Cuban pianist Elio Villafranca rides new wave of Afro-Jazz to OZ

[From the Media Release]

New York-based, Cuban pianist/composer Elio Villafranca is coming to Melbourne for the first time this June. Performing his Grammy-nominated suite Cinque with a dynamic 10-piece Afro-Cuban Orchestra, Villafranca will appear in the-round at the Night Cat on Saturday 8th June (9.00pm) in collaboration with Adrian Medina’s new immersive music/cinematic fusion.

Villafranca’s most ambitious album to date, garnering 4.5 stars from Downbeat Magazine, Cinque showcases the diversity of Congolese heritage in the five Caribbean Islands: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, and Jamaica.

Born in the Pinar del Ro province of Western Cuba, Villafranca was classically trained in percussion and composition at the prestigious Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba. In 1995 he relocated to the U.S where he has worked extensively in the jazz and Latin jazz scenes throughout the US.

In the wake of early innovators such as Mario Bauza and Machito and later Chucho Valdes, Villafranca is at the forefront of the latest generation of remarkable Cuban pianists and composers making major creative contributions to the international development of Cuban jazz. Since his debut album Incantations/Encantaciones ranked amongst the Top 50 albums of 2003 (JazzTimes), the Steinway artist has received a multitude of accolades including Jazz Corners Pianist of the Year (2008), BMI Jazz Guaranty Award (2008) and the NFA/Heineken Green Ribbon Master Artist Music Grant (2008).

In 2010 he was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Album (2010) and in 2014 received the Swing Award at Jazz at the Lincoln Centre. Last year, he was among five pianists chosen by Chick Corea to perform at the first Chick Corea Jazz Festival, also receiving the Sunshine Award which recognises excellence in the performing arts, education, science, and sports of the various Caribbean countries, South America, Central America, and Africa.


His music has been described as “passionate” and “a new application of ancient ways” by jazz legend Chick Corea, while internationally celebrated trumpeter and Artistic Director of Jazz at the Lincoln Centre, Wynton Marsalis, professes to having been “profoundly moved” by the Cuban composer’s
vision and musicianship.

Villafranca has released three albums under his name. He has performed nationally and internationally as leader of his quartet, and as a sideman he has collaborated leading jazz and Latin jazz artists including: Wynton Marsalis; Jon Faddis; Sonny Fortune; Giovanni Hidalgo; Eddie Henderson; Miguel Zenn; Cndido Camero; and Johnny Pacheco. Currently based in New York, Villafranca is a faculty member at both Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music and resident professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

For his Melbourne International Jazz Festival Performance,the pianist will lead a stellar band comprised byLazaro Numa (trumpet), Gai Bryant (alto/soprano sax, flute), Matt Ottignon (tenor sax, clarinet), Tim Clarkson (bass clarinet), Danny Carmichael (trombone), Nick Henderson (bass), Ryan Menezes (drum kit), Adrian Hearn-bata (congas), Rodolfo Panga Hechavarria (congas).


Elio Villafranca will perform at the Night Cat on Saturday 8 June, 9pm, as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival