I am saddened by the news that Dave Valentin has died at the age of 64. He was one of Latin and jazz music’s best flute players. I discovered him in the late 1970s via his three albums for GRP (Grusin-Rosen Productions), beginning with Legends (1979), The Hawk (1980), and Pied Piper (1981). Valentin released numerous solo albums throughout his long career, ending with Pure Imagination on HighNote in 2011.
As an amateur flute player myself, I was amazed to learn that Valentin only took eight years to progress from a percussion student to top-notch flutist: he worked hard but was also very, very gifted. He first picked up the flute in order to impress a girl in school. While they never became a couple, they stayed life-long friends. Valentin later studied with the flute great Hubert Laws, and played and toured with Tito Puente, Manny Oquendo, and many other top Latin bands. I especially love his playing on Manny Oquendo’s album Ritmo, Sonido y Estilo.
Valentin never had the manicured sound of Laws, preferring a more forceful attack, sometimes embellished by vocalizations (you’ll hear them on “Obsession”). He does share with Laws, however, the sweet tone of a classically-trained flutist. It was Hubert Laws who told him to forget about being a doubler (meaning playing multiple instruments like clarinet and sax besides the flute) because of his beautiful tone. Valentin’s articulation, his effortless speed, and beautiful high notes put him a cut above other flute players. He also had a big enough sound to slice through the densest of Latin arrangements, which you can hear in his playing with Tito Puente. For me, however, what always distinguished Valentin was his absolutely gorgeous sound.
In 2012, Valentin suffered a debilitating stroke that at first left him unable to walk, let alone play the flute. Donations small and large helped him get physical therapy and improve. The stroke happened shortly after a light-hearted “day in the life of” article in the New York Times, published when he was still well. It is a sweet story of his daily life in the Bronx. The story after the stroke provided a stark contrast, although he was able to find stable housing after the second article was published. Valentin passed away from stroke complications and Parkinson’s disease.
According to his family, Dave requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to two organizations that he cherished—Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education and The Jazz Foundation of America—with the latter organization having helped to handle donations after Valentin’s first stroke. Services are being held on Saturday, March 11, at 10:00 a.m. at Holy Cross Church in the Bronx.
I love Dave Valentin’s work and will be listening to his records in the weeks to come. In the video below, he plays the song “Obsession.” What a beautiful sound, and what amazing talent. I will miss him.
Photo of Dave Valentin (top) by Oscar (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons