- David Garten
- Max Jourdan
- Christina Jaspars
About Rubén González
Rubén González could have been a classical pianist, or he could have been a doctor. Instead he became one of the legendary figures of Cuban music, whose piano sound has created trends and established styles for more than half a century.
Born in Santa Clara, Cuba, in 1919, Rubén graduated from the Cienfuego Conservatoire in 1934. He then went to medical school, thinking he would be a doctor by day and a musician by night. Yet the rhythms of Cuba and son in particular were in his blood. By 1941, he had abandoned his medical studies and moved to Havana to make a full-time career as a musician.
Within a year, he had joined the conjunto of the great Arsenio Rodríguez and also played with Mongo Santamaría in the Orquesta de Los Hermanos. “In the 1940s, there was a real musical life in Cuba," he recalled. "There was very little money in it, but everyone played because they really wanted to." When the Buena Vista record was release, he was the only survivor of a trio of pianists from the period, with Luis "Lilí" Martinez and Peruchín, who helped shape the future sound of Cuban music, developing the mambo and embracing modern jazz harmonies. “Everything you hear now in Cuban music comes from that brilliant period,” he said.
At the same time, Rubén also developed his own very distinctive style: “Arsenio said to me don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Just play your own thing and don’t imitate anyone so when people hear your music they say that’s Rubén.”
After traveling in Panama and Argentina, where he played with tango musicians, Rubén returned to Havana and played with cabaret bands at clubs like the Tropicana, and by the early 1960s, he had teamed up with Enrique Jorrín, the creator of the cha-cha-cha. He stayed with Jorrín for 25 years, and when the band leader died in the mid 1980s, Rubén briefly took over. He did not enjoy the extra responsibility and retired soon afterwards until tempted back into the limelight with the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Ry Cooder.
“I didn’t have a piano at home anymore, so when I saw the one at Egrem studio, I went straight for it, and it seemed they noticed what I did,” he said. So much so that at the age of 77, Rubén was asked to record his long overdue first solo album, Introducing ... Rubén González, 43 years after he first entered a recording studio with Arsenio Rodríguez. Rubén's second solo album, Chanchullo, was released in September 2000.
On December 8, 2003, Rubén González passed away at the age of 84—“the greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my life,” in the words of Ry Cooder.
September 22, 2000
The late Buena Vista pianist was joined by a stellar lineup, including Senegalese singer Cheikh Lô, Cuban compadre Ibrahim Ferrer and many Buena Vista vets, for his final solo disc. London’s Sunday Telegraph calls it “a warm, catchy, magnificently played album.”