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In anticipation of his upcoming performance at Zinc tomorrow evening on Tuesday, July 25, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Manuel Valera, the renowned Cuban jazz pianist, to discuss his recent and forthcoming projects. During our conversation, he offered insights into the artistic process that fuels his boundless creativity, providing a glimpse into the brilliance that continues to inspire the jazz community worldwide. With excitement building, this is a concert that promises to be an unforgettable experience, a night of music that will leave a lasting impression on all who have the privilege of witnessing Manuel Valera and his exceptional ensemble in action.

Manuel Valera

Charles Carlini: Manuel, your Cuban roots have heavily influenced your musical style. How do you balance incorporating your heritage into your compositions while also exploring new horizons in jazz?

Manuel Valera: After spending a considerable time immersed in both musical “worlds,” balancing them no longer occupies my thoughts. They’ve seamlessly blended, making it hard to distinguish where one influence starts and the other ends. My perpetual quest for fresh approaches to composing, mixing genres, and improvising prevents things from becoming mundane. Feeling restless with my work propels me to explore every facet of my musicality!

CC: Your career spans decades, and you’ve collaborated with numerous jazz greats. Can you share a memorable moment or experience that profoundly impacted your artistic journey?

MV: It may sound unbelievable, but I’m now entering my third decade. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine collaborating with so many influential artists who played a crucial role in shaping my artistry. The likes of Paquito D’Rivera, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and more recently Steve Smith, have all contributed to my musical growth, and incredibly, I can now call them my friends! These past years have been nothing short of amazing, especially being part of Steve Smith’s Vital Information alongside Janek Gwizdala.

CC: Your upcoming performance at Zinc features your trio with Hamish Smith on bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums. What can the audience expect from this ensemble, and how do you approach collaborations with other musicians?

MV: Whenever the three of us come together, the musical interplay reaches unexpected heights. We showcase pieces from my latest trio record along with some older and newer compositions. The beauty lies in the ever-changing nature of our performances, and that, to me, is a wonderful thing.

CC: You’ve released numerous albums as a leader. Can you tell us about your recent and forthcoming projects and the themes you’re exploring through your music?

MV: My latest recording, Vessel, released on the Dutch label Criss Cross Jazz, takes a more liberated approach compared to my previous works. It showcases a quintet comprising John Ellis, Alex Norris, Hamish Smith, and Mark Whitfield Jr. The music cleverly draws inspiration from the style found in 1950s Blue Note records, using compositions as vessels or launch pads for improvisation. On top of that, our quintet was honored with the new Jazz Works grant from Chamber Music America, and I’m currently in the process of composing a new suite specifically for this band.

CC: Your contributions to the jazz world have been exceptional, earning you recognition and acclaim. What advice would you give to aspiring jazz musicians looking to carve their own path in this industry?

MV: The key is to stay true to yourself and your roots above all else. Seek connections with the artists you admire and dream of performing with. Put yourself out there, and with time, they might notice you and offer an opportunity. When that moment arrives, seize it and give it your all—strive to shine and showcase your absolute best!


Manuel, we are truly grateful for the valuable insights you’ve shared with us today. Your dedication to embracing your Cuban heritage while fearlessly exploring new musical horizons is incredibly inspiring. The jazz community is eagerly anticipating your performance at Zinc tomorrow evening, where your exceptional trio, featuring Hamish Smith on bass and Mark Whitfield Jr. on drums, is sure to cast a spell on the audience. 

To learn more about Manuel Valera and his incredible work, visit his website at Don’t miss the chance to be part of this soulful and mesmerizing musical exploration – secure your tickets now for an evening of jazz excellence that will leave you spellbound!

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