Chuchito Valdés and regression towards the mean

Chuchito Valdés is the grandson of the late Bebo and son of Chucho, Cuban jazz royalty.  The short version of my rule for music is that African + Iberian = Proof of God’s Infinite Love, so I listen to a fair amount of this stuff.

Tonight we caught Chuchito at Yoshi’s. I was playing hooky from a talk by Theda Skocpol at our annual Wildavsky Forum, and if all my colleagues had done as I did, it would  have been a Bad Thing, categorical imperative time, but they didn’t, and I got to hear one of those evenings of music I’ll remember all my life. Unfair, I know, but seriously, up there with The Doors live at the Fillmore East on my short list of times.

Valdes had a minimal band (percussion, timbales, bass and a trumpet player whose name I missed), so every note counted and you could hear them all.  He played boleros and son to break your heart, mambos and rhumbas to wake the dead and restart the universe.  In the middle he did a medley of A Train and Satin Doll for which Edward Kennedy Ellington and William Strayhorn came down from heaven and spoke to us in Spanish.  If the horn guy gets the “last trumpet” gig for the apocalypse I want to be in the front row and will die happy, especially because at that time I will also see the wretched Florida Cuban reactionaries and their Republican toadies going to hell for keeping us from this glorious music for decades.

About regression towards the mean?  The statistics lesson for tonight is that the principle, normally sound, apparently has exceptions.

[Free extra, not worth a post by itself: the joropo (Venezuelan/Colombian cowboy music) group Cimarrón has an 2011 self-titled album that I just came upon. If you don’t know them, check it out.]



Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

8 thoughts on “Chuchito Valdés and regression towards the mean”

  1. Your regression to the mean title really brought me up short. Glad to see you wanted to refute it in this case. I saw Chucho in NY about 10 years ago with some dear friends and that was a great night. And thanks for the reminder Chuchito is playing at HR-57 in DC (now only 4 blocks from my house – life is good) on April 26 and 27. I’m looking at scheduling and deciding whether to buy tickets soon.

    1. I saw Chuchito Valdes at the old HR-57 maybe five years ago or so. It was really great.

  2. Good story.

    Regression to the mean is, of course, a statistical rule, subject to the law of large numbers, not the vagaries of individual genetic differentiation.

  3. Re “one of those evenings of music I’ll remember all my life”:

    I’ve been around rather a long time, and have collected a few of those evenings (happily, none of them involved the Doors). The first that comes to mind is a free concert on the Esplanade in Boston in (I think) 1970, by the J. Geils Band. Not one of the greatest bands, but that night was high-energy magic that induced a giddy euphoria in me that I can still feel almost as a physical sensation. Among the very few occasions that matched that level of crackling, tensile energy was the only post-season baseball game I ever attended, the last game of the 1997 ALCS at Camden Yards, the Orioles losing 1-0 (and the last time they made it to the post-season until last year).

    Another: I’m not sure of the year, but 1981 or so: The Vienna State Opera at the Kennedy Center Opera House, Fidelio, with Gwyneth Jones in the title role and Leonard Bernstein in the pit. They did the big Leonore overture #3 before the final act, and that performance of that piece is still the single most exciting piece of music I ever heard. Gwyneth Jones, when she sang, drowned out the orchestra and chorus. Remarkably, it was a dress rehearsal.

    A couple of years later, James Brown at (of all places) the then-new and now-old-and-demolished Washington Convention Center, with Wilson Pickett as the opening act. It was not for nothing that James Brown was called the hardest-working man in show business; the display he put on that night brought tears to my eyes.

    Freddie King, the master electric blues guitarist, at the Jazz Workshop in Boston in 1973 or so. One of the most stunning demonstrations of virtuosity I ever witnessed.

    Not music, but probably the best piece of theatre I ever saw, which left me trembling: the Steppenwolf Theatre Company production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, which played two years ago at Arena Stage in Washington.

    Indelible and precious all.

    1. Herschel, I’m sorry you missed a couple of earlier post-season games in Baltimore that also had that energy–games three and four of the 1966 World Series. Two consecutive 1-0 Orioles victories over the heavily favored Dodgers of Koufax, Drysdale, et al. A 1-0 game tends to focus your attention. (Except, apparently, for Armando Benitez.)

      Back in the day, Baltimore also had a fair share of those evenings of music you’d remember all your life. The Baltimore Symphony and the Baltimore Civic Opera were each just a half-step below the best in the country, and we had great visiting artists every season. And the jazz scene down on Pennsylvania was exceptional.

      When I was a young man I’d lie awake at night imagining what I might have. Now I’m older, and I fall asleep dreaming of what I once had.

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