Antonio Renovales followed his secret dream of jazz from Puerto Rico to New York City in 1982, learning from living legends and always in pursuit of creating his own unique sound. Twenty years later, he has made Harrisonburg his home, finding peace and satisfaction through music in the Valley.
Renovales, 57, enjoys his daily lunch break by playing a variety of jazz, Latin and film standards on the piano at Earth & Tea Cafe. He typically performs solo but will sometimes play with a drummer or a bass player, and also teaches piano lessons to students downtown. Renovales’ philosophy about creativity and success is to never get comfortable, to keep striving to be an individual. “You should never think, ‘I have arrived.’ No, think: ‘I’m just starting.’”
At age 7, Renovales’s aunt gave his family a piano as a gift. Both his father and his mother, a Panamanian, were lifelong lovers of music, but had been too poor to pursue it themselves. The piano in his home was the first Renovales had seen in person, and he was immediately able to play by ear a Latin standard, “Montuno.”
“If you don’t go after the things you want, no one will bring them to you,” Renovales explains, a mantra which has driven him throughout his life. It was what led him to pursue his musical dreams in New York in the ’80s and to be the first Puerto Rican pianist to participate in the renowned Puerto Rico Heineken Jazz Festival in 2002.
After one of his students at the school in Puerto Rico physically assaulted him and led to him being unemployed for two years, Renovales, eager to find any paying job, accepted a position picking apples at the orchards in Timberville. He found himself spending more and more time downtown at Whitesel Music, and eventually behind the piano at Earth & Tea Cafe. He has become the resident musician of the restaurant, playing twice daily every weekday.