Elio Villafranca - Artist in Residence

Born in the province of Pinar del Río, Cuba, Steinway Artist and cultural activist, author, pianist, and composer Elio Villafranca is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient; a two-time Grammy nominee; 2019 Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Stars Pianist; winner of the 2018 Downbeat Critic’s Poll Rising Stars Keyboard; first Cuban born recipient of the Sunshine Award (2017), founded to recognize excellence in the performing arts, education, science, and sports of the various Caribbean countries, South America, Centro America, and Africa; and a recipient of the first Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Millennium Swing Award in 2014.

Elio Villafranca, born a painter, was classically trained in piano, percussion, and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba. Since his arrival to the U.S., he’s been at the forefront of today’s pianists and composers, fusing classical and jazz with music from the African diaspora. His debut album Incantations/Encantaciones (Universal Latin), was named 50 Best Jazz Albums of the Year by JazzTimes Magazine. Since then, Villafranca has released nine more acclaimed albums as a leader and performed with jazz and Latin jazz luminaries such as Lewis Nash, Pat Martino, Joe Lovano, Vincent Herring, Steve Turre, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Johnny Pacheco, Paquito D’Rivera, and Wynton Marsalis among others. In 2001, while living in Philadelphia, Villafranca was commissioned by Philadelphia’s own WHYY-TV to compose the music for their documentary series, "Murals.” This work, released by PBS, was based on the life and work of those five local muralists. In 2009, Elio received his first Grammy Nomination at the 52nd Grammy Awards in the Best Latin Jazz Album of the Year category. His 2014 recording, Caribbean Tinge (Motema Records), received a Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik Nomination by the German Records Critics Award and was selected as their Editor’s Pick by JazzTimes and DownBeat magazines. That year, Villafranca was also among the five pianists hand-picked by pianist Chick Corea to perform at the first Chick Corea Jazz Festival, curated by Corea himself at Jazz at Lincoln Center, NYC. In 2018, Villafranca’s double album CINQUE (ArtistShare) received a Grammy Nomination at the 61st Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album. Later that year, Elio Villafranca became Artist In Residence with the Miami Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Eduardo Marturete. In 2019, Villafranca released his first children’s book entitled “Who Ate The Pie” (AuthorHouse). His latest album “Standing by the Crossroads” (Artistshare) was selected by Downbeat among the Best Albums of 2023. Currently living in NYC, Villafranca is a jazz faculty member at The Juilliard School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, Princeton University, and Temple University in Philadelphia.

“Pianist and composer Elio Villafranca is an inspired and visionary musician. With his band, The Jass Syncopators, Elio expands what Jelly Roll Morton called The Spanish Tinge to what Elio calls The Caribbean Tinge. The band swings hard and brings a traditional yet innovative style to the roots of jazz and Afro Caribbean music. I am profoundly moved by Elio's vision and musicianship. He is a treasured member of the family here at Jazz at Lincoln Center.” - Wynton Marsalis

“Elio’s music is passionate. A brand new application of ancient ways.” - Chick Corea

Elio Villafranca writes and plays with passion and a deep understanding of musical nuance, with chops equal to some of the greatest pianists Cuba has ever produced. - DownBeat Magazine

“The musical history of Cuba is full of extraordinary pianists. Elio Villafranca is amongst the best representatives of the new generation of Cuban pianists and composers…” -Paquito D'Rivera