Pianist Guillermo Rubalcaba, leader of classic Cuban dance band Charanga Tipica de Concierto and his own La Charanga Rubalcaba, has died in Havana. The master of the danzón and other enduring Cuban styles, who also interpreted jazz standards with his own improvisational swing, was 88 years old.
Rubalcaba, who typically wore a hat and a smile, was born into a prestigious musical family. His father was the musician and composer Jacobo González Rubalcaba, known for advancing the evolution and popularity of the danzón in the first half of the 20th century.
Guillermo Rubalcaba, who was born and raised in Pinar del Rio and later moved to Havana, performed early in his career with cha-cha-cha pioneer Enrique Jorrin’s orchestra. He frequently backed Omara Portuondo, Elena Burke, and other artists identified with the ’60s jazz vocal movement known as filin.
In the ’90s, Rublacaba became more familiar to international audiences when he toured with the Afro-Cuban All Stars, as well as flamenco vocalist Diego el Cigala.
Just before his death, Rubalcaba released a new solo album, Como en el Ayer, on Cuban label Colibrí.
“Calmly, as if nothing could throw off his gait, his own way, Guillermo Rubalcaba plays the piano,” Pedro de la Hoz, the chief music critic for Cuba’s Granma newspaper, wrote of the new album in a review published just one day before the musician’s passing.
“He’s always been that way: profession, tradition, good taste and above all a ‘Cuban-ness’ that inside and outside is lush, essential, without excesses but free of affectations.”
Rubalcaba passed the musical torch on to his children, one of who is the acclaimed jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. His death on Sept. 7 was announced on Cuban national news and made headlines in Havana newspapers.