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Rubén González

The young Rubén González was an accomplished classical pianist and in his youth was planning to become a doctor. In 1941 he gave up his studies of classical music and medicine to begin his professional career playing dance music, playing with most of the major orchestras in Cuba. He began his recording career in 1943 with the pioneering bandleader Arsenio Rodríguez, who would help revolutionize the sound of Cuban music. Rubén said that he approached the piano not as an accompanying instrument but one that also ‘leads’, whilst still maintaining the rhythm. Arsenio became a major influence on Rubén’s playing style and his outlook on life, giving him some invaluable advice that he has always tried to follow. He explained that the key to being a great pianist was mastering Cuban syncopation, while at the same time playing from the heart. “Don't worry about what anyone else is doing. Just play your own style, whatever it is, but don’t imitate anyone. Just carry on like that, so when people hear your music, they’ll say, ‘that’s Rubén’."

Along with Lilí Martínez and Peruchin, Rubén was part of a trio of pianists who helped shape the way in which this music would develop. Having established his own distinctive style Rubén went on to play in various orchestras throughout South America before returning to Cuba. In the early 1960s Rubén became pianist for Enrique Jorrín, the man credited for inventing the cha cha cha, and would continue to play for him for the next 25 years. In 1979 the cream of Cuba’s musicians got together for the Estrellas De Areito sessions. Hand picked especially for these recordings, the stellar line-up included Rubén González as a featured soloist. After Jorrín’s death in the mid-80s Rubén briefly took over the role as band leader but would choose to retire soon after.

It wasn’t until 1996, when the now legendary trio of albums-the Afro Cuban All Stars’ A Toda Cuba le Gusta, produced by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez and Nick Gold, Buena Vista Social ClubTM, produced by Ry Cooder; and Introducing...Rubén Gonzalez, also produced by Gold, all for World Circuit, was recorded that Rubén would play again professionally. Ruben’s genius was a crucial factor in the success of the projects, which were all recorded during a three week recording blitz. After years without owning a piano, and despite the onset of arthritis, the music flowed out of him prompting Cooder to call him “the greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my life.” All three albums would become commercial and critical phenomena and finally brought Rubén the international recognition that he richly deserved. Rubén’s piano playing is an essential feature on the solo albums of fellow Buena Vista stars Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo. The trio of celebrated musicians toured the world several times over, delighting ecstatic audiences everywhere they went.

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