All things Cuban — music, dance, art, food and drinks — will be celebrated at Festival Cubano featuring the Chuchito Valdés Quartet in a tent on the field next to the Ridgefield Playhouse Saturday, Aug. 15. Cuban food tastings, dance, specialty rum cocktails, an art exhibit and more will begin at 5:30 p.m. Mr. Valdes and his group will present a concert at 6:30, and dancing is encouraged. Tickets are $35.
The concert is produced with The Luce Group; Jim Luce is the co-founder of the Caramoor Jazz Festival, which he produced from 1994 to 2014.
“There is nothing in the world like piano-based jazz, and nothing more magical than watching a sunset while listening to music,” Mr. Luce said, adding, “For the last seven-eight years we have been deeply involved in presenting Chuchito; in addition to his talent, he is fun, quite animated; he makes you want to dance, laugh and cry. He’s quite a showman: part Horowitz, part Jerry Lee Lewis and part Liberace. Music lovers in the region will be surprised and delighted by the good time we’re going to have.
“Out of the wheelhouse of Cuban culture, the piano dominates,” he continued. “Chuchito is a member of a royal family of Cuban jazz piano players; his father, Chucho Valdés, is his own commanding presence, as was his grandfather, Bebo Valdés. Cuban music is filled with the life, joy, strength and sorrows of its people. Chuchito draws from a variety of sources, including Afro-Cuban, his own compositions and American standards — his ‘Over the Rainbow’ is incredible.”
Acknowledging that people are often hesitant to explore performers with whom they are not familiar, Mr. Luce said, “In today’s culture, if people don’t know a name, then don’t tend to go, but you never know what opportunity you could miss. When I was a youngster a friend invited me to see ‘this guy named John Coltrane.’ I’d never heard of him then, so I decided to watch a ballgame on TV instead. The net result is that I never saw him live, and it has been a lifetime regret. With this concert, people have a chance to see history: it is worth your time and money; you will be uplifted by the spontaneity of the music — and with the Internet, you can get a preview on YouTube.”
From his home in Cancun, Mexico, Mr. Valdés said he is looking forward to making his debut in Ridgefield. Born in Cuba, he was classically trained in music school there and said he is happy with the change of the U.S. government stance toward his county. “It’s more relaxed; Cuba has many good musicians and maybe more will be able to come to the U.S. now and Americans will become more familiar with Cuban music.”
He travels extensively throughout the world and has “a good following in U.S.” Calling his music “joyful,” he adds, “I like playing American standards.” And might there be a fourth generation of Valdés jazz musicians? Yes, he said, noting he is one of five siblings and the father of three — two boys and a girl — who are also studying music.
The “under the stars” event is a first for the Ridgefield Playhouse and evolved out of the playhouse’s annual Shakespeare on the Green and Green Expo, which takes place on a Saturday afternoon in August explained playhouse director Allison Stockel.
“We have presented a free outdoor Shakespeare performance for 10 years with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival — this year’s show is The Tempest — which is our give-back to the community for its support. It’s presented under a tent, and every year we think ‘We have this amazing tent that holds 500; it’s here from Thursday to Monday; we should do something with it Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. Why don’t we use it?’
“About the same time we began planning this year’s event, Jim Luce and his wife Genevieve came in to see us and Jim said, ‘I have all these great jazz artists; they won’t fill your theater, but they can pull a crowd; maybe we can fill in some of your open dates…’ and we decided that to have Chuchito perform in the tent would be a perfect fit. This was before the US-Cuba relationship change happened, and when it did, we decided to celebrate, turn the concert into a festival… we loved the idea being able to expose people to this wonderful culture.
“Among other things, we made contact with Terri and Steven Certilman of Greenwich, who are collectors and dealers of Cuban art and will be displaying some of the works from their collection, and perhaps get one of the artists to attend. This should be a fun thing, we invite the community to come out and listen to some great music, dance, enjoy a drink — and if the weather doesn’t cooperate, we’ll move it all indoors.”
Regarding the artwork to be on view, Steven Certilman said, “We’ll be bringing a variety of artwork that will be displayed on easels or hung on the tent supports. Cuban art has incredible diversity. Many people lump Cuban art with Caribbean art, which we also buy, but they are different, which has to do with the way of teaching art in Cuba; it’s very sophisticated. Cuban art has been getting hot over the past couple of years, but the opening of contact between the nations has set it on fire. This event will be a great opportunity for people to see the diversity of it and I am glad to have this opportunity to expose more people to it.
“While some will be for sale, I primarily want to add to the atmosphere being created by Chuchito. It is going to be a fun evening; I find Cuban music to be wonderful at gatherings of people; it can be loud and upbeat, makes you want to move, or more subtle in the background.”
Mr. Certilman has been to Cuba more than a dozen times and buys only directly from artists; some of the work in the Certilmans’ collection can be viewed at discoveriesinart.com.
The Ridgefield Playhouse is at 80 East Ridge Road in Ridgefield; for tickets ($35) or more information, call or visit the box office, 203-438-5795 or go online at ridgefieldplayhouse.org.