It may have been love for a girl that caused former percussionist Dave Valentin to start playing the flute, but it was love for the instrument that has kept him playing. Valentin gained attention early on as a versatile musician who was able to play in Latin jazz groups but found professional success by exploring the sounds of world music with his flute. He was adept at Latin and straight-ahead jazz, but was also known for combining Latin rhythms with pop sounds in his original music. He was the first artist signed to the GRP jazz label in 1978 and released 18 world music albums on the imprint. The son of Puerto Rican parents, he only seriously delved into Latin music on his sixteenth release for GRP called Tropic Heat in 1993.
Born on April 29, 1952, in New York’s Bronx borough to parents who were from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Valentin was surrounded by the music his parents listened to. The Valentin household was filled with the sounds of Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Machito and others. He picked up bongos and congas as a child, and by his early teens, had joined a Latin group as a timbales player. He performed with the group in New York City’s Latin nightclubs on the “cuchifrito” circuit, the working-class dance halls of New York. “Oh yes,” he said in an interview with Fernando Gonzalez of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, “I’ve done my three sets for $50 and leave the club at 6 a.m. Sunday morning and seeing the people in Harlem going to church as I’m going home to sleep.” He was accepted to New York’s High School of Music and Art where he studied percussion, but it was not until Valentin was 18 and in college that he became interested in the flute.
A girl he wanted to meet played the flute, so Valentin borrowed one and asked her to show him a few things. A month later, he played for her, but had become so good that she got jealous, and his plan backfired. He didn’t get the girl, but continued to study the flute with Hubert Laws, a popular jazz flutist known for his classical technique, and with a classical player, Hal Bennett. He took up the saxophone for a while, but Laws convinced him to drop the saxophone and focus his energies on the flute. Aside from a few lessons with Laws and Bennett, Valentin is a mostly self-taught flutist. “Sometimes that is best, for it allows one to develop their own style and sound,” he was quoted as saying in a Concord Records press release.
The young artist worked as a schoolteacher to pay the bills but continued to play music, becoming one of New York’s up-and-coming musicians. In the early 1970s, Valentin was playing with some of the hottest Latin bands in the city, but it was his ability to cross over and play with big-name jazz artists like singer Patti Austin, guitarist Lee Ritenour, and pianist Dave Grusin that got him noticed.
Valentin made his recording debut with Ricardo Mar-rero’s group in 1977. While Valentin was recording a
Born David Valentin on April 29, 1952, in Bronx, NY.
Played bongos and congas at age seven, performed at Latin clubs in New York City from age 12; started playing the flute at 18; made recording debut with Ricardo Marrero’s group, 1977; first artist to sign with newly formed GRP Records, 1978; released Red Sun, 1992; released Latin-themed Tropic Heat, 1993; released first album on Concord Records, Sunshowers, 1999.
Awards: Named Best Flutist, Jazziz Readers Poll, 1989-91.
Addresses: Record company —Concord Records, P.O. Box 845, Concord, CA 94522, phone: (925) 682-6770, fax: (925) 682-3508, website: http://www.concordrecords.com.
demo session for violinist Noel Pointer, Pointer became interested in a piece Valentin had written. The session engineer, Larry Rosen, pulled Valentin aside and asked him if he had any other original material. Valentin sent him a tape and a month later was making a record for Rosen and Dave Grusin as the first artist signed to their GRP record label in 1978. Valentin remained with GRP for nearly 20 years to record 18 albums. Valentin continued to teach for a year after the release of his debut album, Legends, in 1979.
Though of Puerto Rican descent, Valentin was known for his “willingness to investigate and absorb any style of music,” wrote Mark Holston in Americas. “I … consider myself a world artist.” He first mastered the common European flute and then experimented with different models in the flute family from around the world. He collected pan pipes from Bolivia, a bamboo bass flute from Peru, a pan flute from Romania and various porcelain and wooden models from Thailand, Japan, and elsewhere, and toured with more than a dozen various flutes. He mastered the charanga, a Cuban music style that featured the flute, after diligently studying the methods of Jose Fajardo, the king of the genre. He often used a Cuban rhythm as the foundation for his take on a pop song, such as “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Holston called the flutist “adept at mixing the essence of Afro-Caribbean styles with self-penned songs, jazz standards and world music anthems….”
All Music Guide to Jazz critic Scott Yanow noted that on Valentin’s 1991 release, Musical Portraits, it was evident that Valentin “could become one of the best jazz flutists,” but that he had so far “not quite lived up to his potential.” Of Valentin’s 1992 release, Red Sun, Yanow wrote that Valentin seemed somewhat “controlled,” despite some “passionate moments.” Over all, he called Red Sun a “relatively pleasing” CD.
In 1993, Valentin released Tropic Heat, his first Latin jazz album. Though he had always “tried to include some Latin music in some way” on his previous albums, he told Fernando Gonzalez of Knight-Ridder, he added that never wanted to be “pigeonholed” as a strictly Latin artist. The record was a long time coming for Valentin, who felt Puerto Rican rhythms and styles were sorely overlooked by Puerto Rican musicians more clearly influenced by the sounds of Cuba. Valentin teamed up with up-and-coming Latin stars like Dominican saxophonist Mario Rivera, conguero Jerry Gonzalez, trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda, saxophonist David Sanchez, and trombonist Angel “Papo” Vazquez to record. The result was a “mature, seamless blend of jazz and Afro-Caribbean elements,” wrote Gonzalez. On the album, Valentin paid tribute to his childhood hero, bandleader and vocalist Tito Rodriguez, with a version of the song “Bello Amanecer.” Yanow called Tropic Heat “one of [Valentin’s] best,” and proof that Valentin “continues to grow as a player.”
In addition to his usual position as leader and front man, Valentin has also been sideman to some legendary jazz musicians. He was musical director for Tito Puente, his childhood idol, and considered playing with McCoy Tyner “like being in heaven,” he said in his Concord Records biography. He played at Dizzy Gillespie’s seventieth birthday party and has been a guest with Machito, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz, Michel Camilo, and Herbie Mann.
In 1999, Valentin released his debut with Concord Records, called Sunshower. “On Sunshower” Valentin said in comments included in his Concord biography, “we went for a slightly more commercial sound…. By ’commercial’ I mean music that I love to play live and that is quite accessible.” The release prompted one Los Angeles Times writer to point out that Valentin was an “underrated” artist. Valentin seemed hungry to continue exploring the world of music with his flute. In his Concord biography he said, “I want to continue playing music until the day I drop dead! I want to play until I can play no more….”
Legends, GRP, 1979.
I Got It Right This Time, Arista, 1981.
Mind Time, GRP, 1987.
Live at the Blue Note, GRP, 1988.
Two Amigos, GRP, 1990.
Musical Portraits, GRP, 1991.
Red Sun, GRP, 1992.
Tropic Heat, GRP, 1993.
Primitive Passions, RMM, 1996.
Sunshower, Concord Jazz, 1999.
All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller Freeman Books, 1998.
Feather, Leonard and Ira Gitler, Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Kemfeld, Barry, New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Macmillan Press Ltd., 1998.
Americas, March/April 1992, p. 56.
Knight-Ridde/Tribune News Service, August 19, 1994.
Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1999.
Concord Records, http://www.concordrecords.com (April 18, 2001).
“Dave Valentin,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 17, 2001).
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