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Hanging Out With Cool Cats

Published: 2011-06-06
Dave Valentin The jazz flutist Dave Valentin has toured the world as a headliner, playing with everyone from Tito Puente to McCoy Tyner, but he always returns to the Bronx, where he was born 59 years ago. Home is a modest one-story bachelor pad in Harding Park, a hidden waterfront stretch of winding streets, close neighbors—and the occasional crowing rooster—better known as Little Puerto Rico.

He won a Grammy in 2002 with Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project, and this month he will release his latest album, “Pure Imagination," in which he overdubs himself playing five flutes. Not surprisingly, Sundays usually include at least one practice session.

UP AT 7 My five cats wake me up—Mambo, Cha-Cha, Bomba, Plena and Bolero. They're cool cats, as long as I feed them and let them out. They'll roam around and catch mice, which they bring me as little gifts. Sometimes they catch these little garden snakes. Hey, it's Little Puerto Rico here.

BODEGA BREAKFAST I'll walk to the bodega two blocks away. They make everything to your liking, whether you want a cheese steak or ham and eggs. I get ham and eggs on a roll. Then I go for a two-mile walk on this little track in the park behind my house. I have to watch my health. I had a heart attack on Jan. 31. That's when mortality gets in your face. At the hospital, right before a procedure, a doctor said: “You're Dave Valentin! I play the flute, too. Can I have your autograph?" I gave it to him—after the procedure.

EYE ON THE WORLD I come back and watch CNN. I want to be informed. If I'm going to Colombia, I want to know what's going on there, from the weather to anything else. I'm not going to put my musicians in jeopardy. I think musicians are well informed about what's going on in the world, since sometimes these things affect us and we write some music about it.

PICKING UP THE FLUTE I started out as a percussionist in school. But I wanted to meet this girl, Irene, who was a flutist. 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. 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.

EAT AT JOE'S At lunch I go hang out with friends at Joe's Place in Parkchester. It's the greatest in the Bronx, all typical Puerto Rican food. I've been going there for years. When Jerry Gonzalez visited from Spain, I took him there before we went to play a gig. I'll have mofongo with chicharrón and red bean sauce. That's poor man's food—you can take half of it home with you.

TV OR MORE PRACTICE After Joe's, I go home. I might watch TV and I'll probably practice again. My day isn't exactly routine, since I don't have a 9-to-5. Music is a lot of hard work, even if people think we party all the time. I won a Grammy in 2002 for best Latin jazz recording, but it was hard work. Once you're considered a top flutist, you have to maintain that. You can't get lazy. You have to be better than before.

TITO SLEPT HERE Tito Puente slept in my guest room after a concert because the weather was so bad he couldn't drive home across the Tappan Zee. Down the line, I made a plaque saying “Tito Puente Slept Here" and put it right on the door of the guest room. The next time Tito came by, I showed it to him. Man! He said with that raspy voice, “I'm not George Washington and I'm not dead, so take it off the door!" He took it with him and I never got it back.

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