarme y mantener el enfoque. Me enseñó además a estimular la curiosidad y a no perderla.

Y supongo que te dio un sentido de la estética y la elegancia, que son cosas que se echa de menos en los pianistas jóvenes.

Tienes razón en esto último. Yo no puedo ni quiero hablar en nombre de mi padre y ni voy a defender su trabajo porque creo que habla por sí mismo.Pero sí, tienes razón: yo escucho a pianistas cubanos de los años 40, 50 y 60, y eso es precisamente lo que notas: una música elegante, refinada, orientada por una estética personal. Incluso, hasta cuando tocaban música bailable; armónica, melódicamente hablando, había una estética de refinamiento y elegancia. Es una de las razones por las que he insistido en regresar a esa música y exponerla todo lo posible. Con nuevas ideas, pero reflejando el espíritu. También es importante estudiar otros géneros aparte de la música bailable.

Lo que me lleva a preguntarte sobre el fenómeno del Buena Vista. ¿Es moda o un genuino interés por descubrir la música tradicional?

Quiero pensar que se trata de un genuino interés en la música tradicional cubana, pero a la vez no estoy muy seguro de que la industria quiera mostrar otros aspectos, otras épocas o géneros de la música cubana. Déjame aclarar que a mí como cubano me alegra mucho ver que estos músicos [los del Buena Vista Social Club] estén recibiendo el reconocimiento que merecen. Sin embargo, yo creo que al enfatizar demasiado en lo del Buena Vista se corre el riesgo de que el público masivo piense que se trata solamente de eso. Me asusta pensar que no se presenten, digamos, las conexiones entre épocas, estilos, movimientos. A mí me daría mucho placer ver un interés de las discográficas en presentar un cuadro general de la música cubana, porque sin esas conexiones, se corre el riesgo de que el Buena Vista parezca una cosa aislada. Lo que lo convertiría, en efecto, en una moda.

Gonzalo, hablemos de Miami. Primera pregunta: ¿te presentarías en la ciudad luego de aquel incidente en 1996 cuando grupos de exiliados cubanos te protestaron frente al teatro en Miami? Segunda pregunta: tomando en cuenta que vives relativamente cerca de la ciudad, ¿has visto cambios en la actitud de los exiliados cubanos hacia los músicos de la isla?

Siempre he dicho que presentarme en Miami o en cualquier otra ciudad no tiene nada que ver con los asuntos de la política. Yo no soy político, soy músico. Además, un músico cubano, para ser más específico. Cuando recibo invitaciones para tocar, sea en Miami o cualquier otro lugar, les doy el mismo tratamiento. Es decir, busco que se cumplan ciertos requisitos: el sonido, el sistema de luces, las condiciones del piano, etc. Son requisitos técnicos que, al cumplirse, facilitan mi trabajo y sostienen la calidad de mi música. Mi respuesta a la segunda pregunta: ¿veo cambios en Miami? No sé cómo responder a eso. Eliseo, paso la mayor parte del tiempo viajando y apenas estoy unos días en el sur de la Florida, que ha sido mi lugar de residencia en los últimos cinco años. Cuando estoy en Miami, el tiempo se lo dedico a mi familia. ¿Cambios en la ciudad? No lo sé. Conozco personas que están cansadas de la política, cansadas de que no puedan ejercer su derecho a ver a los músicos que quieran. Algunos de los grupos que siempre protestan por razones políticas durante la visita de algún músico cubano están demasiado ocupados en otros asuntos, pero ¿ha habido cambios en su mentalidad? No lo sé. Sólo el futuro lo dirá.

Gonzalo, gracias por tu tiempo.

El placer es mío.

Richard Galliano with Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Crossroads 2010, parte3

The man sure can play-The Independent (London, England) August 29, 1995 Author: JOHN LYTTLE

In a jazz age still overshadowed by the Edmund Hillary-like heroes of the Fifties and Sixties, who scaled the peaks in mohair suits, with a cigarette in their mouths and a monkey on their backs, it’s rather alarming to come across a contemporary musician whose sheer genius announces itself from the off. But the Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba – who plays Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on Saturday – demonstrated on his debut Blue Note album, Live at Montreux, in 1991, exactly the kind of brilliance that is not supposed to happen any more. With Charlie Haden on double-bass and Paul Motian on drums, he clearly had good taste on his side already, but from the opening notes of the first track’s reworking of Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t”, lights flashed, bells rang and the elusive jazz jackpot’s coins poured out in a flood. He began with a full-tilt vamp on the chords, Afro-Cuban rhythms driving manic repetitions, until Monk’s lop-sided theme emerged amid a welter of virtuoso effects, a double-time salsa chorus leading into a second ascent on the tune until it slowed down to a dirge before the appropriately Monkian plinky-plonk ending. His unaccompanied solo on the self-composed third track was even better, a playful cadenza that mixed the history of post-war jazz piano styles with a ferocious Cuban lilt. And then he played a ballad so tenderly it almost made you weep. He was 27 and suddenly the most exciting pianist in the world. Unfortunately for his career, he was also Cuban. The son of a renowned Havana musician, whose own father was one of Cuba’s most illustrious danzon composers, Rubalcaba entered the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory at the age of eight to be taught by his mother before studying composition at the Arts Institute of Havana. By the time of his Blue Note debut (actually leased to the label by the Japanese subsidiary Something Else, in order to circumvent the US economic blockade of Cuba)Rubalcaba had already recorded a number of albums and toured Europe. Indeed, it was his fate to be “discovered” over and over again, by Dizzy Gillespie, who played with him at Havana’s 1985 jazz festival; by Charlie Haden, at the same festival in 1986, and by the German label Messidor, who released albums by him in 1988 and 1989.

Now a genuine star, with a further four Blue Note albums behind him, Rubalcaba has remained a citizen of Cuba, although he lives in the Dominican Republic in order to practice his profession more easily than Cuba’s isolation allows. When he was invited to New York for a Lincoln Centre concert in 1993, a diplomatic row broke out, with the State Department considering him persona non grata, and exiled musicians like Paquito D’Rivera protesting his presence. He still managed to play, but critics carped that he was either too Cuban or not Cuban enough for the jazz tradition. His Edinburgh solo concert – a British debut – is something of a coup, but he will be back in the autumn for a tour with the classical pianist Katia Labeque.

I interviewed him in Germany, with his responses translated into English by his manager. Technique, which Rubalcaba is alternately praised and cursed for, is, he says, “something to which you don’t just have the key in your pocket, to use at your will. The more you have, the more you need to think about how you will use it, and in my case, I always have a sense of its limits.” His first musical influence was Cuban traditional music, especially the heavily African-flavoured music of the church. “After that,” he says, “was Cuban popular music – also very African – and the music I played in my father’s band. If I have a style of my own, it is because I have been using jazz as a reference while also taking in the Cuban and African background which was itself an important influence to jazz musicians in the US.” Rubalcaba is also a much more varied player than he is credited for – he even does a nifty version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. The tune, he concedes, was suggested by his manager, but he remains a Fab Four fan, because, he says, he’s in sympathy with “the ideology of the time”. One fondly imagines Fidel himself grooving to Sgt Pepper in a natty camouflaged Beatle-jacket.

Meticulous Jazzman of the World-By BEN RATLIFF- Published: February 17, 2008- The New York Times

The Cuban-born pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who over the last 15 years or so has become one of the greatest musicians in jazz, is meticulous about music. You can tell this by the first unaccompanied notes of “Avatar,” his complexly beautiful new album. He has an almost eerie control over his sound, as if he were playing the strings directly instead of using the keys as intermediaries. He is also meticulous about ideas. He tends to classify music rather exactly, and he talks about jazz in terms of codes and information. He prepares his records — “productions,” he calls them — with conceptual rigor.

Mr. Rubalcaba has spent about a decade living in southern Florida in a quiet gated community about half-hour from Fort Lauderdale. His life looks more like that of a classical-music virtuoso than a jazz musician. He goes to the airport, tours, comes home and dives back into practice.

“I always wanted to have silence when I got home from working,” he said, sitting in the living room of his house last week, dressed entirely in white. Mr. Rubalcaba, who has a wife and three children, is 44, though he looks younger, and talks older. He is small and compact, with boyish freckles on his nose, but discusses his music with lofty self-assurance, almost professorially.

“Avatar,” which came out this month on Blue Note, represents his first serious interaction with the younger jazz musicians on the New York scene in his 15 years of playing in America. (He is to appear at the Village Vanguard, from Tuesday to next Sunday.)

New York can use him. An exciting recent undercurrent of music in the city has been a new kind of Afro-Latin jazz, with greater intellectual complexity, compositional ambition and cultural precision.

But Mr. Rubalcaba has mostly not been part of it. Instead he has been making his records and working around the world with his trio; he has also been involved in album projects with Charlie Haden and Joe Lovano, and has been devising a solo-piano repertory. Mr. Rubalcaba comes from a musical family in Cuba: his father and grandfather were prominent members of popular orchestras. (His father, Guillermo Rubalcaba, was for a time the pianist in the band of the violinist Enrique Jorrín, who created the cha-cha-cha.) Born in 1963, he grew up regularly seeing the best Cuban popular musicians playing in his house: Jorrín, the bassist Juan Formell of Los Van Van, the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, the percussionist Changuito, the singer Omara Portuondo.

This was a perfect complement for Mr. Rubalcaba’s studies at Cuba’s musical conservatory, where he learned European classical music. “I had two schools,” he said. “The school that I could get in my house, the music of the street coming through my father and my family, and the orthodox school, the classical school, that didn’t want to hear anything about popular music.”

In 1992 he legally left Cuba and went to the Dominican Republic, where he lived for six years; he then he applied for permanent residence in the United States. (He is now a United States citizen; each time he returns to Cuba to see his family, he must apply for a visa.)

Last year Mr. Rubalcaba put “Avatar” together in a hurry, after trying and failing to tease out a concept for another piano-trio record. He decided he was tired of the format, having done it consistently for at least 15 years. (He has made more than 20 albums.) He heard a broader instrumental sound in his head, and enlisted a quintet, member by member.

He started with the saxophonist Yosvany Terry, a slightly younger Cuban living in New York, whom Mr. Rubalcaba knew from school days in Havana. He found Mike Rodriguez, a young trumpeter in Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Matt Brewer, a bassist with Greg Osby’s  band. At the end of the process, at Mr. Brewer’s suggestion, he added the drummer Marcus Gilmore, whom Mr. Rubalcaba had never heard. Mr. Gilmore had the task of learning some ferociously complicated music in three days. Three weeks of performances followed, then the making of the album in New York.

In the context of Mr. Rubalcaba’s career the record is unusually cooperative. He asked his band members to contribute compositions; Mr. Terry wrote three pieces for the album, and Mr. Brewer wrote one. And the quintet is as up-to-date a jazz group as can be found.

Sizing up Mr. Brewer and Mr. Gilmore, both in their 20s, Mr. Rubalcaba spoke not so much of what they are playing — their techniques or licks — but the wide range of what they are absorbing, what they are listening to, where they’re getting their input. “They’re part of a new generation of musicians that has more hunger about other things outside of jazz,” he said. “And they don’t see those things as exotic. They see them as serious and deep.” Mr. Rubalcaba himself learned jazz in bits and pieces. Until the late 1970s Cuban musicians were severely discouraged from playing it, for political reasons. Beyond that was the problem of what he calls information. In the mid-1980s Mr. Rubalcaba used to listen to a half-hour jazz show on Cuban radio, but the music didn’t go past the early ’60s; the disc jockey kept replaying items in his limited library, Mr. Rubalcaba remembered. He also had the option of searching for the few American jazz records that had been licensed to record labels in Communist-bloc countries or learning about records from friends who had traveled outside Cuba.  Keith Jarrett, for instance, was not a big influence among Cuban musicians in the ’80s because his records were hard to come by. But Mr. Rubalcaba found his way to Mr. Jarrett’s solo album “Facing You” when a friend brought back a copy from America. And in 1983, when Mr. Rubalcaba went on tour with the dynastic charanga group Orquesta Aragón, someone in Paris gave him a copy of Mr. Jarrett’s “Survivor’s Suite.” To his amazement, six years later he would play with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, musicians on that album.

He has several things going now: his current tour with his new band; his continuing performances of solo-piano repertory, in which he bridges Cuba’s classical and popular music with improvisation and chilling focus; a collaboration with the Cuban-born singer Francisco Céspedes, his second; and a studio session with the French jazz accordionist Richard Galliano in the spring .

He has also been rehearsing in Los Angeles for an opera called “Revolution of Forms,” which may have its first performance in 2011. Set in Havana in 1961, it describes the planning of Cuba’s state art schools. The story tells how various architects and politicians — including Fidel Castro  and Che Guevara — argued about the correct way to fuse art with politics and history. (Mr. Rubalcaba, who attended the school, is working on the score with another composer, Anthony Davis; the libretto is being written by Charles Koppelman and the Mexican-born journalist Alma Guillermoprieto, who taught dance at the school in the ’60s.)

Mr. Rubalcaba is a serious cultural syncretist: he talks analytically and philosophically about combining aesthetic elements from Cuba, America and Europe, of mixing ancient and modern. “We have reached a point in the evolution not only of music, but of the world, where people have less resistance to being mixed,” he said. “It is a time to be open and anxious to learn beyond your own space. And it doesn’t take anything away from you. In fact it brings rich things to you.”

But he disdained the idea of working according to a grand project. He applies himself to whatever is in front of him, he explained. “I work as if the thing I’m working on will be the last thing I do,” he said. “It’s much better than looking around it to see what’s ahead.”

La espontaneidad de un virtuoso del teclado. (pianista cubano Gonzalo Rubalcaba)(TT: the spontaneity of a keyboard virtuoso) (TA: Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba) Article from:Américas (Spanish Edition) Article date:July 1, 1996 Author: Holston, Mark

La vida en el mundo del jazz puede llevarlo a uno a una nominación para un premio Grammy o a un prestigioso debut en el Lincoln Center. En el camino, si el viajero es un pianista cubano que se llamaGonzalo Rubalcaba, también puede significar un programa cada vez más recargado de presentaciones y apresurados viajes al aeropuerto más cercano para alcanzar vuelos a Tokio, Sáo Paulo, Toronto y otros numerosos destinos cosmopolitas.

Y también una visita al taller de reparación de carrocerías. El hecho de que este virtuoso de treinta y tres años resida en Santo Domingo, la bulliciosa capital de la República Dominicana, le ha significado un tipo de problemas que es improbable que hubiera tenido que enfrentar en La Habana.

“Lo siento, Gonzalo no podrá asistir a la entrevista”, me informó por teléfono José Forteza, el agente del pianista. “Surgió un viaje. Nos vamos al Japón, y camino al consulado tuvo un accidente”.

La cita se cumplió un año después, cuando Rubalcaba, después de tentar la suerte sorteando las caóticas callejuelas de Santo Domingo, llega a la puerta de mi hotel en su nuevo Honda Prelude blanco. Pronto salimos para el barrio colonial pleno de historia para una charla en uno de los cafés al aire libre. Ya sea que ha mejorado sustancialmente su habilidad como conductor o que el tránsito es menos difícil en esta ventosa tarde de junio, Rubalcaba se siente cómodo y en control, al tiempo que relata su vida en esta colorida metrópolis y habla sobre su carrera cada vez más exigente.

