Article from:The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA) Article date:October 25, 2001
Byline: ED CONDRAN THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

ONE OF jazz great Dizzy Gillespie’s passions was Latin music. The legendary trumpeter particularly loved Afro-Cuban rhythms, which he incorporated into his bop sound during the late ’40s. Because of his fascination with the infectious style of music, Gillespie visited Cuba many times over the years.
During a 1985 stop, Gillespie, who loved to discover new talent, saw an intriguing young artist performing in Havana – jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Rubalcaba, who was 22 at the time, was already an accomplished musician. Rubalcaba had honed his skills by studying classical piano from 1971 to 1983. By that point, he was touring Europe frequently.
Gillespie was impressed by Rubalcaba’s considerable chops. He asked the pianist if he would play with him the following evening.
“He gave me some music which had a lot of notes,” Rubalcaba said. “It was difficult music. He said, “Can you learn that and play for me the following evening?’ I told him I didn’t think so. He joked that “We’ll stay up all night practicing. ”
Rubalcaba performed with Gillespie the next night, and the pair hit it off. Gillespie invited Rubalcaba to perform in America on several occasions, but the trip was blocked each time. The first time Rubalcaba stepped on U.S. soil was in 1992, when a visa was granted so that he could attend Gillespie’s funeral.
After recording six well-received studio albums, Rubalcaba crafted 1993’s “Diz,” a tribute to Gillespie. The album also gave tips of the cap to bop giants Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus. Rubalcaba revamped a number of jazz standards by reharmonizing chord structures and adding his own dense style to the mix.
Rubalcaba earned notice in the States. By 1996, he had established residency in Florida.
“It was a process, but lawyers and Blue Note (his label) helped me get here,” Rubalcaba said during a telephone interview from his Coral Springs home. “I’m very pleased to be here. Growing up in Cuba, all you hear is negativity when it comes to America. But I love it here.”
Rubalcaba, 38, has settled in nicely in his new country and released a number of strong albums, such as 1999’s lauded “Inner Voyage.”
The prolific performer is touring behind his latest album, “Supernova.” The title of the disc belies its content. “Supernova” is a spare, introspective effort. In the past Rubalcaba, who will play Friday and Saturday at the American Theatre in Hampton, has incorporated many notes into his music.
That initial encounter with Gillespie apparently had a huge impact. “Supernova” is full of irresistible rhythms, loads of heart, and a subtlety that has been missing from much of the pianist’s music.
“This is a different record for me,” Rubalcaba said. “It’s my most ambitious record. I wanted to make an album that is balanced and to push myself, and I accomplished that.”