Rubén González (pianist)
Rubén González with Nick Gold at Carnegie Hall rehearsal (1998)
|Birth name||Rubén González Fontanills|
|Born||May 26, 1919|
|Origin||Santa Clara, Cuba|
|Died||December 8, 2003
|Genres||Afro-Cuban, Cuban Traditions, Cuban Jazz, Latin Jazz, Son, Rumba, Mambo, Cha cha cha|
|Associated acts||Paulina Álvarez, Orquesta Elósegui, Orquesta CMQ, Rolando Laserie, Conjunto Camayo, Orquesta Los Hermanos, Raúl Planas, Mongo Santamaria, Arsenio Rodríguez, Las Estrellas Negras, Los Hermanos Castro, Conjunto Kubavana, Senén Suárez Conjunto, Orquesta Siboney, Orquesta Riverside, Orquesta América, Orquesta de Enrique Jorrín, Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Buena Vista Social Club, Estrellas de Areito|
Rubén González Fontanills (May 26, 1919 in Santa Clara, Cuba – December 8, 2003 in La Habana, Cuba) was a Cuban pianist and member of several groups in the 1940s and 1950s, most notably with Arsenio Rodríguez and Enrique Jorrín. His career resumed in 1996, with the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Buena Vista Social Club and Estrellas de Areito, along with solo recordings.
González was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. He learned to play the piano at the music high school of Cienfuegos.:12 He grew up wanting to be a doctor and studied medicine, thinking music would remain a hobby he could pursue by night. However, he abandoned his studies because music was in his blood:11 and also because of all the encouragement he received from people around him. So, he began playing with groups in Cienfuegos and around the country.:13
First music career
In 1941, he moved to Havana, where he played in the charangas of: Paulina Álvarez, Orquesta Elósegui, Orquesta CMQ, Rolando Laserie, Conjunto Camayo, Orquesta Los Hermanos, Raúl Planas, Mongo Santamaria and also with Arsenio Rodríguez.:13
In 1943, he released his first recording, together with Arsenio Rodríguez. He left Rodríguez's band to go to Panama with Las Estrellas Negras, comprising mostly ex-Rodríguez musicians. He also played a lot with Los Hermanos Castro.:16
From Panama, he moved permanently to Venezuela where he worked between 1956 and 1962, and Argentina, where he played with tango musicians.:11 Soon he became widely known in Cuba and other parts of Latin America.
In 1962, González became the pianist for the Orquesta de Enrique Jorrín, and would continue to play for him for the next 25 years, while also playing with Estrellas de Areito from time to time. After Jorrín's death in 1987, González briefly took over the role of band leader, but retired soon after.:19
In early 1996 Nick Gold, head of World Circuit Records, invited Ry Cooder to participate in an experiment combining Cuban and African musicians. A group of Cuban musicians had already been assembled, including González as the selected pianist. However, since the African musicians had experienced difficulties in obtaining visas, the focus changed to recording Cuban music instead.
So, in March 1996, Gold and Juan de Marcos González (previously the tres player of Sierra Maestra) produced A Toda Cuba le Gusta, the first album by the Afro-Cuban All-Stars, recorded at the EGREM Studios in Havana and featuring Rubén González (piano), Juan de Marcos González (tres and leader), Orlando "Cachaíto" López (bass), along with a big band of veteran Cuban musicians and singers, most of whom had careers and foundations that went back to the famous 1950s Havana scene: Ibrahim Ferrer, Pío Leyva, Manuel 'Puntillita' Licea, Raúl Planas, Jose Antonio 'Maceo' Rodriguez and Felix Lavoy. Ry Cooder also played slide guitar on one track, "Alto Songo".:1 In the sleeve notes, Juan de Marcos González wrote: "This album is dedicated to Rubén González, genius of Cuban piano".:41
During follow-on sessions:8 also held at EGREM Studios in March 1996, Ry Cooder then produced the Grammy winning Buena Vista Social Club, featuring Rubén González (piano), Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo and Eliades Ochoa, supported by much of the same band that had recorded the Afro-Cuban All-Stars album, and with Juan de Marcos González now acting as A & R Consultant. Ry Cooder played guitars on all but one track.
Finally, in April 1996 and using left over studio time after the sessions that had produced the previous two albums,:9 the solo album Introducing...Rubén González was recorded in just two days, live with no overdubs.:1 On the album's outer cover, Ry Cooder is quoted as saying: "The greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my entire life. A Cuban cross between Thelonious Monk and Felix the Cat".
All three albums were released on Nick Gold's World Circuit Records in 1997. In early 1998, Wim Wenders filmed a documentary entitled Buena Vista Social Club, and González and his colleagues became famous worldwide.
In an interview held in March 2003, the lead singer from the Buena Vista Social Club, Ibrahim Ferrer, was asked about his friendship with González, for which he answered:
Whoever had the chance, and I dare to say, honor, to have met Rubén González, would understand my following words. Mr. González was the simplest and most humble man I had, and will ever meet. It’s hard to describe his perspective of music and how he interpreted it. In the 1950's, after the revolution affected our beautiful country, many people started seeing music as a way to gain money and a business worthy of exploiting. Few were the artists who remained faithful to their musical ideals and tendencies, few were like Rubén González. Did you know that Rubén spent 5 years polishing shoes, despite his talent? He enjoyed playing the piano like no one else. Rubén was a person we all should admire and look up to and have as a role model. He always acted in the good of people, someone you could trust and rely on if you had a problem. It’s a shame that we lost such a valuable person, but that’s how life works, and there’s nothing we can do.”
- Recorded March 1996: A Toda Cuba le Gusta by the Afro-Cuban All-Stars
- Recorded March 1996: Buena Vista Social Club
- Recorded April 1996: Introducing...Rubén González
- 1998: Indestructible
- 1999: Estrellas de Areito
- 2000: Sentimiento
- 2000: Rubén González & Friends
- 2000: Chanchullo
- 2002: Y La America del 55
- Rubén González, el hombre del piano Retrieved on 13 February 2014
- Estrellas de Areito Allmusic discography Retrieved on 10 June 2009
- Lucy Duran. Sleeve notes from Introducing...Rubén González, World Circuit Records WCD 049, 1997.
- Sleeve notes from Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club documentary, Road Movies Filmproduktion, Berlin. Licensed by FilmFour Ltd, 1999.
- "Interview with Ry Cooder in Los Angeles", by Betty Arcos, host, "The Global Village" Pacifica Radio 27 June 2000. Buena Vista Social Club site. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Retrieved on 13 September 2014.
- Sleeve notes from A Toda Cuba le Gusta – Afro-Cuban All Stars, World Circuit Records WCD 047, 1997.
- Nigel Williamson. Sleeve notes from Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club documentary, Road Movies Filmproduktion, Berlin. Licensed by FilmFour Ltd, 1999.
- Sleeve notes from Buena Vista Social Club, World Circuit Records WCD 050, 1997.
- Nigel Williamson. Sleeve notes from Introducing...Rubén González, World Circuit Records WCD 049, 1997.
- Outer cover of Introducing...Rubén González, World Circuit Records WCD 049, 1997.
- Sleeve notes from Chanchullo, World Circuit Records WCD 060, 1997.