Jose Valdes

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Jose Valdes
JoseValdes jazzpiano.jpg
circa 2009
Background information
Birth name Jose Angel Valdes
Born (1957-08-04) August 4, 1957 (age 58)
Origin Chicago, Illinois, USA
Genres Jazz, latin jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader, composer
Instruments Piano, organ, Alto Saxophone
Years active 1968 onwards
Associated acts

"Dez" Desormeaux Luis Rosario

John Moran (musician)

Sonia Perez

Rick Vitek

Catherine Whitney

Jose Angel Valdes (born August 4, 1957 in Chicago, Illinois) is Chicago-based, Mexican American jazz pianist and bandleader.

Musical education & influences[edit]

His father, Jose Valdes, was born in San Carlos, Tamaulipas, Mexico and was Jose's first musical influence. His late mother, Elena Valdes, was from Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico. His father's uncles were Norteño (music) musicians that played accordion and guitar. The oldest of three children, Jose grew up on the south side of Chicago. The musical influence from his father came as a result of his dad listening to jazz and be-bop records in the basement along with Mexican music. His mother preferred classical music and, in particular, waltzes by Johann Strauss II.

Jose's first "hands on" experience with music occurred in public school while attending the second grade. His teacher asked the class if anyone was interested in learning piano and that they were seeking volunteers. Jose responded to this opportunity by volunteering. Since the public school did not have a music program, the students who volunteered were sent to a parochial school nearby where they learned how to play piano from a nun. Jose's decision to choose piano may have been influenced by his familiarity with the popular pianists and bands that he had been exposed to such as Steve Allen, Liberace, Jimmy Durante, Oscar Levant and Lawrence Welk. These stars of the TV undoubtedly had some influence on his musical interests as Jose would be exposed to their talents when viewing these shows.[citation needed] Once a week, Jose met with the nun for piano lessons and having no piano at home he would practice the fingerings on a table. He memorized his lessons as a result. Jose did not take lessons or play again until fourth grade.

When Jose was nine years old, he was separated from his family while they were shopping at a local Sears store (located near 63rd & Halsted in Chicago). Jose went off by himself to the lower level of the department store only and came across an organ sale display .[citation needed] There were about six different models of Magnus organs and one had a music book on it. The music in the book was numbered as were the keys on the organ itself. Jose proceeded to play all of the tunes in the book one after the other including "Aura Lee" among others. He played through the whole book and being a Saturday the store was very busy and his playing began to attract a small crowd of people intently listening to the little boy at the keyboards. At about this point his parents found him and Jose remembers his mother asking him "How can you play all that?" His response: "It's all right there!". His mother said to his father, "You should buy this organ."…and his dad agreed.[citation needed] Jose was self-taught eventually going through the whole Sears Magnus Harmonica Corporation Chord organ library of music books. The organ had 12 chord buttons and a 3-octave keyboard which he played for two years. At age 11, his parents bought him his first full sized organ which was a Hammond organ Spinet Blonde Model M3. Finally he started taking formal keyboard lessons at the Lyon & Healy store downtown Chicago with Paul Renard (who later went on to create "The Music Dynamics Method for Sight Reading", became a staff organist for the Hammond Organ Company and was co‐inventor with Howard Holman of the electric piano which was developed in 1954 at the Wurlitzer Company in Chicago, Illinois...Sun Ra was the first musician to record with an electric piano, the Wurlitzer, for his 1956 recording Angels and Demons at Play.)[1][2] Jose continued to study with Renard for three more years.

