Who is Dave Valentin and how does he contribute to music?
Dave Valentin (born 1952) is an American jazz flutist of Puerto Rican descent who continues to live in the Little Puerto Rico neighborhood of Harding Park in the Bronx, New York. Valentin suffered a debilitating stroke in 2012 after already having had a heart attack some months earlier. A January 2014 New York Times article that was based on an interview with Valentin and written by David Gonzales describes Valentin's efforts at and difficulties with recovery. The most dismal part of his difficulties, for both Valentin and jazz fans the world over, is that Valentin foresees no return to the jazz stage. He has traveled and played worldwide and has won acclaim and praise that includes a 2002 Grammy shared with Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project. Valentin's contributions to music have been significant. "Dave has played on six continents. He is alone in his class," said Valentin's manager, Richie Bonilla, who was also present at the Gonzales, New York Times, interview.
Starting Out as a Teacher
Valentin started his adult working life out as a jazz teacher in the South Bronx. He taught middle school students to play jazz so they would be ready to become accomplished musicians when they graduated high school. When manger Richie Bonilla suggested jokingly that Valentin might go into stand up comedy because of his quick and humorous wit during performances, Valentin replied that he'd prefer to return to teaching.
"No. I would be a teacher," Mr. Valentin corrected [Bonilla]. "I taught seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade music for three years in the South Bronx. I had a jazz band and taught them how to play, so when they graduated they were ready. Those were good times."
Parental and Educational Influence on Valentin's Jazz
Valentin's parents moved to the Bronx, where Dave was born, from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and he was surrounded by the music of the Puerto Rican musicians they listened to. These were musicians followed in the big ban tradition with a Latin flair and were such as mellow-toned singer and band leader Tito Rodriguez, jazz percussionist and composer Tito Puente and rhythmic singer and band leader Machito. Understandably, Valentin started playing percussion as a child under the tutelage of his parents' musical tastes and played jazz percussion through high school. Enrolled as a percussion student at New York's High School of Music and Art, as a young musician, he played New York City's Latin nightclubs on the "cuchifrito" circuit of working class dance halls leaving to go home after a Saturday night at dawn on Sunday:
"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." (Fernando Gonzalez, Knight-Ridder News, qtd by Brenna Sanchez in "Valentin, Dave" on Gale Cengage)
In college, a love story got him involved with the flute. The story is that a girl he liked was a flutist, so, as a clever means of flirtation and conversation, Dave got a flute and asked her for pointers on playing. A month later, he played so well that she was envious of his talent and that ended that budding romance. Dave's college music teacher, Hubert Laws, encouraged him to continue with the flute and, when Dave thought he might also add the saxophone to his instrument repertoire, discouraged the addition suggesting he focus all his energy and talent on his special sound on the flute. Dave studied with Laws and Hal Bennett but was largely self-taught on the flute. He commented once in a Concord Records press release that, "Sometimes that is best [to be self-taught], for it allows one to develop their own style and sound."
While teaching school, Valentin played all the Latin clubs but also made himself valuable in the New York music scene by being able to cross-over to R&B (rhythm and blues), pop, classical jazz, sessions music, soundtrack music. As a result, he could play for such musicians as R&B and pop singer Patti Austin; jazz guitarist, session musician, and composer Lee Ritenour; Academy award winning classical pianist, composer and arranger Dave Grusin. A series of incidents between 1977 and 1979 got him the chance to sign with a record label and see his first album released.
- 1977: He made his recording debut with Ricardo Marrero & The Group.
- 1978: Session engineer Larry Rosen asked Valentin for original compositions while he was backing up a demo session for violinist Noel Pointer.
- 1978: A month after sending Rosen a demo tape, Valentin was the first artist to be signed to the new GRP recording label and was making his first record on GRP, which was put together by Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin.
- 1979: Valentin's debut album Legends was released.
- 1980: Valentin discontinued his teaching career.
After mastering the common European flute, Dave Valentin, who considers himself "a world artist," experimented with different models of flute found around the world, for example, Bolivian pan pipes, Peruvian bamboo bass flute, Thai and Japanese porcelain and wooden flutes, and the Cuban charanga rhythm style featuring the flute. As exemplified by "Blackbird" by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Valentin uses a foundation of Cuban rhythm in his pop music covers. His albums are:
- Legends, GRP, 1979.
- 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.
Some criticisms of his work is that Valentin is too "controlled" and too inhibited from allowing the emergence of more frequent "passionate moments." Tropic Heat won the highest critical appreciation of his albums. Valentin teamed up with other musicians to produce it; he wanted it to emphasize though great performances Puerto Rican contribution to Latin jazz. He especially paid tribute to Tito Rodriguez on Tropic Heat: teaming up with saxophonist Mario Rivera, conguero Jerry Gonzalez, trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda, saxophonist David Sanchez, and trombonist Angel "Papo" Vazquez.
Other Musical Work
In addition to making his own music with live performances and recordings, Valentin works with other jazz artists as well. For instance, he was musical director for Tito Puente and played for jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. He had the honor of playing at Dizzy Gillespie's seventieth birthday party and of being a guest musician with such bands of renown as Machito, Ray Barretto, Celia Cruz, Michel Camilo, and Herbie Mann.
After his 1993 album Tropic Heat, still with the Larry Rosen and Dave Grusin GRP label, Valentin switched to RMM Records (Ralph Mercado), then to Concord Jazz with his Concord debut album being Sunshower. Valentin tried to capture his live performance "commercial" sound on the Concord Sunshower album: "By 'commercial' I mean music that I love to play live and that is quite accessible" (Dave Valentin, Concord Records Biography).
Source: Brenna Sanchez. "Valentin, Dave." Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 33. Gale Cengage, 2006.