Su habilidad en el volante me recuerda las cualidades de su interpretación: súbitos impulsos de energía mientras esquiva a toda velocidad un camión cargado de maderas, pausados interludios mientras atravesamos un campus universitario lleno de impetuosos peatones, una intensa concentración mientras atravesamos las impredecibles vueltas del laberinto de estrechas callejuelas adoquinadas.

Santo Domingo es en la actualidad el hogar del pianista, su esposa María, sus hijos Joao y Joan, de su agente Forteza y de su hermano Luis y sus respectivas familias. La cultura española y africana del país proporciona a los cubanos un entorno atractivo y les facilita las comunicaciones y el transporte que se han convertido en aspectos críticos para satisfacer las exigencias cada vez mayores de su carrera internacional.

El pianista, nacido en La Habana en 1963, es hijo de Guillermo Rubalcaba, conocido pianista cubano que tocaba en la famosa orquesta de Enrique Jorrin. Su abuelo, Jacobo González Rubalcaba, era un destacado compositor de danzones. Con semejante ambiente musical en su hogar, no es de extrañar que el joven Rubalcaba comenzara a estudiar el piano a los nueve años y obtuviera un título en composición musical en el Instituto de Bellas Artes de La Habana. Cuando aún era adolescente inició su carrera grabando y tocando, entre otros, con el trompetista y compositor de bebop Dizzy Gillespie, que se convertiría en uno de los grandes admiradores del pianista cubano.

Sentados en la majestuosa plaza España de Santo Domingo, frente a la ornamentada fachada del palacio de Diego Colón, analizamos su vida en la República Dominicana, sus opiniones acerca del inusitado interés actual en el jazz latino y sus planes para el futuro.

“El barrio colonial de Santo Domingo es el más dinámico, espiritual y arquitectónicamente importante de la ciudad”, comenta mientras observa un panorama que ha cambiado poco desde 1498, cuando Bartolomé Colón, el hermano del descubridor, fundó la que habría de ser la primera ciudad europea del hemisferio occidental y el centro de la cultura española en el Nuevo Mundo. “En la ciudad colonial verdaderamente “se respira esa época”, agrega.

También me gusta La Romana, porque allí todo fue construido alrededor de las atracciones naturales”, dice, pero a su vez reconoce que sus crecientes obligaciones le han permitido disfrutar muy poco su nueva residencia.

Pero otro lugar de la República Dominicana, poco visitado por los turistas, realmente despierta su admiración. “Santiago de los Caballeros (la segunda ciudad de la república, situada a una hora de Puerto Plata en la región septentrional del país) me llamó la atención porque me recuerda a la ciudad de Santiago en Cuba, sólo que es más pequeña”, dice Rubalcaba. “Los santiagueros son muy hospitalarios. Se preocupan por sus vecinos y la gente que los rodea, algo que en esta época muchas veces falta en las grandes ciudades. Son una gente feliz. Al igual que en Santiago de Cuba, siempre están dispuestos a organizar una fiesta, cualquier día de la semana, ya sea de día o de noche”.

Con sus antecedentes de jazz, música clásica y estilos cubanos, Rubalcaba es una especie de anomalía en la República Dominicana, dominada por el merengue. “Todavía no he grabado merengue porque no me han invitado a hacerlo”, dice con una sonrisa. En realidad, fue invitado a realizar una grabación con Juan Luis Guerra, la más famosa estrella pop del país, y participó en el álbum Bachata Rosa, que ganó un Grammy en 1990.

El hecho de que en 1995 lo alcanzara la fama de una nominación para un Grammy es otra indicación del interés que ha despertado este fascinante maestro cubano. “Definitivamente fue una gran cosa desde el punto de vista promocional”, admite pragmáticamente acerca de su exposición a la fama del Grammy. “Uno es visto por un número inimaginable de personas de todo el mundo. Nunca pensé en la nominación, sino en la interpretación y en la oportunidad de promover mi obra y mi imagen”.

Siempre cuidadoso acerca de la forma en que invierte su tiempo y su energía artística, Rubalcabase esfuerza por no ser calificado como artista de jazz latino. En efecto, su último álbum exhibe las distintas facetas de su personalidad artística a través de solos, interpretaciones con su cuarteto cubano y con sus frecuentes colaboradores norteamericanos de jazz, el bajista Charlie Haden y el baterista Jack DeJohnette. Imagine: Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the USA, su séptimo álbum para la legendaria marca Blue Note, incluye originales interpretaciones de un ecléctico programa que va desde “Imagine” de John Lennon, a “Woody’n You” de Dizzie Gillespie, el bolero “Perfidia” de Alberto Domínguez y obras originales grabadas en vivo durante una reciente gira por los Estados Unidos.

“No creo que sea prudente clasificar mi carrera sólo como intérprete del jazz latino”, señala diplomáticamente. “En la actualidad, en el movimiento parecen estar surgiendo nuevos talentos que están renovando el lenguaje original del estilo. En realidad, deberíamos pensar en darle un nuevo nombre”. Un poco alienado por lo que percibe como una tendencia a comercializar el estilo,Rubalcaba esboza algunos consejos para quienes pretenden izar el estandarte del jazz latino. “Estamos trabajando con una cultura seria y profunda”, señala. “Todavía hay estilos vírgenes que deben ser tratados como tales y no a través de un enfoque puramente comercial. No me gusta la idea de que todos se metan en el jazz latino, en interpretar la música folclórica al estilo del jazz. Hay que hacerlo de una manera seria”.

Entonces, en la misma forma en que su música puede cambiar dramática y espontáneamente de rumbo, se torna filosófico, subrayando su profunda pasión por la música a la que ha dedicado su vida. “La nueva generación debería pensar más acerca del valor de la música, debería poner la música primero y pensar menos en sí misma”, sostiene. “No quiero que nuestra música sea una cuestión de moda. Aún cuando ello requiera un lento proceso, el producto final debe ser algo permanente, parte de la historia. Para mí, lo importante es avanzar en esa dirección”.

Por el momento, le interesa la idea de producir un álbum clásico. El proyecto puede involucrar dos pianos y una orquesta e incluir algunas composiciones originales que ha preparado. “No es algo nuevo para mí”, dice, reflexionando sobre sus primeros tiempos en el Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán de La Habana. “Así me eduqué. Por diferentes razones, no seguí y practiqué ese estilo: decidí ser un tipo distinto de músico, más popular. Pero ello no quiere decir que sólo voy a tocar jazz”.

Ya sea en la música clásica o el jazz o en algún estilo híbrido de improvisación afrocubana que aún falta definir, es seguro que Rubalcaba permanecerá por muchos años en la vanguardia de los pianistas contemporáneos. “Depende del tipo de transición que atraviese”, dice. “Eso determinará el tipo de música que toque”.

NPR Interview: Gonzalo Rubalcaba discusses his musical influences and his new CD, “Paseo”

TONY COX
NPR Special
01-28-2005
Interview: Gonzalo Rubalcaba discusses his musical influences and his new CD, “Paseo”

Host: TONY COX
Time: 9:00-10:00 AM

TONY COX, host:

From the studios of NPR West, I’m Tony Cox.

Jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba is among the most celebrated of the more recent batch of musicians to have defected from Cuba. He lives near Miami now, but during the mid-1990s his refusal to out-and-out denounce the Cuban government outraged many in Florida’s Cuban-American community. That tension seems to have subsided these days, but all is not quiet. Rubalcaba hadn’t made a record in three years, until now. It’s called “Paseo.” In a recent conversation with the pianist, I asked how a musician in such demand could wait so long to record.

