Episode 123      26 min 37 sec
Masterclass in improvisation: Flute legend Dave Valentin in Australia

New York-based latin and jazz artist Dave Valentin discusses how he came to his intstrument, the flute, its place in latin music, and what it takes to be a musical improvisor. With host Eric van Bemmel.

 

Note: For legal reasons, this episode will not be available as an on-demand stream. It continues to be available as a podcast and as a download. We regret the inconvenience caused.

"Now, younger flute players, they will try to play like Dave Valentin. And, I don’t mind that. You have to start some place. But I tell them, 'later on, throw away the book. And, start your own book.'" -- Dave Valentin




           



Dave Valentin
Dave Valentin

In a career spanning four decades, dozens of albums and a Grammy award, Dave Valentin was already performing in clubs at the age of 12. His interest in music – specifically Latin percussion – took him to the respected High School of Music and Art in New York city. But still at an early age, Valentin would change instruments to take up the flute on which he has forged an eclectic body of recordings, performances and arrangements, spanning jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, R ‘n’ B and cross-over improvisational genres. Dave Valentin studied under flute legend Hubert Laws and has through the years performed and recorded with any number of jazz and Latin headline names. He has also served as musical director for Latin jazz titan Tito Puente. Dave Valentin has more recently recorded for Highnote Records and his latest CDs include “World on a String” and “Come Fly with Me”. Dave Valentin came to The University of Melbourne, in May of 2010 as artist in residence at The Victorian College of the Arts. Dave’s residency was made possible by a grant from Simplot Australia as part of the 2010 Simplot International Masterclass Series.

Note: For legal reasons, this episode will not be available as an on-demand stream. It continues to be available as a podcast and as a download. We regret the inconvenience caused. 

Credits

Host: Eric van Bemmel
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Transcription: Andy Fuller

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Masterclass in improvisation: Flute legend Dave Valentin in Australia

VOICEOVER
Welcome to Up Close, the research, opinion and analysis podcast from The University of Melbourne, Australia.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Welcome to Up Close, I’m Eric van Bemmel, your host for this episode, where we listen to the words and music of a recent visitor to The University of Melbourne, New York-based Latin and jazz artist, Dave Valentin. In a career spanning four decades, dozens of albums and a Grammy award, Dave Valentin was already performing in clubs at the age of 12. His interest in music – specifically Latin percussion – took him to the respected High School of Music and Art in New York city. But still at an early age, Valentin would change instruments to take up the flute on which he has forged an eclectic body of recordings, performances and arrangements, spanning jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, R ‘n’ B and cross-over improvisational genres. Dave Valentin studied under flute legend Hubert Laws and has through the years performed and recorded with any number of jazz and Latin headline names. He has also served as musical director for Latin jazz titan Tito Puente. Dave Valentin has more recently recorded for Highnote Records and his latest CDs include “World on a String” and “Come Fly with Me”. Dave Valentin came to The University of Melbourne, in May of 2010 as artist in residence at The Victorian College of the Arts. Dave’s residency was made possible by a grant from Simplot Australia as part of the 2010 Simplot International Masterclass Series. Up Close was fortunate to catch up with Dave during his short but busy stay in Melbourne where he gave masterclasses and workshops to the college’s improvisation students and later joined them on stage in performance. Dave Valentin began by talking about the music he grew up listening to.

DAVE VALENTIN
I grew up in the Bronx, from south Bronx, my parents are from Puerto Rico. And we grew up listening to, to, what we call now, salsa. And also very typical cultural music from Puerto Rico which is Trío Los Panchos, three guitars, music from Tito Rodríguez and Machito and Tito Puente and La Lupe.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
A lot of Cuban music in fact.

