Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

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”.

Backstage with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Downbeat, Sept 2002 by Philip Booth

Rubalcaba’s four “Invitation Series” performances at the 23rd edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival amounted to a homecoming of sorts: He made his North American debut at the festival in 1988, with his own Grupo Projecto, and in 1989 he performed with Charlie Haden at the bassist’s own “Invitation” concerts (captured on Haden’s Montreal Tapes albums). Cuba-born Rubalcaba, based in South Florida since 1996, spoke with Down Beat at the historic, ornate Monument National in Montreal, the site of the pianist’s four-night late June festival stand. Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s virtuosity, coupled with a ferocious intensity, has driven his remarkable music career, during which he’s pursued thoughtful, intriguing explorations of the Latin jazz continuum. His albums and live performances draw from bebop, traditional Cuban music and his extensive classical training.

It’s a big challenge. It’s difficult every night to show people different formats and a different musical language. But this has been great, because at the same time you have the opportunity to play with people who maybe you haven’t played with in along time. So it’s a different moment-you see what they’re doing, you can bring your new experience. The result has been fresh. I remember when Joe Lovano and I did Flying Colors in ’97. The last time that we did that music was two-and-a-half years ago, and now we’re here in Montreal with a lot of new things, with a lot of new material, new energy and a new vibe. But that’s beautiful because it’s not only what you can give, it’s also what you can learn from the other guys.

WAS THERE A PARTICULAR KIND OF PORTRAIT OF YOU AS A MUSICIAN THAT YOU WANTED TO PRESENT OVER THE COURSE OF THESE FOUR EVENINGS?

The first day was the Inner Voyage music in trio with Carlos [Henriquez] and Ignacio [Berroa], which was very quiet music in general. Then came Joe Lovano: Playing duet with Joe was another musical dimension. It was more abstract, more avant-garde. We had to think about how to play, how to sound as an ensemble, a big ensemble with just two people using the whole range of the instruments-the piano, saxophones, percussion, Joe was using gongs and drums. Every time that we play together is like [trying to] recompose the piece. Yesterday with Charlie and David [Sanchez], that was the mellow, romantic part of the series. We played part of the Nocturne album. We also tried to play standards that not many people play all the time-“Nefertiti,” “Monk’s Mood,” some of Charlie’s tunes and some boleros from Mexico without drums or percussion. That was the challenge to be there, together, all the time. And tonight is more of a-I don’t know how to call it-Latin or Afro-Cuban ensemble with a lot of jazz chords. Basically, it’s original compositions. Over four days people can see different portraits of me, a different frame every night with different energy and attitude. We’re looking for art, beauty and different themes, structures and harmonies.

CHARLIE HADEN HAS BEEN A REAL MENTOR FOR YOU, IN TERMS OF BRINGING YOU ALONG AND INTRODUCING YOU TO AUDIENCES. TEll ME ABOUT THE MUSICAL CHEMISTRY BETWEEN YOU AND CHARLIE.

Most important to me is Charlie’s attitude. He’s always very open and in total disposition to go somewhere, anywhere, especially with Cuban music or music from South America, Latin America. He’s always listening to musicians from Cuba, Brazil and Argentina. That makes our relationship very easy, because I learn from his culture and he learns with us about our culture. That has been the great bridge.

HAVE YOU STARTED TO WORK ON YOUR NEXT RECORD?

We are working on it, and thinking about bringing people into the studio like Joe Lovano.

SO IT WILL BE YOUR TRIO WITH JOE?

And Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson. We’ll see. I’m still thinking about the concept of the record. We’re supposed to record in September.

—Down Beat, Sept 2002

dwnbeatsept2002int pdf

ENTREVISTA AL PIANISTA CUBANO GONZALO RUBALCABA. “MARIA ELVIRA LIVE” 03.10.2010

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