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Highlights of SFJAZZ Gala

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Friday February 01, 2019

From San Francisco Chronicle: Datebook

Nancy Pelosi drops in on SFJazz gala, adding to fete’s many surprises
By: Aidin Vaziri

Nancy Pelosi ended a frenetic workweek by popping into the SFJazz Center on Thursday, Jan. 31, to shimmy along with the intoxicating jazz melodies of Chucho Valdés. The House speaker was a surprise guest at the organization’s annual gala honoring the great Cuban pianist, and even though her appearance elicited the biggest ovation of the evening, it was hardly the high point of the party.

The main program celebrated Valdés’ extensive body of work and included a prerecorded tribute reel featuring accolades from jazz giants like Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and Quincy Jones. The 77-year-old pianist, composer and arranger, who has won six Grammy Awards and stands as one of the most influential figures in Cuban music, was also honored with the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by SFJazz founder Randall Kline.

‘I have a very special relationship with this city,’ Valdés said, speaking Spanish through interpreter Rebeca Mauleón, the organization’s director of education. ‘I feel a part of you all.’

The presentation was bookended by two more unforgettable moments. First, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves joined Valdés and the 88-year-old Cuban singer Omara Portuondo for a gorgeous rendition of ‘Besame Mucho’; then Valdés and Portuondo followed with a once-in-a-lifetime duo performance of ‘Dos Gardenias’ that left a hush over the crowd long after the last note rang out.

Before the night closed out with a bustling afterparty headlined by last year’s honorees Preservation Hall Jazz Band, all the evening’s performers flooded the stage for a riotous version of ‘Guantanamera’ that had Valdés kicking his piano stool aside to salsa-dance along with the band – and the House speaker.

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