DAVE VALENTIN
Not all of it was Cuban. The Cuban part of it was what we call Charanga Pachanga which is from Cuba - Orquesta Aragon. Or, Orquesta America. Flute players like Fajardo. Like Pancho El Bravo. Like Arcaño who is the George Washington of the flute. Richard Egües. Those are all Cuban players of the flute. But, they used a French antique flute which was a black ebony flute and it had six holes and five keys. And the fingering is completely different from the classical flute. What Puerto Rico did, we actually adopted the Cuban music and we kind of changed it into, into our perception. But in Puerto Rico we have la bomba and la plena. Then we have el danzon de Cuba and la danza de Puerto Rico. Now el danzon is played with timbales and it is a very classical form of music. It is like a minuette. And the plantation owners used to, you know, listen to classical music. But the black slaves, they used to be outside, and, to listen to this music – [hums a melody] – and they took a cajón, they took pieces of wood and they started to play to the classical music. They put a rhythm onto the minuette. You know, I’m just making an example. And then, later on, Arcaño, he combined el danzon, the classical form of the danzon and he inserted cha cha cha which is the black part of the music. But we were the first Puerto Ricans to move into the south Bronx. It was an all Jewish community. And we had one black family and one Puerto Rican family. That was us. And, eventually everything changed and it became a mecca of music and a lot of musicians lived in the Bronx. Ray Barretto. Like Tito Rodríguez. Like Manny Oquendo. Like a lot of people, musicians, lived in the Bronx. I was playing clubs when I was 12. I was playing what we called the Cuchifrito Circuit. And I was, I was like a novelty. I was 12 years old playing timbales. And people would say, “ooh, that little kid there.” They were saying, you know. And I used to make ten dollars a night. I thought that was a lot of money.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
So, you started out as a Latin percussionist as a child.

DAVE VALENTIN
That’s correct.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Playing timbales in the clubs. But you moved to flute at a fairly early age.

DAVE VALENTIN
16 I wanted to play the flute.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Why?

DAVE VALENTIN
I’ll tell you why. There was this girl named Irene. And I fell in love with her. She was beautiful. So, I asked her, “Irene, can you show me something on the flute?” That is how it started. So, she said, “sure”. So, it was a kind of erotic situation. Because she showed me the scale and then she gave me her flute to see if I could play it. You know, that was the closest I got to her lips, you know. The mouthpiece. “Hmm, this is pretty good.” And I played it immediately. She showed me the C major scale, I played it like this. She said, “that’s impossible! It takes a week just to get a sound.” And I got really encouraged. I borrowed a flute. And I bought a Herbie Mann record. And I learned “Comin’ Home Baby”. Herbie Mann. Three weeks, I learned it. Without reading any notes, you know. I just did it.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
You followed his solos.

DAVE VALENTIN
I was able to figure out the fingering. So, I said, “check this out Irene.” And I played it for her. She’s looking at me and I’m saying “I got her, I know I got her.” She goes, “that’s incredible. I’ve spent three years playing the flute and you come and three weeks play like that.” I said, “yes, Irene”. She says, “go away!”

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
That was it?

DAVE VALENTIN
That was it. [laughs] I lost a girl. She didn’t want to know about me. And I kept the flute.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
So, you stuck with the flute, obviously.

DAVE VALENTIN
I stuck with the flute and the minute I played the flute I felt a certain special feeling about it. That was a very spiritual feeling. Then listening to the Cuban, to other flute things and ballads. Stuff like that. It was a really beautiful instrument for me.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
And how did you get hooked up with Hubert Laws as your teacher?

DAVE VALENTIN
Well, one of the conductors William Fischer you know he saw some light in me. He was doing a record with Herbie Mann, “Concerto in C Minor”. He says, we should call up Hubert. He gave me his number and I went to a payphone and I called Hubert. I said, “I’m David Valentin I’m at Music and Art and I’m starting to play the flute, you know, I’d like to take lessons with you.” And he said, “well, I’m on 96th Street and Amsterdam, come on down. 15 dollars a pop.” And I took six months of lessons with Hubert. Which was a great experience.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
I read that he warned you off of doubling with the sax.

DAVE VALENTIN
That’s correct. Because it is different embouchures. Different muscles are used. He played tenor sax. But, you know, he had the grip, he was a classical player, too. He is one of the greatest jazz players of all time. And because of different muscles, you know, sax is here, and flute is here. So you have to develop the embouchure, those muscles. Now, sax players they can’t even go 32 bars  without spitting up. They start going fbzz fbzz…

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
On their own instruments?

