Bebo Valdés and me
The Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés was born 1918 near Habana, in a little village. He played piano and composed great hits, the Tropicana club was his musical home. Bebo Valdés turned in Europe with the Havana Cuban Boys and with the Chilean Lucho Gatica. 1963 he found love in the face of Swedish beauty and moved to Sweden, he defected from Cuba and left his family there, including his son Chuco, today one of Cubas main musicians.
Bebo is today 89 years old and has been living in Sweden, in exile, since the Sixties. He is the winner of several Grammies, his work with the Spanish flamenco guitarrist Diego El Cigala, “Lagrimas Negras”, has sold hundreds of thousands of records. He is touring the world together with his son Chucho and the video is one of the most popular hits in You Tube.
But when I met Bebo, many years ago, he was a quite anonymous pianist playing at the bar in the Continental Hotel in Stockholm every night. The hotel was a big and unfriendly place near the main train station. Lonely travelers and naive tourists were the guests of the hotel, a huge building who reminded of Russia under the Sovjet rule.
A friend and I were drinking at the bar, listening to his well played music and talking, it was a cold winter night and Stockholm was frozen and lonely. Only in the small piano bar Bebo Valdés played for us and three other people, we were all lonely, all a bit drunk, all a bit sad.
We asked Bebo for a tango and the melancholic music of Montevideo and Buenos Aires made us more sad and more drunk than ever. The piano oozed nostalgia.
Suddenly the door of the bar was opened and a cool snowy breeze come from outside. It was a fat black man and he was carrying an instrument. The black fat man and Bebo embraced each other, two old friends who liked each and enjoyed the encounter.
The man took the instrument from the case and we saw it was a trumpet. He and Bebo started to play together, it was one of the most beautiful and touching unplugged jams I have ever listened to. They played perfectly in tune, they improvised, they cried and their instruments cried as well.
Two black men, lonely, remembering the old times when they played together, Bebo Valdés, at the piano, Dizzy Gillespie, with the trumpet.
Some hours earlier Dizzy Gillespie had played for a crowd in Stockholms Consert Hall, the tickets costed 100 dollars and they were sold out months in advance.
Now Dizzy and Bebo played for us until dawn and it was magic in town.