In the sixth grade, Jose started trying out other instruments. Initially, he tried the clarinet and then the violin, but ended up choosing the alto saxophone, and became a member of the Bass Public School-Chicago concert band. During his years at the St. Rita of Cascia High School in Chicago, he was involved in the marching and stage bands. While playing alto sax with the stage band, he continued to practice at home on the organ. At this time he started playing with a Chicago black-soul 6-piece band known as "Purple Sunshine" and joined his first Latin band "Los Diamantes Negros". In both of these bands his instrument of choice was the electronic Farfisa organ. While in high school, he grew the Latin band from a 4-piece to an 8-piece small big band for which Jose wrote all the charts, transcribing and arranging the music as well as giving leadership to the band. Some of his favorite bands at this time were Sly and the Family Stone, Grand Funk Railroad, The Brecker Brothers, and Edgar Winter. Additionally, Latin band favorites included Salsa Farina All-stars, Gran Combo, and José José. At this time he played regular gigs at venues in Chicago such as El Paraiso on 26th street and big parties at the Aragon Ballroom (Chicago) and El Mirador on the Northside. His membership in the Latin band lasted through his junior year of college, majoring in Music Composition at DePaul University. Notable music instruction during this time was given to him in jazz composition from studies with Tom Hulliard and classical piano studies with Julian Leviton.

Early career[edit]

After college Jose went "on-the-road" to play with a top forty five-piece band known as "Topaz". All the travelling made it, as Jose says, "Longest year of my life…the music was mundane but the paycheck was regular". Typical club gigs paid about $50 to $60 per person and private gigs were $100 per musician. He quit and came home covering the Midwest. Returning to Chicago he free-lanced as a musician and landed a job at Fields Piano Company downtown. In addition to the day gig, Valdes began working "5-nighters" in various restaurants with a singer–guitarist playing a bunch of commercial music such as Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, ad nauseam. This experience "…temporarily killed my desire to perform publicly and professionally for about two years …" according to Jose. He continues, "…I decided just to do my day gig at the store and woodshed (dig in and practice) to work on my chops and skill set, developing my left hand and base-pedal techniques…". The year 1981 started out not playing steady with anyone and did not have a band at the time. He began free-lancing again from 1981 to 1985 continuing to practice at home and while at work at the piano store. Then in 1985 Valdes started playing locally with a couple of Latin bands. In 1987 he joined top Latin band in Chicago at the time "La Confidencia". As a member of this band he played piano and started doing a lot of arranging for them. This was a very professional band and several of its members, such as Jose Valdes, Mike Rivera, and Angel Melendez, went on to lead their own bands after the organization's breakup in the early '90s.

Later career[edit]

Jose formed Valdes Music Productions (VMP) in 1992 and created the multiple band configurations of Latin Jazztet, Mambo Allstars, Jazz Facets and The International VMP Orchestra. VMP has grown to a musical organization of up to 12 bands featuring such sidemen as Tito Carillo (trumpet), Chuck "Dez" Desormeaux (sax and flute), Sonia Perez (vocals), Luis "Prieto" Rosario (drums), and Cal Drake (bassist) as well as "…various Congeros which shall remain nameless due to the fact that they are the mercenaries of the Latin music environment principally because of the mental aberration effected by beating their hands on dead animal skins for extended periods of time…", as Jose humorously puts it.[citation needed] These groups went on to play at various regional and national events such as the Chicago Jazz Festival, Detroit-Montreaux Jazz Festival, and the Hennessy Jazz Search in New York City (where the Valdes band was recognized as one of the top bands in the country for 1997). They also toured at many universities and music festivals including Mexico and then for the Club Med Resorts chain.

Jose turned to composition starting about 1995 creating over the years about twenty serious pieces. He then became a full-time musician from 1996 to 1999 and then again from 2002 onward. During this time he did TV and radio commercials for Procter & Gamble, Kelloggs and K-Mart. In the past few years he has expanded his organization, Valdes Music Productions, to include over a dozen different bands and musical projects. Currently one of his original compositions has been chosen for use as the theme song for a cooking show on cable TV which is currently in production. When asked about the future, Jose jokingly admits, "I have a plan! domination and the elimination of Kenny G, not necessarily in that order...then I hope to clone myself for a band that will finally be able to perform at a level to which I can appreciate...with the exception of the female vocalist of course!".[citation needed] Valdes, "Dez" Desormeaux, and Luis Rosario formed a commercial jazz group named the "Mambo Zombies" which has issued three cd albums of music during the years 2006 to 2008. For several years now, the group has hosted a regular gig/open jam session every Tuesday from 8 pm to 11 pm at the Green Dolphin Street nightclub in Chicago.

Current musical associations[edit]

Jose has worked with many "world class" jazz stars such as Paquito D'Rivera, Jose Fajardo, Tito Puente, Armando Manzanero, and Nelson Ned, to name just a few. Jose also works with many fine vocalists such as Sonia Perez and Catherine Whitney and Chicago jazz sidemen "Dez" Desormeaux, Luis Rosario, Cal Drake, John Moran, Victor Garcia, Tito Carrillo and Fred Cantu. After many years of hard work and musical development, Jose Valdes has become a highly respected local jazz pianist, composer and bandleader.[3]

Selected recordings[edit]

  • Audio CD Title:"Mambo Zombies" / Release Date:February 15, 2006 / Label:Indie / Manufacturer:RCA
  • Audio CD Title:"Southside Christmas" / Release Date:August 16, 2006 / Label:Indie / Manufacturer:RCA
  • Audio CD Title:"MZ 3" / Release Date:December 11, 2008 / Label:Indie / Manufacturer:RCA


  1. ^ Press Release (PDF format): Allen Organ Studios, Inc. 4158 Wheeler Road Martinez, Georgia 30907, issued:2006 Website:
  2. ^ Article: A history of the Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, issued:July 23, 2009 Website:
  3. ^ Chicago Tribune article by Howard Reich (Arts Critic) February 10, 1997 issue: "Pulsating – Jose Valdes' Latin Jazztet an ensemble on the rise" For its first winter season in its new home, the Jazz Showcase has been experimenting with a new policy: local artists during the week, visiting headliners on weekends. Though it will probably take a while for the new winter format to catch on, it has been an important development for Chicago musicians on the way up. The mere fact that they've played the Showcase, a nationally known room, is bound to bring a degree of luster to their resumes. One of the most appealing of the up-and-coming local ensembles to take the Showcase stage is Jose Valdes' Latin Jazztet, a band that has been gaining word-of-mouth recognition in recent months. Showcase owners Wayne and Joe Segal chose well in booking Valdes' group for the club's Latin jazz series, which features a different ensemble each Thursday night. Valdes leads the band from the keyboard, with the exception of an occasional solo, he focuses his attention on presiding over one of the tighter small Latin ensembles in the city. Taut rhythms, meticulous voicings, crisp dialogue among the players are at the heart of everything Valdes' sextet plays. Though the band doesn't have a weak link, its front line proves particularly effective. Tenor saxophone "Dez" Desormeaux and trumpeter Tito Carrillo are fervent players with abundant technique. They phrase lines as if playing a single instrument, articulating rhythmic accents and shaping melody lines as only artists who see eye to eye can do. Add to that Desormeaux's rambunctious solos and Carillo's warmly lyric playing and you have an unusually charismatic front line, but that's just the start of this ensemble's appeal. Percussionists Rey Reyes and Joe Frau yield consistent energy and drive. With bassist Cal Drake and pianist Valdes keeping the pulse pushing ever forward, this band does not linger over any phrase very long. As for Valdes' pianism, it's generally florid and rhapsodic in solos, terse and propulsive in ensemble passages. During a recent show, the way Valdes and friends applied Latin rhythms to classic be-bop in Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple", the glistening right-hand lines and massive chords that Valdes brought to Dave Brubeck's, "In Your Own Sweet Way", said a great deal about the intelligence and creativity at work here."


  • Chicago Tribune article published Monday February 10, 1997 by Arts Critic Howard Reich

External links[edit]