DAVE VALENTIN
On the flute because they play sax and the embouchure just doesn’t stand up. But the flute, I can go a hundred thousand bars if I wanted to. And I’m cool.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Joining us on this episode of Up Close is jazz and Latin music artist, Dave Valentin who shared his thoughts and music with us on a visit to Australia as artist in residence at The Victorian College of the Arts, a part of The University of Melbourne. I asked Dave how he thought his instrument, the flute, drives the type of music he plays.

DAVE VALENTIN
How does it drive the type of music I do? It is a very personal thing with what I play. It’s a personal experience. You know, my experience is a combination of everyone I have heard. Now, you have to emulate somebody. In the beginning there was Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann, or a Latin flute player. But, later on, when you learn what your spirit is and you know what is going on inside of you then, you develop your own book. And I’ve written a lot of books. Musically. And I have tried to just to express myself in a way that is mine. You know, I don’t want to be selfish about it, but, it is mine. It doesn’t belong to anybody.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
I can’t have it.

DAVE VALENTIN
No, you can’t have it. You can listen to it. But, you can’t have it. Now, younger flute players, they will try to play like Dave Valentin. And, I don’t mind that. You have to start some place. But I tell them, “later on, throw away the book. And, start your own book.”

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
It seems that flute players like Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann and yourself, you tend toward the eclectic in exploring different musical genres. And, I am wondering, is it something about the musicians who want an instrument that allows them to be eclectic or is it the flute that demands that you the musician…

DAVE VALENTIN
No. We demand of the instrument. And we demand of ourselves. Take a hike, you know. Take a journey. Go to the moon. And back. Look for something. You know, explore. Be creative. This is what this is all about. And if you find something you like then, you know, if you are going to do a standard then, like “Footprints” is in 6, Wayne Shorter, but I decided to do it in 4, huahuanco, you know. The “Equinox” was never played on bass flute. I did that. And then, all the stuff that I have composed, which is just, my stuff.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
You were, I believe, the first artist to be signed to GRP…

DAVE VALENTIN
That’s correct.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
…label, sort of a legendary label in jazz, particularly in the 70s and 80s, what was it about that label that was special?

DAVE VALENTIN
They knew what they were doing. And they believed in me. I was doing a demonstration session for Noel Pointer and this guys comes out, “you got more material?” I said “yes”. And, it was Larry Rosen. So, I sent him a tape, he sent it to Dave Grusin, I got a call two months later. They said, “we’re starting a new label. I’d like to meet with you.” Met with Dave Grusin, he says, “I really like what you are doing.” “Would you like to do a record?” And that was it. And I said, “I may be Puerto Rican, maybe I was born in the Bronx, but I can do this. I have been waiting to do this. And I want to do this.” He said, “alright”.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
You recorded 15 albums with him.

DAVE VALENTIN
18. But they promoted. See, that was the key. They knew how to promote. They knew how to take you to all the stores in Washington DC, go on the road, and you’d sign records and diddy dum boom. And my first album sold 80,000 units and I was a nobody. For that time, hmmm! And then I was going out with Angela Bofill at that time and they were looking for another artist, so, I called her up, I said, “Angie, come on, this is like really happening.” “I got to get a band and…”. “Angie, just play the piano, sing and send them a tape.” She was the second artist signed. And she sold 250,000 units. And Larry and Dave were very happy puppies. And then after that, strange, I became a mensch. And second album was, “The Hawk”. And he said, “do you what you want.” Third album was “Land of the Third Eye”. I did what I wanted. And then after a while, I said, “do you want to hear the masters?” He said, “no”. “Am I doing another record?” He said, “yeah. Just do it.” That was it.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Complete freedom.

DAVE VALENTIN
Complete freedom.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
And they sold the record later.

DAVE VALENTIN
Oh, yeah, yeah.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
And you moved on to Highnote records now.