(Soundbite of jazz piano music)

Mr. GONZALO RUBALCABA (Pianist): Probably because I need some time. I need time to compose and to conceive what I’m supposed to do next. I really appreciate when I see musicians, they can produce every year something different. I can’t. I can’t. It take, to me, long time to divorce with what I was doing before, until I found the culmination or the high point, and then I can see the new road, new way to arrive to a new point. So that’s the main reason.

COX: So you need something to sound different and new and innovative every time out.

Mr. RUBALCABA: Exactly. I don’t know if I would say new, but at least a new organization of my experience, of my traditions, of my point of views. And I try to do that. I try to expose that every production.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

COX: And while you’re trying to do new things, as you say, and become even more innovative, you also re-recorded some tunes that you’ve had on previous CDs. I’m thinking now particularly about one song–I wanted you to talk about this one–“Santo Canto.”

(Soundbite of jazz music)

COX: Why go back?

Mr. RUBALCABA: I didn’t come back. I didn’t come back. I look back, which is different.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. RUBALCABA: And I think we found something that still is open to create, still is open to work with. It means to me that still this music is fresh, is young, is open. So why not to project that period in a different way with all the experience that I have now with the age where I am now, with my musical conception right now? And I think we get something different.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

COX: Speaking of looking back and looking forward, that seems to be a theme that we’re sort of developing through this conversation, which is good. You have gone back to the quartet, you know, which was something that you had earlier in your career. And, you know, was it nostalgia? What was it that made you do that again?

Mr. RUBALCABA: A lot of people around the world were asking, why not to do something again in the same way that you did with the Cuban quartet in the beginning of the ’90s? It took me long time to decide to do that, and it has been for long time doing my career with trio, and I was missing one or two more instruments to expand my capacity as an arranger, as a composer, to share some information, so–you know, some experience.

(Soundbite of “El Guerrillero”)

COX: This particular tune–I’m going to ask you to pronounce the name of it. It’s the first cut on your–“El Guerrillero”? I don’t know if that’s right…

Mr. RUBALCABA: “El Guerrillero.”

COX: “El Guerrillero.”

Mr. RUBALCABA: “El Guerrillero.”

COX: All right. This particular tune starts out one way and then it seems to sort of nuance into some other things. My question, I suppose, is this: Are you finding that there are many different strands that you try to tie together in your compositions now?

(Soundbite of “El Guerrillero”)

Mr. RUBALCABA: Well, about this tune, specifically, I don’t think that I did a lot of stuff or newer stuff doing that, playing that music. This is a very old music. It’s part of our heritage, our traditions. There are Cuban traditions which contain not only African influence, but also influence from Haiti, from the island around Cuba, and it’s all fresh. It sound very natural, because this music has been part of our life for a long time. Since we’re born we has been listening to that music, not on the radio, on TV, but in our religions, activities. Normal people, they used to–Saturdays and Sunday, they used to do parties, religion parties, and I remembered through–heard and playing that music, singing that music, dancing with that music, invoking the saints with that music.

(Soundbite of “El Guerrillero”)

COX: Let’s talk for a moment, if we can, about you as an artist and as a Cuban who is now living in the United States. There’s a price that you paid for that, wasn’t it, Gonzalo, coming to the United States the way that you did, being in Miami with the strong political feelings about Castro? Was there a price that you paid both musically and personally to come here?

Mr. RUBALCABA: In some way, I think we gain a lot, moving out of Cuba, because we get our freedom to learn, to discuss, to say, `This is good,’ or `This is bad,’ or `We want this,’ `We don’t want to do that.’ We will fight for this because we know we have rights, and nobody can stop us. Even in that country where we live today, United States, we have the privilege to say, `Well, we don’t want to make a really commercial music to live.’ And that’s the reason “Paseo” exist.

COX: So a song like “Sea Change”–just on the title alone, I would have thought that perhaps “Sea Change” talked a little bit about it, but I guess not. No?

Mr. RUBALCABA: The original name was “Sin Ramerio El Maro.”(ph)

(Soundbite of “Sea Change”)

Mr. RUBALCABA: I can say that I didn’t decide to use that name consciously thinking about any political vision, any political point. I had to recognize that since the moment that that record was released, everybody, especially here in south Florida, connect that piece with the Cuban situation about freedom, about politics, about everything.

(Soundbite of “Sea Change”)

COX: What’s it like for you in Miami now? You’re living in Miami with the political and musical mind-set that you have. How are you being received?

Mr. RUBALCABA: I have knowledge about everything which is happening here in Miami–you know, knowledge of the Cuban people here in Miami, position about Cuba, about the US government, about everything that involve Cuba. But again, we are in a territory where you can choose. You can say, `OK, I have nothing to do with this argument’ or `I support this argument and I’m part of that’ or `I feel they’re wrong and I will take a different direction.’ So that’s the good thing about that.

(Soundbite of “Sea Change”)

COX: Do you think that, were you still living in Cuba today, your music would sound the same as it does now?

Mr. RUBALCABA: Nobody knows that, not even me. But there’s something that for sure I could see, which is my intention to grow up, no matter where I was living. And my attitude, my discipline, my vision to renovate myself constantly, was the same when I was living in Cuba.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

COX: Gonzalo Rubalcaba is the extraordinary jazz pianist. His latest recording is called “Paseo.”

Gonzalo, thank you very much for dropping by.

Mr. RUBALCABA: It was wonderful. Thanks.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

COX: This is a news and opinion program created by NPR and the African-American public radio consortium.

As you may have already gathered, this is my last broadcast. And before I get out of here, I’d like to thank you for your letters, your e-mails and your phone calls. It has been a pleasure and a privilege. And, of course, it’s a great staff.

(Credits)

COX: I’m Tony Cox. This is NPR News. And believe me when I say: Thanks for listening.

Content and Programming copyright 2005 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved.

JAZZiT Magazine Jan/Feb 2005 Intervista a Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Intervista a Gonzalo Rubalcaba di Vincenzo Martorella – Foto di Stefano Sapora

Atre anni da “Supernova”, esce l’atteso nuovo lavoro del prodigioso pianista cubano. Un disco complesso etrascinante, denso earticolato. Un’opera totale, ma anche un omaggio ai ritmi della sua terra. Lo abbiamo intervistato.

?) Supernova è uscito nel 2001. Dopo tre anni pubblichi un nuovo disco, ·Paseo·. Cosa hai fatto In questi tre anni?

!) Ho lavorato’ e l’ho fatto in diversi contesti. Ho suonatu con Joao Bosco. con il quale ho avuto concerti in Europa, Brasile, America e Canada. Allo stesso tempo ho suonato spesso in piano. Poi ho aiutato Charlie Haden nella realizzazione di ‘Land Of The Sun’. Ho suonato con lui in giro per il mondo. E devo ammettere che sentivo la necessità di realizzare un nuovo album. Sono convinto che si debba incidere un nuovo disco solamente quando i musicisti con cui suoni sono entrati in confidenza con il nuovo immaginario musicale. Quindi, è molto importante andare in tour, suonare il più possibile e crescere musicalmente concerto dopo conceroto. “Supernova” è stato un album fortunato, che abbiamo avuto l’opportunità di presentare in giro per il mondo. Allo stesso tempo, il precedente album con Haden richiedeva che io suonassi in giro per il mondo con il suo gruppo, così mi è capitato di essere in tour con band diverse contemporaneamente: in trio, con Haden e in piano solo. Poi, finalmente, ho trovato il momento giusto per incidere il nuovo disco. E devo riconoscereche mi sono sentito un po’ sotto pressione perché erano passati tre anni dall’ultimo cd e tuttele etichette discografiche, in linea di massima, pretendono un disco ogni anno. Ma vedendo la cosa da una prospettiva diversa posso dire che questo èstato un fatto positivo perché aver trascorso questo tempo lavorando, confrontandosi con musicisti diversi ti dà l’opportunità di crescere, come strumentista e come compositore: diventi più maturo, più consapevole, e dunque più preparato per il passo successivo. Questo è il motivo fondamentale per cui c’è voluto tutto questo tempo.

