Rubalcaba, Gonzalo

Rubalcaba, Gonzalo , Cuban jazz pianist; b. Havana, Cuba, May 27, 1963. His father, Guillermo, was an acclaimed Cuban pianist who played with the orch. of innovator Enrique Jorrin; his grandfather, Jacobo, penned some of the most beloved danzones of Cuban ballroom society. Despite the U.S. embargo, friends used to smuggle records in and he heard American radio. While he studied classical music at the Amadeo Roldan Cons. in Havana, at home he listened to Art Tatum, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. By the time he was a teenager, he and friends had formed a jazz-oriented band. He eventually performed in Europe and South America. In 1985, Dizzy Gillespie heard Rubalcaba in Havana and pronounced him the greatest jazz pianist he had encountered in more than a decade. Gillespie tried to bring him to N.Y., but the State Department denied his visa. Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Haden and others lobbied in his favor, but several years passed. He played the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1992. When Gillespie died in January 1993, he was invited by Lorraine, Gillespie’s widow, to attend the funeral as one of the pallbearers, and was allowed a visa to attend the funeral. Later that year, he played a concert at Lincoln Center to great critical acclaim. His move to the Dominican Republic in the mid-1990s made it possible for him to get paid for working in the U.S. (since he was a non-resident of Cuba). The fact that he has clung to his Cuban citizenship and refused to seek asylum in the U.S. has drawn vitriol from some reporters, audiences, anti-Castro lobbyists, and many Cuban émigrés. He moved his family to Fla. with the permission of the Cuban government. He made his Chicago-area debut 1997 at Ravinia.