A Bronx musician who served as an ambassador for Latin jazz, the borough and his Puerto Rican heritage has died.
The music world and the borough mourned the loss of David Valentin, who passed away on Wednesday, March 8 after suffering two strokes, family and friends said. He was 64.
Valentin was Latin jazz’s premiere flute player, and according to sources interviewed for this article, he was arguably the best overall U.S. flautist at the peak of his career, from the late-1960s through early 2000s.
The flautist would always talk to audiences about being from the south Bronx and his cultural heritage, friends said.
He would mentor youth in schools and community organizations, nourishing musicianship, they said.
Valentin won a Grammy award in 2003.
He was a Bronx Walk of Fame inductee in 2000.
His cousin Lourdes Torres said that Valentin grew up on Fox Street near Southern Boulevard and lived in Harding Park for many years.
He was a schoolteacher for a time and he loved to give back to the youth and community even after he became famous, she said.
“He did a lot of volunteer work with organizations,” said Torres, adding “He would never say no to a teacher who asked him to visit their classroom.”
He was an active volunteer at Castia Maria Center for Arts & Education, only asking for a Yoo-hoo chocolate drink as compensation for his work there, she said.
“I am going to remember most his love of his community and his wanting to share his music with the world,” said Torres, who she received messages of condolences for Valentin from all over the globe.
His manager for rougly 14 years, Richie Bonilla of Throggs Neck, said that Valentin performed on six continents and that he would often open his shows with a shout-out to the borough and to his Puerto Rican heritage.
“He was very proud that he was from the Bronx,” said Bonilla.
Valentin had a unique way of playing the flute, combining the melody with verbal percussion at the same time, said his manager, explaining he knew how to manipulate his mouth to create percussion sounds.
“He had a pure tone,” he said of the flautist’s music, which according to another friend and a musicologist, Felipe Luciano, was heavily imbued with Cuban Charanga (dance music) and Conjunto (trumpets and brass).
Valentin was an important part of the band Conjunto Libre that made “phenomenal” recordings in the 1970s when Valentin was a band member, according to Luciano.
Valentin began to emerge to a wider audience and became a leading performer in his own right in the 1980s, said the musicologist.
He formed his own ensemble of musicians to perform fusion and Latin jazz music, making albums under his own name with himself as the leader.
“He began to develop a fan following because of his way of handling the flute; his triple-tonguing, his dexterity, his ability to fly over the scales were legendary,” said Luciano.
Later, Valentin was a contractor for Tito Puente and his Latin Jazz Ensemble, said Luciano.
A Valentin contemporary, Grammy-nominated Latin jazz drummer Bobby Sanabria, said that the loss is one not just for music fans but for the borough because Valentin was a Bronx ambassador through his musicianship.
Bonilla said that Valentin’s brother George Valentin, his cousin and nieces survive him.