Born: October 17, 1980 Primary Instrument: Piano
Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger, Manuel Valera is in the forefront of contemporary modern jazz. He represents the next generation of great performers and composers. His sound is fresh, inviting and evocative, and his goal is to forge innovative sounds that bring a vitality and newness to the idioms of jazz and Latin jazz. He is constantly workshopping musical ideas to develop new composition and arranging techniques that bring together Cuban, Puerto Rican, Brazilian and various jazz styles and forms.
His musical training started at an early age at Havana’s Manuel Saumell Conservatory where he originally studied classical saxophone. It wasn’t until emigrating to the United States in December 1994 when Valera switched to the piano. He began composing in 2000 while enrolled in the jazz program at the New School in New York where he studied, among others, with Reggie Workman, George Garzone, Jane Ira Bloom, Gerard D’Angelo and Richie Bierach.
In late October 2003, just two days after his 23rd birthday, Valera recorded his debut and critically acclaimed cd, “Forma Nueva”a modern jazz cd of contemporary originals featuring bassist John Patitucci, drummers Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Bill Stewart and Seamus Blake on saxophones. “Forma Nueva” received nationwide radio airplay and garnered strong reviews in the jazz and music press Billboard, Jazztimes, Jazziz, All Music Guide and Latin Beat among others. The following year, he recorded a second project entitled “Historia” for Fresh Sounds New Talent featuring Ben Street (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums) as well as Seamus Blake (sax) on two tracks.
His latest recording “Melancolia,” released in March 2006 featuring Antonio Sánchez (drums), Ben Street (bass), Seamus Blake (sax), Luisito Quintero (perc) and a string quartet, is a special project that fuses classical concepts with world and Latin rhythms in the jazz idiom.
In June 2006, Valera went back into the studio to record his forth cd, “Numerico” featuring Ernesto Simpson on drums and Hans Glawishnig on bass. This trio recording boasting a selection of original compositions is scheduled to be released early 2007.
Currently based and residing in New York City, Valera has played with Paquito D’ Rivera, Brian Lynch & Spheres of Influence, Richard Bona, Dafnis Prieto Quintet, Vincent Herring, John Benitez, Donny McCaslin, Claudio Roditi, Louis Hayes, Giovanni Hildago, Dave Valentin, Nelson Gonzales, Juan Pablo Torres, William Cepeda, Eddie Gomez and Yosvany Terry.
As a leader Valera’s recent music festival concerts include the Flint Jazz Festival, Rochester Jazz Festival, Williamsburg Music Festival, Hollywood Jazz and JVC Jazz Festival. He has performed at various jazz venues, including the Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Birdland, Jazz Standard, the 55 Bar, Sweet Rhythm, Apollo Theatre, Town Hall, One Station Plaza, Deer Head Inn and Chris’ Jazz Cafe.
Valera is the recipient of the 2006 New Works Commission from Chamber Music America. Other accomplishments include 2nd Prize at the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in Jacksonville, FL, in 2004 and 2006 respectively, the recipient of the 2005 ASCAP Young Composers Award and Jazz Journalist Association’s awards finalist nominee of the Up & Coming Musician of the Year category.
As a composer and pianist, Valera’s main objective when composing is to find a way to melt all his influences into something unique. “Growing up in Havana, Cuban music is an undeniable part of my heritage and colors my writing,” says Valera. “I draw from my background, for example, including Cuban music with Impressionistic harmonies or Baio from the North of Brazil with Bartok’s rhythmic elements. Overall, I try to create complex music that is simple to the ears.”