Enrique Chia is a Cuban-American pianist and prolific recording artist whose unique and organic playing style is rooted in the grand pre-revolutionary musical traditions of Cuba, and additionally in the Great American Songbook and sophisticated pop of his adopted homeland. Whether he is playing boleros, sons, descargas, tangos, or pop hits, his pianistic signature is a quiet, romantic intimacy paired with a flawless technicality. Since the 1990s, when he began pursuing music full-time as a career, he has released over 40 recordings that have sold remarkably well across the Americas, the Caribbean, and Mexico, and have provided the framework for his stirring, always sold-out live performances.
Chia was born in Cienfuegos, on Cuba's south coast in full view of the ocean with literally thousands of fishing boats emitting twinkling lights in the pre-dawn skies as scenery. His piano-playing mother was his initial inspiration. Though he had tinkered on the piano since the age of three, it wasn't until he was five that she perceived his potential, which warranted his studying with maestro José Manuel Vázquez of the Conservatory of Music of Havana. She also instilled in her son her belief that music was for personal pleasure, and not for making a living. With her encouragement, he left Cuba in 1961 to attend Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where he earned a Master's degree in metallurgy in 1967 and a PhD in 1975. Although he frequently played piano at parties, Chia remained focused on his professional life. After working as an adjunct professor in Georgia Tech's materials engineering department, he accepted a special faculty position at Georgia Tech Research Institute in 1986. Four years later, he began working at the American Fine Wire Corporation in Selma, Alabama, rising to the position of executive vice-president. He retired from the company in the mid-'90s after having registered no less than 46 U.S. patents for developments in metals and processing.
At the behest of his father-in-law, Chia recorded and released a cassette of Cuban dancehall standards from the '40s and '50s in 1993, now known as Unforgettable Piano. Copies were made and circulated among friends to increasing popularity. They eventually found their way into several small record shops in Miami, where they were snapped up as soon as they arrived. The constant demand persuaded Chia and his wife, Diana Beguiristain, to set up the Begui label, home to all his subsequent recordings. CDs were pressed and circulated through homemade distribution chains to the Caribbean, South America, Mexico, and even Europe. The demand was so overwhelming that Chia began recording whenever he could find the time. He also formed a band. His 40-plus recordings include the 2001 Grammy-nominated (in the classical crossover category) The Music of Ernesto Lecuona. He has recorded other tribute albums, including two volumes dedicated to the music of Augustin Lara, and one each to Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Armando Manzanero, and bolero kings Los Panchos. He has also recorded musical tributes to the regions of Tuscany, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, in addition to Cuba and the U.S. Chia has filmed several concert DVDs including the 2008 Emmy Award-winning Cuba Eterna, which premiered on PBS and has been a perennial staple ever since. Between 2003 and 2009, he released multiple albums per annum.
As a touring professional, Chia spent his first decade performing benefit concerts. Since 2010 he has become a massive draw across the Americas and in the Caribbean, and has released recordings with reliable frequency, including 2011's El Alma de Cuba, 2013's Memorias Musicales de Cuba, and 2018's Piano Under the Stars at Vizcaya. ~ Thom Jurek