Concert Review: A Night of Jazz For Dave Valentin

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Dave Valentin Tribute

That was one helluva tribute they paid Mr. Dave Valentin at the Tarrytown Music Hall on Thursday, November 7th!

Concert Review by Chico Alvarez Peraza, WBAI Pacifica Radio
Photos by Tony Johnson

The night is still very fresh in my mind. It was a clear but cold evening in Tarrytown (New York) when, exactly at 7:30 pm, a star-studded event began to take shape. But this was no mere business venture. The objective was to raise money for the Grammy Award winning musician and recording artist Dave Valentin, who had suffered a stroke on March 3rd of 2012.

The initial idea came from former musician turned promoter/manager Richie Bonilla, who immediately reached out to pianist/arranger Bob Baldwin of New Urban Jazz to produce a benefit event. Bonilla had been instrumental in hooking up Bob and Dave for the “Jazz for Haiti” event in Newark, N. J. back in 2010, so the three of them did have some history. Actually, Bob and Dave go back as far as 1995 (they met through New York drummer Tony Cintrón, who was doing a benefit in the Bronx for a company called “Pathways for Youth”). The two musicians did a few gigs together, among them a Fantasy Band concert in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, and that was about ten years ago, so you can imagine the respect that they must have for each other.

Within a period of weeks, Baldwin pulled all the stops to make the event happen. His first call was to Dave’s 30-year sideman and pianist Bill O’Connell, with whom he has been friends since their SESAC days. Between them, they grouped together a respected roster of artists within the Latin American, Afro-Cuban/Latin Jazz and Jazz world.

Among the luminaries present (in addition to the aforementioned Baldwin and O’Connell) was Lincoln Goines (bass), Robby Ameen (drums), Ragan Whiteside (flute), Gilberto “Pulpo” Colón (piano), Rubén Rodriguez (bass), Paquito D’Rivera (saxophone), Chieli Minucci (guitar), Dave Samuels (vibes), Mayra Casales (percussion), Eddie Montalvo (percussion), Bobby Sanabria (percussion), Richie Morales (drums) and yours truly Chico Alvarez (percussion). Rubén, (who popped in unannounced) happens to be a long-time sideman and a close friend of Dave’s.

And then there was Brooklyn born Rodney Kelley, who drove up from Baltimore, Maryland and not only performed but also contributed the two guitar amps which were used; drummer Thierry Arpino, based out of Greenwich, Connecticut, who lent his drum kit so that all the drummers could show their affection and pay their respects to Dave. These two deserve a special mention for helping to curtail costs, as does Mr. Bonilla.

About 45 days prior to the event in Tarrytown, Bonilla called Baldwin and explained Dave’s dire financial situation to him. Baldwin immediately started making phone calls. One by one the players began to connect and that was the genesis of it. Bob took on the challenge of putting the event together, at first reaching out to Dave’s band and from there to Ameen, Casales, D’Rivera, Goines, Samuels, Whiteside, Minucci, Kelley, Arpino and some of the others. And Bonilla didn’t just sit idly by the phone either; he was touching bases with folks in the media and with alternative radio stations like WBAI. He contacted me and asked me to help spread the word about the event and to participate in the show as well. It was an honor and a privilege for me to be part of this benefit, as I still recall quite vividly my days as a “charanguero” in the early 1970’s, when Dave and I were both members of a band known as “La Tipica New York”.

It seemed that the collective effort of all these performers and press people was leading up to a most memorable evening of music and that it would (supposedly) lead to many charitable contributions on behalf of Dave. The crowd was not as huge as expected, but the spirit and the camaraderie was felt all over the legendary hall (this is an historic 843-seat theatre, built in 1885 by chocolate manufacturer William Wallace. It is the oldest theater in Westchester County and one of a handful of theaters in the United States built before 1900). Concertgoers have always been treated to a wonderful experience at the Music Hall due to its excellent acoustics, and this night was no exception.

Before the actual party began, Dave’s manager Richie Bonilla shared some insight with the audience, followed by a few anecdotes from the original GRP owner Larry Rosen, who proudly mentioned that in 1978 Dave Valentin and Bronx-born Angela Bofill were the first artists be signed to the label. Shortly after Mr. Rosen’s musings, Dave himself walked onto the stage (he was helped of course, because even though he is recuperating he still has some difficulty). In a very emotional tone, he proceeded to thank everyone “from the bottom of my heart” for their efforts on his behalf. It was heartwarming, to say the least.

The well known and respected jazz pianist Bill O’Connell opened the first set, accompanied by Dave Samuels on vibes, Chieli Minucci on guitar, Robby Ameen at the drum set, Lincoln Goines on the bass, Mayra Casales on conga drums (later joined by Eddie Montalvo) and Bobby Sanabria on timbales (for the opening tune only). “Dave’s Cha Cha Cha”, composed by Bill O’Connell was a kicker, a real crowd pleaser. It was originally called “Monk’s Cha Cha Cha”, but Bill changed the title to fit the occasion. Midway through the set the group was joined by saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, who delighted in playing Carl Fisher’s lovely ballad “We’ll Be Together Again”. The maestro really worked his clarinet magic on the crowd with this very popular song from the forties. He also took delight in cracking a few jokes (and that of course was to be expected). Then came one of Dave’s favorite performance works, “Obsesión”, a haunting bolero composed by Pedro Flores, usually played by Dave’s regular band as an up-tempo jazz-rumba. The group assembled on this night didn’t let him down, nor the audience either. In fact, they swung that baby to the maximum.

O’Connell’s group was followed by Bob Baldwin and his group, which performed three compositions; “Joe Zawinul”, “Cafezinho” (both written by Baldwin) and Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (written by Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware). Accompanying Baldwin (piano/keyboards) were Rodney Kelley on guitar, Mayra Casales and Eddie Montalvo on percussion, Thierry Arpino on drums, Chieli Minucci on guitar and Ragan Whiteside on flute. Spellbinding performances by all of the above.

Baldwin’s set was followed by what I thought was the highlight of the evening, a virtuosic solo piece by guitarist Chieli Minucci, the title of which was “Nature Boy” (this was an original composition, not to be confused with the song made popular by Nat King Cole). Indeed, this was a most spiritual moment, and one that literally electrified the entire theatre.

Only one thing could possibly have followed Chieli’s magnificent performance; a down-home-swinging “descarga” version of the old Cuban standard “Bilongo” (Guillermo Rodriguez Fiffe). Led by timbalero Bobby Sanabria, here was a fast paced rhythm section that featured Gilberto “Pulpo” Colón at the acoustic piano, Rubén Rodriguez on the bass, Robby Ameen at the drums and yours truly Chico Alvarez scraping a Cuban-made guiro. After a few choice words, Bobby marked off the tune, and from that moment on the old school montuno was a-groovin’. Midway through the tune, flautist Connie Grossman jumped up on the stage and rode the crest of the groove, rounding out the jam quite nicely. The impromptu sextet did justice to Fiffe’s timeless classic, as the audience attested with their applause. One can only imagine what Bilongo may have sounded like with Dave blowing away at the flute, “mano a mano” style – trading fours and eights with Connie. Next time.

The grand finale was Wayne Shorter‘s “Footprints”, at which point everybody got into the spirit of the evening. Richie Morales came on board for this one, sitting in on the drums. Knowing all too well that because of time constraints, it was all going to end soon (the venue overtime clock was looming), the collective rocked the house just one more time (with Count Basie and Cachao López both smiling from above).

The most important thing to remember is that each of the aforementioned artists donated their time, talent and resources to raise funds to help pay some of Dave’s medical expenses and basic living needs. There were of course, some expenses, such as the rent for the theatre, but it was understood from the beginning that the net proceeds would benefit the Bronx native with his medical bills. Valentin had not been able to perform since suffering a stroke in March of 2012. All in all, it was a huge, loving gesture of support, admiration and respect for this great artist. Although the venue got the lion’s share of all revenues, a considerable amount of money was raised in those six short weeks. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for sponsors Larry Rosen and Randy Brecker, they would not have done as well. One of the lessons to be learned is that the love and joy that an artist gives will always come back to rescue him (or her). Invariably, we get out of this world what we put into it.

Although the benefit did not draw a large crowd, the musicians were all there for Dave, and the show was quite awesome, but in my humble opinion, the people who once professed to being his fans just didn’t seem to care enough to participate (to be perfectly fair to them, maybe they didn’t know about it, or maybe they just didn’t realize the urgency of it). The mainstream media could have supported this effort, but we all know that when it comes to this type of music (which is very real in comparison to what they are paid to promote) they just don’t “get it”. This extremely talented musician has not been able to make a living since having a stroke over 18 months ago. He simply cannot play his instrument and that in itself is one hard-ass blow – to any artist, let alone a creative one like Dave. With time, and with sufficient physical therapy he may recover and perhaps be able to once again play great jazz, but in the meantime he has no income to speak of. At least enough money was raised to help Dave through the next few months. Hopefully, by then his situation will have progressed a bit and he won’t need this kind of assistance.

My friends, here is a thought; it would be nice if we all sent him a get well card and attach a small donation to it. Nothing that would “break” us or put a smile on the economic situation that we are all facing; just enough to help Dave out with his particular situation.

Below is Mr. Valentin’s mailing address. Be generous, it won’t hurt a bit. As Bob Baldwin puts it; “The benefit is over, but the need is still there. Show your love for Dave Valentin and send him a few dollars and a word of encouragement”.

DAVID VALENTIN
1526 Harding Park, Bronx, New York 10473-2305

Dave Valentin Tribute 2

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