I had a delightful telephone chat last week with Juan de Marcos, leader of the Afro Cuban All Stars.
Known as the "Quincy Jones of Cuba," Juan de Marcos comes from a family of musicians. His father was a well-known singer with famed tres player and bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez, and his uncle, Ruben Gonzalez, was one of Cuba's most beloved pianists. Juan grew up with some of the finest Cuban musicians visiting and playing music in his home.
Always an active musician himself, de Marcos pursued degrees in engineering and obtained a PhD in Sciences. After he finished that, he decided to return to music full-time. After all, it's in his blood.
One of de Marcos' first bands, Sierra Maestra, presented traditional Cuban sounds re-arranged for a new generation. They were immensely popular, and became the basis for the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon.
Juan's idea to gather "los viejos" (the old guys) of his father's era to perform authentic Cuban music for the world to enjoy started as a recording project. He wrote music, did the arrangements and conducted the band, and the intent was simply to record a couple of albums. They ended up with three: The Afro Cuban All Stars' "A Toda Cuba Le Gusta," "The Buena Vista Social Club," and "Introducing Ruben Gonzalez."
In the 199os, the Buena Vista Social Club recordings hit big in Europe first, then took the U.S. by storm. World tours followed. BVSC members enjoyed rock-star status all over the globe.
By 2005, the Afro Cuban All Stars had evolved into a band that plays a broad range of Cuban musical styles, and that features not only the prodigious senior talent of Cuba, but also promotes some of Cuba's best and brightest young musicians. Included in the latter category are de Marcos' two very talented daughters, Laura Lydia Gonzalez (clarinets) and Gliceria Gonzalez (vibes, keyboards). His wife and business partner Gliceria Abreu plays percussion with the band as well.
De Marcos has homes in Havana and in Mexico City, but he says he'll be spending more time in the US. His daughters are attending Howard University, and he feels the need to be the typical Cuban father, looking after his unmarried girls.
Despite the drastic changes in the music industry since the Buena Vista Social Club days, Juan de Marcos is excited to be releasing three new CDs in the near future, one of which will feature his own original compositions.
He loves coming to Seattle's Jazz Alley and is happy to once again take us on a journey through Cuban music, Afro Cuban All Stars style.
Juan de Marcos and the Afro Cuban All Stars play Jazz Alley Thursday, June 5 through Sunday June 8.
Here's their marvelous performance on KPLU and KCTS from last year: