Dionisio Ramón Emilio Valdés Amaro (October 9, 1918 – March 22, 2013), better known as Bebo Valdés, was a Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger. He was a central figure in the golden age of Cuban music, led two famous big bands, and was one of the “house” arrangers for the Tropicana Club.
Bebo Valdés was born Dionisio Ramón Emilio Valdés Amaro on October 9, 1918, in the village of Quivicán, Cuba, near Havana. He started his career as a pianist in the nightclubs of Havana during the 1940s. He replaced René Hernández as pianist and arranger in Julio Cueva‘s band. In October 1946 the band recorded “Rareza del Siglo”, one of Bebo’s most famous mambos. From 1948 to 1957 he worked as pianist and arranger for the vedette Rita Montaner, who was the lead act in the Tropicana cabaret. His orchestra, Sabor de Cuba, and that of Armando Romeu, alternated at the Tropicana, backing singers such as Benny Moré and Pío Leyva. Valdés played a role in the adaptation of the mambo into the big band format (it was previously performed by charangas) during the late 1940s and 1950s, and developed a new rhythm to compete with Perez Prado‘s mambo, called the batanga. Valdés was also an important figure in the incipient Afro-Cuban jazz scene in Havana, taking part in sessions commissioned by American producer Norman Granz during 1952. These sessions yielded the famous improvised piece “Con Poco Coco” among others, which served as a precedent to Panart‘s descarga sessions (with one exception). In the late 1950s he recorded with Nat “King” Cole. In 1960, accompanied by Sabor de Cuba’s lead vocalist Rolando Laserie, Bebo defected from Cuba to Mexico. He then lived briefly in the United States before touring Europe, and eventually settled in Stockholm, where he lived until 2007. In Sweden he was instrumental in spreading the techniques of Cuban music and Latin jazz.