Dave Valentin says he knew that music could change the world from the day he was born.
He picked up hand percussion at the tender age of 5, when his father, a merchant marine, brought some drums home from his travels for his son.
What a gift.
From that moment on, Valentin never faltered in his love or pursuit of music. At 16, he began playing the flute to impress a girl named Irene. The girl is long gone, but Valentin's 22 albums, Grammy award and incredibly interesting life remain as consolations.
As a child, Valentin, who is of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in the South Bronx. At the time, it was considered one of the roughest areas in New York. Furthermore, his neighborhood was filled with inspiration for his music.
It was a place where "you could smell matzo chicken soup, lasagna, rice and beans and black-eyed peas all at the same time, and nobody had a problem with anybody," he remembers.
This multicultural influence is perhaps most directly evidenced in his vast collection of flutes. Valentin never thought to narrow himself to a staid concert flautist's instrumental regimen; he reached out to master many permutations of his beloved flute, and plays Native American, Japanese, African, Indian and many other variations at his live shows.
"They all have their own spirit," he says.
And Valentin doesn't just play for his audiences he tries to educate them. In fact, he spent nine years teaching seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade music in the Bronx, seeking to give back to his community.
"It was a great experience," he says wistfully.
During this time, a local gang called the Savage Nomads broke into the school's music room, absconding with the instruments. Valentin marched over to their clubhouse and handled the situation with a touch of creativity.
"I said, "Listen, I know you've got the stuff, and you're doing an injustice to our sons and daughters. So I'll tell you what: If you give the stuff back, I'll make a band out of you guys, and I'll teach you how to play.'"
He got the instruments back within two days.
"The band was called the Savage Nomads," he says, erupting into laughter. "And they were pretty good!"
Valentin's love for music education is a two-way street. He's quick to speak of the greats with whom he's shared the stage. And of the things they taught him.
"The man I really loved to play with was Tito Puente," Valentin shares, his voice faltering with emotion.
Puente died in the spring of 2000, yet remains one of the most renowned Latin jazz greats of all time. Valentin worked closely with him for more than four years, and the two were very close.
Says Valentin, upon regaining his emotion: "The advice he gave me was, if you're tired, stay home. If you can't walk, sit down. If you can't drive, don't. But if you're going to play, play. You never know what's going to happen tomorrow, so play a good solo in your life. And it's OK to improvise."
Dave Valentin with Dotsero:Winter Jazz Concert Benefit for The Fund for the Arts at Pikes Peak Community Foundation, FutureSelf and The Colorado Springs Conservatory
The Antlers Hilton, 4 S. Cascade Ave.
Saturday, Jan. 27, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25 to $75; visit ppcf.org for details or call 389-1253, ext. 100.