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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Bebo Valdes, Grammy-winning ­Cuban pianist, 94

Mr. Valdes won five Grammy Awards for his recordings.

Juan Herrero/EPA/File 2005

Mr. Valdes won five Grammy Awards for his recordings.

MADRID — Renowned ­Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes — a composer and bandleader who recorded with Nat ‘‘King’’ Cole, was musical director at ­the legendary Tropicana Club in ­Havana, and was a key participant in the golden age of Cuban music — has died in Sweden at age 94.

The news of his death was confirmed by Cindy Byram, the agent of Mr. Valdes’s son Jesus Dionisio “Chucho” Valdes, who is a well-known musician in his own right. A cause of death was not given.

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The senior Valdes studied ­piano and later taught it to Chucho, who went on to become a founding member of the internationally acclaimed Cuban-­based jazz band Irakere.

Bebo Valdes began playing accompaniments at Havana’s famous nightclubs in the 1940s. He then worked with singer Rita Montaner as her ­pianist and arranger from 1948 to 1957, when she was the lead cabaret act at the Tropicana.

His orchestra Sabor de Cuba also accompanied singers ­Benny More and Pio Leyva at the club. It was during this period that he and rival bandleader Perez Prado developed the mambo, a rhythmic style of dance music that swept the world. Mr. Valdes and his ­orchestra devised another rhythm called the batanga.

Mr. Valdes maintained a parallel interest in jazz music and took part in many important sessions, some recorded on Cuba’s renowned Panart label.

He said influ­ences included Fats Waller, Art Tatum, and Bill Evans.

In 1958, he worked on Cole’s album ‘‘Cole Espanol,’’ collaborating with arranger Nelson Riddle on the orchestral backing tracks that were all recorded in Havana. He also worked with singers Lucho Gatica and Mona Bell.

Following Fidel Castro’s communist revolution in 1959, Mr. Valdes left Cuba, traveling to Mexico in 1960 accompanied by singer Rolando La Serie, but without his children.

Mr. Valdes said one day a revolutionary guard went to his house demanding the pianist accompany him to a plaza where Castro was giving a speech.

‘‘I asked if there was ­going to be music there, and he replied to me that Castro was music,’’ he said, adding that he then knew it was time to go.

After a brief stay in the ­United States, Mr. Valdes set off on a European tour.

He went to Stockholm in 1963 for a concert with the ­Lecuona Cuban Boys and fell in love with Rose Marie Pehrson, a Swedish cavalry officer’s daughter. After they marrieed, he settled in Sweden.

Mr. Valdes won five Grammy Awards in the categories of best traditional tropical album and best Latin jazz albums.

Asked how he found the ­energy to keep performing he said: ‘‘What else would I do? Watch TV? No, I’d rather play the piano. I will play until I die.’’

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