DAVE VALENTIN
Yeah.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Can you tell me a little bit about your composing process? Do you sit down with a piece of paper or at a piano…

DAVE VALENTIN
No, well. I sit down at the piano and I write in puzzles. I have maybe four different sections of different things and then I see how they fit together. And normally, subconsciously, they’re fitting together, someway. Because I know I am doing something, but I don’t know how it is going to fit together. So, I write in puzzles. And, it normally comes out right. And then I make a demo and I give it to the guys and I tell them “do what you want with it and let’s see what we can do with this.” Sometimes, they say, you got to be miserable to write good music and sometimes that is true. Sometimes there is painful stuff, you write some stuff, you see things that are not right. And you write a dark piece. You know, maybe you have an experience that is not musical and I take that. And sometimes I go to the ocean and I see beautiful Puerto Rico and I take that. I see a palm tree, you know, a beautiful lady on the beach, it’s part of life. It is basically the way I work.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
In terms of improvisation, you are visiting Australia to help with the improvisation students here to give master classes, what are the ingredients for a good improvising musician?

DAVE VALENTIN
Listen. Listen to everything you can get your hands on. Doesn’t have to be your instrument. But listen. And take. And try. Try to do what they’re doing. Try to figure out what scales they’re playing. Try to figure out the phrasing. The tonality, the spirit of it. And, then try it. And see what happens. That is what I did. There is a certain kind of goody stuff you need to play to improvise. And it is the conversation between the musicians, that’s very important. If you have got musicians that don’t listen, don’t play with them. You know have to have a drummer that is listening. A bass player… It is a conversation that is not me alone. It is everybody. And that is a very important concept.

[talking with musicians] You want to? Come on up. Bass? Bass player. Congas! We have no piano player! Oh you! Get up here! [laughter] Get up here you…Drummer? Okay? We got a band. That’s good. Now, you’re going to play 6/8. I don’t know whether you heard Mongo Santamaria. So, when you play a solo what you going to create, this is yours. This is your time. You could do whatever you want. But, stay within the concept of the chords. But, you can do whatever you want. If you want to take it out of key it is fine. You know, that is up to you. [laughter] Okay. So, everybody takes a solo here. Okay. Including me.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
So, when you are about to do a concert, how do you prepare yourself to be in a space where you can improvise?

DAVE VALENTIN
You just do it. Don’t think about it. You think, you ain’t going to do nothing. Improvisation is not thinking, it is a whole different process. You know, “I’ll think I’ll play this scale.” No. It don’t work that way. “I think I’ll go atonal now.” No, it doesn’t work that way. But that is just my way. Maybe another guy has another way. I’m just telling you what I do. I tell the guys, “have a good time, listen to each and let’s go. I’ll pay you after the gig.” [laughter]

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Dave Valentin, thanks very much for being on Up Close.

DAVE VALENTIN
Thank you for having me and hello to Australia, I love it here.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
The words and sounds of musician Dave Valentin, artist in residence at The Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne in May of 2010. Dave’s residency was made possible by a grant from Simplot Australia as part of the 2010 Simplot International Masterclass Series. The music heard in this episode includes “Bronx Serenade” from Dave Valentin’s Highnote CD, “World on a String”. “Almendra” performed by Orquesta Aragon and featuring Orquesta Aragon and featuring Richard Egues on flute. “I Feel Pretty” from “Dave Grusin Presents West Side Story” on the N2K label. “Enciendido” from Dave Valentin’s Highnote CD “Come Fly with Me”. And “Footprints” a Wayne Shorter composition performed by Dave Valentin together with students of the Victorian College of the Arts. More information on this music can be found on our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au, where you will also find relevant links and a full transcript of this interview. Up Close is brought to you Marketing and Communications of The University of Melbourne, Australia. Our producers for this episode were Kelvin Param and myself, Eric van Bemmel. Audio engineering by Gavin Nebaeur. Up Close is created by me and Kelvin Param. Thanks for listening. Until next time, goodbye.

VOICEOVER
You've been listening to Up Close. For more information visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Copyright 2010. The University of Melbourne.


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