Dave Valentin, a Grammy Award-Winning Latin Jazz Flutist, Dies at 64
By SAM ROBERTS MARCH 8, 2017
Dave Valentin performing at the Blue Note in New York City in 2000. Steve Berman
Dave Valentin, a Grammy Award-winning Latin jazz flutist who recorded dozens of albums and performed on six continents, died on Wednesday in the Bronx. He was 64.
The cause was complications of a stroke and Parkinson’s disease, said his manager, Richie Bonilla.
Born in the Bronx to parents who came from Puerto Rico, Mr. Valentin was playing conga and timbales professionally by the time he was 10. As a teenager, he became attracted to a girl who played the flute and, to better court her, switched instruments and taught himself to play. He went on to become one of the pre-eminent flutists in Latin jazz.
He won a Grammy for best Latin jazz album in 2003 for “The Gathering,” by the Caribbean Jazz Project, an album that also featured the vibraphonist Dave Samuels.
Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote in a 1984 review that Mr. Valentin “plays with a sultry tone and dizzyingly agile technique, and his solos dart in and around his quintet’s Latin and funk rhythms.”
The percussionist and bandleader Bobby Sanabria said in an interview that Mr. Valentin was “a true son of the South Bronx wherever he went,” and that he “represented excellence as a musician through the flute in the world of jazz.”
David Joseph Valentin was born in the South Bronx on April 29, 1952, to parents who came to New York from a fishing village near Mayagüez, P.R. His mother was the former Sylvia Ramirez. His father, Jorge, a steward in the merchant marine, brought home bongos and congas from Brazil, which Dave began practicing on when he was 5. He took piano lessons when he was 9 and was playing percussion for $10 a gig when he was 10.
“At that time I was like a novelty playing with men,” he said in an interview with the Hamilton College Jazz Archive in 2000. “I was a little kid on timbales.”
His junior high school had a school band and a jazz band, an orchestra, a chorus and seven music teachers, one of whom, Stuart Soffer, recommended him to the High School of Music and Art (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan).
After graduating, he studied under the acclaimed jazz flutist Hubert Laws, who became his mentor. He also studied at Bronx Community College before becoming a music teacher.
“I taught seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade music for three years in the South Bronx,” Mr. Valentin told The Times in 2014. “I had a jazz band and taught them how to play, so when they graduated they were ready.”
His first album as a leader, “Legends,” was released in 1979 on the GRP label, with which he had a long and fruitful relationship as both a leader and a sideman.
In addition to releasing numerous albums under his own name, he recorded with the singers Patti Austin, Chris Connor and Nnenna Freelon, the guitarist Lee Ritenour, the pianist McCoy Tyner’s Afro-Cuban All-Stars and many others. He also toured with the percussionist Tito Puente and was music director of his Golden Latin Jazz All-Stars.
After suffering a stroke in 2012, he convalesced in a rented bungalow in the Harding Park section of the Bronx, surviving without savings or health insurance and dependent largely on donations, many of them handled by the Jazz Foundation of America. He eventually moved to a nursing home.
He is survived by a brother, George.
Mr. Valentin delighted in recounting how he became a flutist.
“I started out as a percussionist in school. But I wanted to meet this girl, Irene, who was a flutist,” he recalled in 2011. “She showed me a scale, and I played it immediately. Do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do. Without knowing nothing! So, I borrowed a flute, bought a Herbie Mann record and learned ‘Comin’ Home Baby.’
“Three weeks later, I went to her and played it,” he continued. “I knew I had her! She said, ‘I’ve been taking lessons for three years and you come in here in three weeks and play like that? Don’t ever talk to me again!’
“I lost the girl, but kept the flute.”