?) Piano elettrico, sintetizzatori, basso elettrico. ·Paseo· segna una svolta elettrica nella tua musica?

!) Direi di no. In realtà, ho usato questi strumenti anche in passato, seppure occasionalmente. Molti musicisti hanno un’idea confusa su come utilizzare l’elettronica. Èvero: ogni volta che si usano le tastiere si corre il rischio di perdere in parte la personalità del suono, delle radici, delle tradizioni, ma tutto dipende da come lo si fa, da come la tecnologia viene applicata alla musica. Usare i sintetizzatori vuoi dire porsi la domanda su dove ecome usarli. Non posso dire che tutto quello che facciamo noi sia corretto: perlomeno, cerchiamo di proporre ~n metodo di utilizzo delle tecnologie, e un metodo per combinarle con le sezioni acustiche (il piano, il sax, la batteria). Siamo alla ricerca di un equilibrio, equesta è, probabilmente, la parte più difficile, cioè trovare il giusto equilibrio senza mai perdere di vista il risultato musicale. Ma io credo molto nella possibilità di trovare nuove sonorità, nuovi modi di espressione, nuovi mezzi per vedere la mia musica. Adesso dobbiamo decidere come portare in tour questo album. ecapire se quella musica possa essere la stessa anche

senza i sintetizzatori o se, invece, in questo modo possa perdere forza ed energia. Fortunatamente nella musica ci sono molti elementi che vanno al di là del suono: la forma, l’idioma di un pezzo, il modo personale di espressione di ciascun musicista. Quindi, la musica può essere suonata con qualunque tipo di strumento, con una big band, un trio, con i synth, senza i synth. Bisogna anche rapportarsi al pubblico più giovane che ha molta familiarità con i sintetizzatori, enon solo per far vedere che anche noi li usiamo, ma per mostrare loro come li usiamo, con quale personalità.

?) I  musicisti che suonano con te sono formidabili. Ma se Ignacio Berroa è una vecchia conoscenza, dove hai pescato Armando Gola?

i) Èun musicista cubano, così come cubani sono tutti i musicisti, compreso me. Ignacio vive negli Usa da 24 anni. Armando viveva in Colombia, prima di trasferirsi anche lui negli States, dove ha vissuto tra Miami e New York. È buffo perché ricevetti un cd con alcuni suoi demo, quando ancora non lo conoscevo. Chiesi un appuntamento per incontrarlo personalmente e lui mi disse che aveva visto alcuni miei concerti a Cuba ein Colombia (dove, negli anni ’90, suonavo almeno una volta all’anno). Rimasi impressionato dal suo modo di suonare, e iniziammo a provare insieme. Felipe, invece, ha vissuto in Brasile per quattro o cinque anni; lì ha esplorato tutti i percorsi della musica brasiliana, poi si è spostato negli Usa, dove ha suonato per qualche tempo nella band di Arturo Sandoval. Con loro ho, finalmente, per la prima volta, avuto la fortuna di avere musicisti nella stessa città, New York. Quando, ad esempio, mi trasferii nella Repubblica Dominicana, il resto della band viveva aCuba. Qualche anno dopo, il batterista Julio Barreto si trasferii in Svizzera. Anche quando andai negli Usa èstato difficile trovarsi nella stessa città con gli altri musicisti. Adesso ho una band con cui posso spendere tutto il tempo che voglio aprovare eregistrare. Credo molto nell’importanza del gruppo, nel conoscersi, nel confrontarsi. Nel condividere le proprie idee. E riuscire a fare questo, quando si vive in città distanti, e non si ha mai la possibilità di vedersi e suonare insieme, diventa difficile.

?) Da un punto di vista ritmico, questo è forse il tuo album più complesso. L’articolazione ritmica, per te, riveste un valore particolare?

!) Dico sempre che ritmo, armonia, articolazio-· ne delle forme, struttura dovrebbero essere il tuo modo di pensare come musicista, e come essere umano. Non dobbiamo cercare di fare di più di quello che possiamo, ma dobbiamo fare musica nel modo in cui sappiamo farlo. E il risultato èla musica di questo disco. Dal punto di vista ritmico Cuba èun paese molto ricco, e c’è molto più ritmo di quanto non si sappia. È un paese con musiche molto diverse, alcune delle quali non sono affatto conosci ute. Quando ero piccolo ho avuto la possibilità di entrare in contatto con queste espressioni: folklore, musiche religiose eda ballo. Equesto per varie ragioni: innanzitutto perché vengo da una famiglia di musicisti, equesta èstata una palestra per me fondamentale; secondo, perché ho studiato musica classica; terzo, perché fin da giovanissimo sono entrato in contatto col mondo del jazz. Quindi, la mia musica èuna combinazione di molti elementi diversi. Direi quasi uno spazio in cui mettere tutte queste influenze che ci sono nella mia testa, in una maniera organica. Può essere difficile quando leggi le partiture la prima volta. Ma, in fondo, tutto quello che facciamo èstudiare le nostre tradizioni, basarci sulle informazioni che abbiamo, e riorganizzare il tutto in spazi diversi, accordi diversi, sonorità diverse, forme diverse. Una sorta di espansione, di estensione del mondo al quale apparteniamo. Larticolazione ritmica, allora, rappresenta esattamente una nostra peculiare caratteristica, come il modo di parlare odi camminare. Ciò che mi interessa è la fluidità, il flusso ritmico, ela nostra abilità nel conversare, suonando, condividendo questi flussi ritmici.

?) Aproposito di ritmi, come mai, in ·Paseo·, hai suonato le percussioni?

i) Sono stato costretto afarlo! Ame piace suonare le percussioni, ma questa volta sono stato davvero costretto afarlo. Avevo in mente di chiamare Giovanni Hidalgo, ma per motivi extra-musicali,non siamo riusciti aincontrarci per provare il materiale. Alla fine avevamo pochissimo tempo adisposizione per completare l’album e alloraomi sono preso la responsabilità di suonare le percussioni.

?) La tua tecnica strumentale è trascendentale. Eppure, uno dei momenti più belli del disco è il tuo accompagnamento al solo di soprano in El Guerrillero. Con pochissime note, emeravigliosi spostamenti di accento, riesci, almeno cosi mi pare, a trasmettere l’essenza stessa del ritmo cubano…

!) Non èniente di predeterminato, niente di prestabilito. Credo che lo stesso brano possa assumere un significato diverso ogni sera. Magari suoniamo ogni volta la stessa musica, ma le emozioni che quella musica ti ha fatto provare ieri non sono le stesse che provi oggi perché sei tu a reagire diversamente. Ho sempre pensato che i concerti non debbano essere visti semplicemente come musicisti che suonano i loro strumenti: i concerti sono molto di più. Un concerto è: i musicisti, gli strumenti, l’ambiente, il pubblico, l’acustica; tutto questo insieme di elementi condiziona il comportamento dei musicisti, la loro attitudine mentale in quel contesto. Per me, l’abilità di un buon musicista sta nel mettere insieme diverse capacità espressive, nell’avere i mezzi per suonare ciò che èappropriato in ogni momento. È questo il motivo per cui, per me, ècosì importante essere preparato tecn icamente: questo è l’unico modo di essere libero. Libero di fare tutto quello che vuoi, compreso quelle poche note alle quali ti riferivi con un buon sound euna buona intenzione, ofraseggiare in modo aggressivo, o in qualunque altro modo. Devi esercitarti molto, e ad alti livelli, se vuoi essere in grado di portare la musica dove vuoi tu. Ma non c’è nessun piano, nulla di prestabilito, non faccio questo per confondere l’ascoltatore, come qualcuno potrebbe pensare.

?) Quando ascolto la tua musica non posso  fare a meno di  pensare a Manuel Saumell, Ignacio Cervantes, Ernesto Lecuona, all’americano Louis Moreau Gottschalk, e ai compositori cubani contemporanei (Roldàn, Caturla)…

!) E, infatti, sono molto legato alla loro musica. Mi sono avvicinato aloro fin da bambino, perché ascuola ti fanno studiare le loro composizioni. Oggi, poi, mi sento ancora più vicino a questi musicisti, così come a Roldàn, Caturla, Leo Brouwer, veri e propri punti di riferimento. Purtroppo, non tutti comprendono l’importanza che questi grandi compositori hanno avuto nel ventesimo secolo, soprattutto negli anni Venti eTrenta, e io cerco di studiare e comprendere il loro punto di vista. Perché erano musicisti attentissimi atutto quello che succedeva nel mondo intorno a loro, in termini di tendenze e influenze musicali, ma, nello stesso tempo, non persero mai le loro radici, e lavorarono sempre nel più puro spirito delle radici cubane. Fecero molte esperienze all’estero, ma la loro estetica fu quella di creare uno spazio sonoro nel quale far convergere la tradizione cubana eciò che succedeva al di fuori di esse. Questa èuna filosofia musicale, ed èla filosofia nella quale credo. Anch’io cerco di fare la stessa cosa. Avolte ricevo delle critiche, negli Usa, proprio perché la gente non riesce a comprendere cosa c’è dietro la mia musica. Per un trentennio, dal ’62 in poi, tra Usa e Cuba non c’è stata alcuna comunicazione. Ora, invece, molti americani, e anche molti europei, stanno scoprendo la tradizione musicale cubana. grazie anche a un fenomeno come il Buena Vista Social Club, e mi fa piacere perché è un bene che i musicisti di quella generazione abbiano la possibilità di andare in giro per il mondo a suonare quella musica, così importante per Cuba. Le cose stanno cambiando, ma il mio compito, come musicista, resta quello di continuare, a livello filosofico, la strada indicata dai grandi maestri. Come dire, to bring the music at the right moment. ..

JAZZIT

Keyboard Magazine May 2008 Interview by Jon Regen

Gonzalo Rubalcaba jumps continents – and centuries – with his groundbreaking take on Latin jazz.

by Jon Regen

Since bursting onto the jazz scene with his explosive Blue Note debut in 1990, Gonzalo Rubalcaba has carved out a singular niche in the musical landscape. In Rubalcaba’s world, jazz standards embrace electronic textures, Cuban rhythms collide with classical articulations – in other words, music is ever expanding and all-inclusive. Rubalcaba’s new album Avata.r is another genre bending tour de force that demonstrates how his unique trifecta of technique, insight, and daring has propelled him to the forefront of modern improvised music. From the sly, conversational “Looking In Retrospective,” where stark piano lines meet drum ‘n’ bass grooves, to the hip-hop infused “This Is It,” Rubalcaba displays both a keen sense of history and a renegade’s sense of exploration. Where yesterday collides with tomorrow, that’s where you’ll find Rubalcaba. At least for now – who knows where he’ll be off to next. I first heard the 44-year-old Cuban-born pianist at the Istanbul Jazz Festival in 2005, where he was anchoring Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra. Having heard his first few technically astounding Blue Note recordings, I was

at once struck by the lyrical quality of his playing. Rubalcaba seemed to be saying as much with the notes he didn’t play, as with those he did. For a musician who made a name for himself with a fearless technique and a complete command of the piano, the newly-found elegance and restraint in his playing was an unexpected surprise. Recently, 1caught Rubalcaba at New York’s famed Village Vanguard for a blistering set that showcased music from the new album, and the determined musical vision behind it. During a break from his sold-out engagement, Rubalcaba sat down with me in midtown Manhattan to talk about the making ofAva.tar and his constant quest for musical excellence. I read that Avatar was originally supposed to be a trio record. How did that concept evolve into the modernsounding quintet we hear on the

recording? The original idea was to make a trio record. I tried to put together some music for the album, but it didn’t sound to me like it should be for a trio. I thought I needed one or two more elements in this group. There was something I wanted to do for a long time – to extend lines, melodies and harmonies, not only with the piano and the rhythm section, but with different colors and possibilities. I had knowledge of people like saxophonist Yosvany Terry and some other guys who were here in the States composing great music. I wanted to share with them in this spirit. Finally, I thought it was the right time to change the format and to change the members of the band – I had been working almost ten years with the same group, and I loved what they did. But I had that need to go in a different direction. One of the things that made the difference on this record was not only that it was a quintet, but that it was a record that I put fewer original compositions on. This was a band where I wanted to give everybody the opportunity to collaborate. Not only to use them as sidemen, but to put them to work in terms of the conception of the group. And we did it. There are three compositions by Yosvany and one by bassist Matt Brewerm and I’m happy about what they brought to the band. At the end I feel that it represents my record. When I put the new record on, the first thing I was reminded of from the opening on “Looking In Retrospective” was Keith Jarrett. Was he an influence on you? I think so. People in Cuba in the ’60s and 70s were more into Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, and McCoy Tyner. Few people were interested in what Keith was doing at that time. The big explosion about Keith came with his vision on how to play standards. [ had a connection with Keith since the first time I heard his [1976 album] The Survivor’s Suite. But at the same time, musicians in Cuba felt connected with Keith because we have a very strong classical training. The way he approaches the piano – technically and emotionally, it is very in the tradition of the classical school. Plus, he has great knowledge of the jazz tradition and roots. His playing is clean and clear – the articulation and dynamics, the construction of the phrases. For us in Cuba, where there was an obligation to do the classical school, Keith became a very representative image of what we had in front of us as students. That tune that opens the record, “Looking In Retrospective,” is a Yosvany tune, and I’m sure that he was influenced by Keith in his life. Avatar seems to transcend the Latin genre. It sounds like people making music in the most honest sense of the word – expressing today, expressing now. Not expressing preconceptions of what that music is “supposed” to be. I think that’s a good point. To me, Latin music is not exactly what people believe it is. I say that the most well known and promoted part of Latin music is probably the part connected with the dance, the music that the people use in Cuba and different countries around Latin America to dance and to party. I have nothing against that because I come from a family totally related to that history and that tradition. That tradition was my first reference musically, so the first thing I played, actually – not as a piano player but as a percussionist because I played drums and congas first – was Afro-Cuban music. The son, danz6n, chacha-cha, boleros. And after that I came to school and got a classical education, and then [ listened to jazz records. But the first thing was the Cuban stuff. If we go back to the end ofthe 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, we can see that a lot of composers were using all these Cuban elements, but putting them in a different organization. Guys like Alejandro Garcia Caturla, [whose “Prellldio Carta No.2 for Piano Tu Amor Em Flaso” appean on Avatar -Ed.], Amadeo Roldan, among others, were very connected with what composers like Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Paul Hindemith, and others from the modern school were doing. But they never ignored their roots. What they did was try to actualize their reality at that moment, and put that reality on a stage beyond the Cuban reality. That’s why we saw Cuban composers sharing the stage with successful European composers in the most successful theaters around the world in the ’20s and ’30s. This is the image I have of how to work with Cuban and Latin music. The good thing about the new generation of American musicians is that they are approaching the music without any resistance. They want to learn everything possible. Not only about jazz, or blues, or American tradition, but about everything else that can make them better musicians. And that makes the mission easier, because when you sit down to rehearse and say, “Okay, this is what I have, and here are the references, and I want to go in this direction,” you don’t see any confusion. They understand what you are talking about. And when you see what they have on their iPods – it could be hip-hop or classical to Ellington, Bud Powell, Greg asby, Elvin Jones, or Cuban music. They know about everything. And I think this is what made this record happen the way it did.

Isn’t that really the essence of jazz – blurring musical boundaries? You do chart new sonic ground on this record.

For many of us in this generation, we don’t come to the studio or the stage thinking about how to do jazz. Or thinking about how to do this or that. We come to do music. There are always influences. You can hear the jazz or the Cuban elements. But in the end, the target is to make music. And I think that happened with people like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. They had the same need, because they didn’t want to see themselves as local musicians, but as part of the world. And they wanted to see their music influence not only jazz musicians, but the music of the whole world. And they made it, because if you read comments coming from Stravinsky and Hindemith, they talk about when they came to the United States, how big the influence was of those jazz musicians, and how that experience shaped them to work with those folks at some point in their lives.

There’s something very interesting in your playing on this record – and you don’t hear this from many pianists. When you’re playing lines, you often repeat the same note in a phrase. Where did ou pick up on this from?

Well, you hear this a lot in singers.  And many people don’t notice it. You’ll hear melodies and singers repeat a note constantly. [Huns a melodic phrase where the melody repeats.] And they are repeating notes, but in a very musical way so you don’t notice it. But there are some examples, for instance, McCoy Tyner. He would repeat notes three or four times inside a phrase. And it’s a very smart idea, because not only does the note becomes a platform to a new idea, but the note also takes a new connotation if you change the harmony block in your left hand. John Coltrane used to do this a lot. You wrote a tune on the new album, entitled, “Infantil,” dedicated to John McLaughlin. Can you talk about the influence of innovators like him on you and your music? I think that was an important moment – not only John, but Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Shorter from Weather Report, Emerson, Lake & Palmer – that spectrum of people demonstrating how you could be serious, professional, and creative, and at the same time apply technology. They opened the road for many people at that time, and they got a lot of criticism, but they kept on going. Most important to me, besides the music, was the attitude. They kept themselves young. It seems to me that jazz pianists who have practiced a lot of classical technique come upon a sense of discovery and playfulness when they learn to improvise, maybe because some barriers disappear. How have your classical foundations affected your current work? I think it’s about how conscious you are in terms of how professional you have to be when you go to the stage. Even if your function on the stage is to play one note, you have find the way to bring that note out successfully. You have to hit that note at the right time, with the right feeling, with the right quality of sound. So it’s not about music – it’s about finding myself. But not to find the best side of myself, but to find the problems I have. Because some people go to their instruments to repeat and to enjoy what they know already. And they spend three, four, five hours at their instrument, repeating that, enjoying themselves. They are in love with themselves. And I think you have to respect yourself enough every day so that you can avoid that. So that you can afford to do different things, and face your problems and frustrations, and see that you are not perfect. What I can do to better understand music, whether it’s blues or jazz or pop, or danzon, is to listen. But not only to listen to the music that makes me happy, but to listen to the music that at some point I heard and I didn’t understand. So let me revisit that music – and see if that reaction was part of ignorance. Let me see if now I am able to understand it. Where do you think you got this sense of patience? Did it come from members of your family who taught you this kind of discipline? Discipline comes from two different places. School, and home – your family, the people behind you. I think this is really important. When you have parents and people around you that push you and force you because there is a time when you are younger and you’re unclear as to how to do things in life. You need to be forced sometimes. And they show you the idea of waking up every day, going to the instrument, working at the instrument, and spending time in order to get results. You have to find systems in order to maximize your time. You have a responsibility to pay back the people who stand behind you and have believed in you. But the most important thing is love, the need you have to express yourself through the music. To me, the music helps me to be a better person. I’m making music not only because it is a need. The music helps me see the world around me in the clearest way. To make music as a profession is not only to sit down at a piano and play, but we have to deal with many things that have nothing to do with music. Pressures, business around you, and some people don’t have the capacity to deal with it all, and they give up. Mental strength is what makes the difference, to be able to split your time – to say this is the time for business, and this is the time for the music. Are there some pianistic or musical influences that people might be surprised about”? I think you are always hearing things. Even ifyou don’t like an entire performance, there’s always a moment when you’ll say “that moment was important.” You seem like you’re able to focus on the good in many things. If people would take that attitude in life, life would be better. As musicians, we have the ability to criticize everybody. But what is hard for musicians is to talk not about the good things about you, but about the good things about other people. It’s easy to say, “I don’t like this. This guy’s not playing. This generation’s not doing good. The people of my generation were better,” but I think everybody is doing their best. At the end, you can see that people follow you, and they pack the club to come see you, and maybe they aren’t following other guys, but it doesn’t represent quality. There are a lot of elements in that game that are not about quality all the time. I’m clear about that. You can have a great moment, and sometimes you don’t even understand why. And I don’t care very much for great moments, in terms of popularity. Because I think this is something you have no control about. It depends on many factors. You probably get more popularity at the moment where you think you are not doing your best work. There are different factors that make you become popular. What’s coming up for you this year? I’m writing new music for the quintet, and this time I hope to increase the electronic elements on the next record. I’m also working on an opera that is scheduled to be released in 2011. There are two composers involved – Anthony Davis, and myself. And in April, I’m recording with [French accordionist] Richard Galliano, in a quartet that features drummer Manu Katche and bassist Charlie Haden. When I heard you in Istanbul a few years back, I was struck by what seemed like a big change and a new sense of lyricism in your playing. You have always had an amazing sense of facility, but all of a sudden there seemed to be a sense of space and sweetness – a whole new direction had opened up. I always say that people can’t change things at the exact moment they want to. You need to know what you want to change before you can change it. I’m not always happy with what is happening in the moment, But I’m happy that at that moment, I have the idea how to do things better tomorrow. That means that I’m still able to see different ways to go. There’s a possibility to go somewhere – and sometimes you’re wrong, but at least that attitude, that you’re alert and open and hungry, helps you begin transforming things. You’re always searching.

Exactly. That’s the most important thing.

La espontaneidad de un virtuoso del teclado … Article from: Américas (Spanish Edition) July 1, 1996, Holston, Mark

Article from: Américas (Spanish Edition) July 1, 1996 Holston, Mark

La espontaneidad de un virtuoso del teclado. (pianista cubano Gonzalo Rubalcaba)(TT: the spontaneity of a keyboard virtuoso) (TA: Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba)

La vida en el mundo del jazz puede llevarlo a uno a una nominación para un premio Grammy o a un prestigioso debut en el Lincoln Center. En el camino, si el viajero es un pianista cubano que se llama Gonzalo Rubalcaba, también puede significar un programa cada vez más recargado de presentaciones y apresurados viajes al aeropuerto más cercano para alcanzar vuelos a Tokio, Sáo Paulo, Toronto y otros numerosos destinos cosmopolitas.

Y también una visita al taller de reparación de carrocerías. El hecho de que este virtuoso de treinta y tres años resida en Santo Domingo, la bulliciosa capital de la República Dominicana, le ha significado un tipo de problemas que es improbable que hubiera tenido que enfrentar en La Habana.

