Dave Valentin, a versatile, affable and adroit flutist who worked with artists including Chick Corea, Paquito D’Rivera, Eliane Elias, Dave Grusin, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente and McCoy Tyner, and who released more than 20 albums as a leader in a variety of Latin and Latin-fusion settings, died on March 8 at a rehabilitation and care facility in New York. He was 64, and had been inactive since a stroke in 2012 and subsequent cardiovascular events.
Valentin recorded for the GRP, Concord and HighNote labels, served as Tito Puente’s musical director for several years and won a Grammy Award with Caribbean Jazz Project for its 2002 album, The Gathering.
Born in 1952 in the Bronx, Valentin began playing Latin percussion at a young age, playing professionally in NYC nightclubs by age 11 and later attending New York’s High School of Music and Art. In college, he continued his percussion studies but took up the flute as a second instrument, the end result of an attempt to impress a classmate. He didn’t get the girl—but did get introduced to the instrument that would take him to future musical success. Switching to flute exclusively, and dissuaded from exploring the sax by Hubert Laws, his flute instructor for a short time, Valentin developed a style born of his percussive instincts, incorporating syncopation, forceful staccato bursts to create drum-like effects and a number of growling vocalizations generating sharp overtones—on top of a mellow and classic flute sound.
After college, Valentin taught high school for several years, gigging in the evenings and developing a reputation as a versatile and technically skilled player. 1977 marked his recorded debut, playing on albums by jazz violinist Noel Pointer and Latin-jazz multi-instrumentalist Ricardo Marrero. In 1978, Valentin signed with Dave Grusin’s GRP label as its first artist and the next year released his first album as a leader, Legends, a polished affair with Latin-fusion, smooth and straight-ahead elements. Despite a record deal and new album, he held onto his teaching position for another year before jumping with both feet into life as a full-time musician.
Hawk, released in 1979, found Valentin mixing pop and R&B elements into his sound, including covers of the Beatles “Blackbird” and Steely Dan’s “Do It Again.” His early 1980s albums, Land of the Third Eye, Pied Piper, In Love’s Time and Flute Juice, crossed over into smooth territory, with more funk and R&B in the mix. But by 1984’s Kalahari, Valentin had rediscovered his Latin-jazz roots, with 1988’s Live at the Blue Note an ebullient exploration of modern Afro-Cuban and Latin themes, played with panache by Valentin on a variety of ethnic and classical flutes collected during extensive tours on multiple continents.
In 1990, Valentin paired with Herbie Mann (“Comin’ Home Baby” was the first song he learned on flute) on Two Amigos, followed by three more albums for GRP. His output slowed as the decade progressed, with touring and duties as Tito Puente’s music director until Puente’s death in 2000.
Sunshower, released in 1999 on Concord, found Valentin stepping back a bit into the smooth-jazz formula. But in 2002 he joined forces with vibraphonist Dave Samuels and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera in Samuel’s Caribbean Jazz Project to record The Gathering. Winner of the Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album, The Gathering found Valentin comfortable and inspired on Afro-Cuban-inflected versions of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” and Thelonious Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” as well as on Latin numbers including “El Guarachero Intrigozo” and “Libertad.”
Valentin continued to perform and record throughout the 2000s, with World on a String (2005) and Come Fly With Me (2006) eschewing the funkier elements prevalent in his earlier output. His final release was 2011’s Pure Imagination.