Did I tell you the one about Chuchito Valdes?

You know what’s a problematic combination? Temperatures below 50 (let’s be honest, 60) and Charlie and I discussing how nice it would be to be able to move back to Miami. When something like that happens, it’s time to find your nearest jazz club and pray that someone is playing the bongo drums that night. So that’s what we did when Chuchito Valdes (son of Grammy winner Chucho Valdes and grandson of Bebo Valdes) came to town in April and played a show at HR-57.  As luck would have it, the DC Cuban Meetup group was going that night to see him.  A herd of people saying things like, “Ya tu sabes!” and “Ay Dios mio!” was precisely what we wanted.

This was the stage:

Chuchito's Quartet

Chuchito's Quartet

We sat down and, the world being small after all, Charlie knew the head Cuban, Rosie. So she invited us to sit upfront with the rest of the Cubans.  When meeting Cubans from Miami it’s always disappointing when the first question they ask is,  “Where did you go to High School?”  But I digress…

It was with the DC Cubans that we met an older Cuban man in his 70s who was in DC from Tampa visiting his granddaughter.  That night, he was the most amazing man on the planet.  I never got his name, so for story’s sake, I’ll call him Manolo. Manolo was the BEST part of the Chuchito experience.  Not that Chuchito doesn’t put on a fantastic show, but Manolo was just so perfectly perfect.  His khaki v-neck wool sweater was exactly what my grandfather would have worn. His hair was how my grandfather would have worn it.  His accent was spot-on.  This, as it turns out, was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered for suffering caused by extended periods away from Miami/the sun/salt water/family/826, aka Miami apnea.

Manolo was old, loud, he only spoke Spanish, and he was seemingly under the impression this was a private show, between he and Chuchito, and it was hilarious.  In addition to his granddaughter who was probably in her 30s, Manolo had a saint of a wife with him too. Let’s call her Esperanza. Over the course of the evening, Manolo went from unknown man in the front row, to everyone’s abuelo. Here is how he did it.

Chuchito played the first song. It was something like this:

Chuchito Starts

Then Chuchito is done, people clap, the crowd falls silent, and then Manolo hollers, messes up his name, Esperanza corrects him, Manolo hollers again, the correct name.  Because I didn’t want to actually take pictures of Manolo for fear I would realize he was just a dream, my illustrations will have to suffice.

Old people can get away with anything.

True story.

Next Chuchito played a classical number which was something like this:

Classical Chuchito

Manolo.Was.Moved. Again, loud enough so everyone could hear him…


Possible tears.


Chuchito picked up the pace with another number in which the bongo player and the bass player had solos.  The bongo player, a guy who looked like he had been playing the bongo drums since he was 8, and probably farts a better bongo solo than most, seemed like a nice guy.  He was missing one of his front teeth but it was okay because he was just so darn good.  However, WHILE THE BONGO PLAYER WAS SOLOING, Manolo declared,

No filter.

No filter.


The upright bass player was probably six foot four inches, and had to have weighed no more than 180 lbs.   After he was done with his solo, Manolo shouted,


Take it as a complement.

Take it as a complement.


Translation: “The American man on the stage has not failed entirely at playing the bass to a latin song.  American man, you play beautifully.”

Chuchito, with the body of a baseball player, played his heart out.  Everytime Manolo yelled, Chuchito smiled. Chuchito is a pro. This only encouraged Manolo.  The show went on… (fast forward to the 3:35 mark):

Chuchito Keeps Playing

Chuchito plays, people clap, it falls silent… but, this… this… this was the best night Manolo had had in a long time.  So moved was he that he shouted precisely what he was feeling:




Esperanza didn’t even flinch. She just smiled at him adoringly. True love.


No translation.

No translation.

After the show Chuchito stuck around and took pictures with the DC Cubans, and Manolo gave Chuchito a big ol’ bear hug.


Manolo hugs Chuchito



We’ll definitely go to his next DC show, although it won’t be the same without abuelo.

One Response to Did I tell you the one about Chuchito Valdes?

  1. Pingback: » Caja China? Caja Charlie! Two Kids From Miami

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