“Lo siento, Gonzalo no podrá asistir a la entrevista”, me informó por teléfono José Forteza, el agente del pianista. “Surgió un viaje. Nos vamos al Japón, y camino al consulado tuvo un accidente”.

La cita se cumplió un año después, cuando Rubalcaba, después de tentar la suerte sorteando las caóticas callejuelas de Santo Domingo, llega a la puerta de mi hotel en su nuevo Honda Prelude blanco. Pronto salimos para el barrio colonial pleno de historia para una charla en uno de los cafés al aire libre. Ya sea que ha mejorado sustancialmente su habilidad como conductor o que el tránsito es menos difícil en esta ventosa tarde de junio, Rubalcaba se siente cómodo y en control, al tiempo que relata su vida en esta colorida metrópolis y habla sobre su carrera cada vez más exigente.

Su habilidad en el volante me recuerda las cualidades de su interpretación: súbitos impulsos de energía mientras esquiva a toda velocidad un camión cargado de maderas, pausados interludios mientras atravesamos un campus universitario lleno de impetuosos peatones, una intensa concentración mientras atravesamos las impredecibles vueltas del laberinto de estrechas callejuelas adoquinadas.

Santo Domingo es en la actualidad el hogar del pianista, su esposa María, sus hijos Joao y Joan, de su agente Forteza y de su hermano Luis y sus respectivas familias. La cultura española y africana del país proporciona a los cubanos un entorno atractivo y les facilita las comunicaciones y el transporte que se han convertido en aspectos críticos para satisfacer las exigencias cada vez mayores de su carrera internacional.

El pianista, nacido en La Habana en 1963, es hijo de Guillermo Rubalcaba, conocido pianista cubano que tocaba en la famosa orquesta de Enrique Jorrin. Su abuelo, Jacobo González Rubalcaba, era un destacado compositor de danzones. Con semejante ambiente musical en su hogar, no es de extrañar que el joven Rubalcaba comenzara a estudiar el piano a los nueve años y obtuviera un título en composición musical en el Instituto de Bellas Artes de La Habana. Cuando aún era adolescente inició su carrera grabando y tocando, entre otros, con el trompetista y compositor de bebop Dizzy Gillespie, que se convertiría en uno de los grandes admiradores del pianista cubano.

Sentados en la majestuosa plaza España de Santo Domingo, frente a la ornamentada fachada del palacio de Diego Colón, analizamos su vida en la República Dominicana, sus opiniones acerca del inusitado interés actual en el jazz latino y sus planes para el futuro.

“El barrio colonial de Santo Domingo es el más dinámico, espiritual y arquitectónicamente importante de la ciudad”, comenta mientras observa un panorama que ha cambiado poco desde 1498, cuando Bartolomé Colón, el hermano del descubridor, fundó la que habría de ser la primera ciudad europea del hemisferio occidental y el centro de la cultura española en el Nuevo Mundo. “En la ciudad colonial verdaderamente “se respira esa época”, agrega.

“También me gusta La Romana, porque allí todo fue construido alrededor de las atracciones naturales”, dice, pero a su vez reconoce que sus crecientes obligaciones le han permitido disfrutar muy poco su nueva residencia.

Pero otro lugar de la República Dominicana, poco visitado por los turistas, realmente despierta su admiración. “Santiago de los Caballeros (la segunda ciudad de la república, situada a una hora de Puerto Plata en la región septentrional del país) me llamó la atención porque me recuerda a la ciudad de Santiago en Cuba, sólo que es más pequeña”, dice Rubalcaba. “Los santiagueros son muy hospitalarios. Se preocupan por sus vecinos y la gente que los rodea, algo que en esta época muchas veces falta en las grandes ciudades. Son una gente feliz. Al igual que en Santiago de Cuba, siempre están dispuestos a organizar una fiesta, cualquier día de la semana, ya sea de día o de noche”.

Con sus antecedentes de jazz, música clásica y estilos cubanos, Rubalcaba es una especie de anomalía en la República Dominicana, dominada por el merengue. “Todavía no he grabado merengue porque no me han invitado a hacerlo”, dice con una sonrisa. En realidad, fue invitado a realizar una grabación con Juan Luis Guerra, la más famosa estrella pop del país, y participó en el álbum Bachata Rosa, que ganó un Grammy en 1990.

El hecho de que en 1995 lo alcanzara la fama de una nominación para un Grammy es otra indicación del interés que ha despertado este fascinante maestro cubano. “Definitivamente fue una gran cosa desde el punto de vista promocional”, admite pragmáticamente acerca de su exposición a la fama del Grammy. “Uno es visto por un número inimaginable de personas de todo el mundo. Nunca pensé en la nominación, sino en la interpretación y en la oportunidad de promover mi obra y mi imagen”.

Siempre cuidadoso acerca de la forma en que invierte su tiempo y su energía artística, Rubalcaba se esfuerza por no ser calificado como artista de jazz latino. En efecto, su último álbum exhibe las distintas facetas de su personalidad artística a través de solos, interpretaciones con su cuarteto cubano y con sus frecuentes colaboradores norteamericanos de jazz, el bajista Charlie Haden y el baterista Jack DeJohnette. Imagine: Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the USA, su séptimo álbum para la legendaria marca Blue Note, incluye originales interpretaciones de un ecléctico programa que va desde “Imagine” de John Lennon, a “Woody’n You” de Dizzie Gillespie, el bolero “Perfidia” de Alberto Domínguez y obras originales grabadas en vivo durante una reciente gira por los Estados Unidos.

“No creo que sea prudente clasificar mi carrera sólo como intérprete del jazz latino”, señala diplomáticamente. “En la actualidad, en el movimiento parecen estar surgiendo nuevos talentos que están renovando el lenguaje original del estilo. En realidad, deberíamos pensar en darle un nuevo nombre”. Un poco alienado por lo que percibe como una tendencia a comercializar el estilo, Rubalcaba esboza algunos consejos para quienes pretenden izar el estandarte del jazz latino. “Estamos trabajando con una cultura seria y profunda”, señala. “Todavía hay estilos vírgenes que deben ser tratados como tales y no a través de un enfoque puramente comercial. No me gusta la idea de que todos se metan en el jazz latino, en interpretar la música folclórica al estilo del jazz. Hay que hacerlo de una manera seria”.

Entonces, en la misma forma en que su música puede cambiar dramática y espontáneamente de rumbo, se torna filosófico, subrayando su profunda pasión por la música a la que ha dedicado su vida. “La nueva generación debería pensar más acerca del valor de la música, debería poner la música primero y pensar menos en sí misma”, sostiene. “No quiero que nuestra música sea una cuestión de moda. Aún cuando ello requiera un lento proceso, el producto final debe ser algo permanente, parte de la historia. Para mí, lo importante es avanzar en esa dirección”.

Por el momento, le interesa la idea de producir un álbum clásico. El proyecto puede involucrar dos pianos y una orquesta e incluir algunas composiciones originales que ha preparado. “No es algo nuevo para mí”, dice, reflexionando sobre sus primeros tiempos en el Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán de La Habana. “Así me eduqué. Por diferentes razones, no seguí y practiqué ese estilo: decidí ser un tipo distinto de músico, más popular. Pero ello no quiere decir que sólo voy a tocar jazz”.

Ya sea en la música clásica o el jazz o en algún estilo híbrido de improvisación afrocubana que aún falta definir, es seguro que Rubalcaba permanecerá por muchos años en la vanguardia de los pianistas contemporáneos. “Depende del tipo de transición que atraviese”, dice. “Eso determinará el tipo de música que toque”.

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