Current Events |

Current Events

Cuban-born pianist Chuchito Valdes performs this week at Belly Up. (Courtesy Jazz Aspen Snowmass)

Time was that Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival marked the big bang before the offseason silence. But that was pre-Belly Up. With the advent of Belly Up, the tunes keep rolling in. September, in fact, potentially ranks up there with the club’s best months yet. Yes, some of the highlights (Gov’t Mule, Jurassic 5) have come and gone, but there are plenty of big nights ahead. Southern rockers Mofro play Sunday, Sept. 10, with Australia’s the Beautiful Girls opening. Both should have fresh material to offer; Mofro recently finished recording their third CD, while the Beautiful Girl’s “Water” is set for release next month. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which returns Thursday, Sept. 14, also has new music. Sort of. Their new CD, “What’s Going On,” is a New Orleans-inspired, song-by-song update of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic; the release date, Aug. 29, coincided with the anniversary of Katrina. Other dates to enliven a quiet autumn: reggae stars Israel Vibration (Sept. 17) and Buju Banton (Sept. 21); former Wu-Tang Clan rapper Method Man (Oct. 2); art rockers Yo La Tengo (Oct. 11) and singer-songwriter Donavon Frankenreiter (Oct. 27).

Cuba’s stature in the music world owes a good bit to the piano-playing Valdes family of Havana. Bebo Valdes absorbed influences of classical music as a student at Havana’s Municipal Conservatory, and American jazz and African-influenced rhumba outside of class. He became bandleader of the house orchestra at the Tropicana nightclub, a hotspot of Caribbean nightlife, in the 1940s, and in 1994, in his 70s, his career was reignited with the album, “Bebo Rides Again.” His son, Chucho, founded the ’70s Cuban supergroup Irakere, which brought contemporary Latin jazz around the world. Chucho was also a key contributor to trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s Grammy-winning album “Habana,” in 1997. The talent has been passed to Chuchito Valdes, who led Irakere for two years. The third-generation pianist, born in Havana and living in Mexico, expands the range; his debut as a bandleader, 2002’s “Encantado,” featured versions of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Impressions of ‘Take the A Train,'” as well as music inspired by Chicago, Spanish bolero, Cuban son, and his grandfather. Chuchito brings his Afro-Cuban Ensemble to Belly Up Friday, Sept. 15; the date is co-presented by Jazz Aspen.

The story goes: In the summer of 1967, Englishman Steve Sherlock decided it was time to assemble Aspen’s first rugby club, and scoured all the bars in town to recruit enough players for a full side. According to the Gentleman of Aspen Rugby Football Club’s website, only four of the original 15 players knew anything about the game. For uniforms, the team wore old basketball jerseys Sherlock stole from the high school. From those humble beginnings, the club has grown into one of the best-known in the U.S. Over the years, the Gents have attracted scores of international players to play for the local side and have won seven national titles. And, since 1968, the Gents have hosted Ruggerfest, celebrating the unique camaraderie forged on the pitch. This year’s tournament, Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 14-17, is expected to draw nearly 50 teams from all over the globe. In years past, teams have come from Hawaii, South America and Europe. The action kicks off on Thursday and Friday when the Old Boys teams (35-, 45-, and 50-plus) take to the pitch. Club matches begin Saturday and continue through championship Sunday, when Ruggerfest titles will be handed out to the division winners.

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