He showed up with an elegant white jacket that matched his pants, shirt and wing-tipped shoes, but it didn’t stay on for long because Chuchito Valdes had work to do.
The venue: the boathouse at Chicago’s Humboldt Park. The night clear, the air cool, the mosquitoes seemingly kept at bay by an invisible net.
The event: Chicago’s Latin Jazz Festival.
The main man: Chuchito Valdes, grandson of the legendary Bebo Valdes, a key figure in the golden age of Cuban music.
Although named for the German Alexander von Humboldt, the audience and scene had a distinctly Latin feel.
Chuchito, who looked a vigorous 45-years-old, was the headliner and closing act, and earned the title before his set had barely gotten started.
Part finger magician, all showman, he stood and sat and stomped and pounded and caressed the electric keyboard, wiping the sweat that accumulated on his forehead without missing a beat.
At times, he looked like he was playing the congo drums, his hands moving impossibly fast. At others, he crossed his right hand over his left and continued playing at the same high level.
One of my favorite moves involved his playing with his forearm, then dragging the back of his right hand across the entire keyboard as if he were completing a back stroke.
The crowd alternated between frenzied and transfixed, but always erupting appreciatively when the songs ended with one of a series of Valdes flourishes.
At friend Craig Segal’s urging, we stood right behind the stage, so were just feet from the four-time Grammy winner plying his trade.
The set ended, people rose to their feet and I prepared to take Danny Postel and his son Theo back to their apartment in Rogers Park.
“He knew how to move his hands very fast,” Theo said as we walked toward my car. “He was really good.”