Roberto Carcassés 
Jazz pianist

As the son of Afrojazz pioneer Bobby Carcassés, he might have made a decent living by keeping his head down and following in those famous footsteps. But Roberto, sometimes known by the diminutive "Robertico", pursued a musical path all his own and now he's on his way to becoming a legend in his own right – a standard-bearer for a young generation taking Cuban music to new heights.

Roberto Julio Carcassés Colón was born in 1972 in Havana's Playa district and today he lives in Marianao, not far from the Tropicana where his father used to perform five decades ago. Bobby Carcassés, now 72 years old, has always liked to play anything he could get his hands on – congas, bass, flugelhorn, trumpet, saxophone– in addition to singing. His son, from an early age, leaned towards piano.

Roberto studied percussion at the Escuela Nacional de Arte, which meant he studied piano as a basis for composition. Roberto wound up "in love with the piano, but that doesn't mean I don't think like a percussionist. I think a lot about rhythm. For me rhythm is the most important thing. Not rhythm as a genre of music but as a way of life." He also sings but says, "the voice takes time to educate and I'm still in the process of learning."

Among his influences Roberto cites the revered Cuban piano player Emiliano Salvador: "I was lucky enough to know Emiliano, to see him play in front of me. He was my father's friend, lived near us. I play some of his themes, "Angelica", and some of my own compositions have his influence." He also name-checks other Cuban piano greats – Chucho Valdés, Ernán López Nussa, Frank Emilio Flynn – along with North Americans such asMcCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans.

"When I began studying music I liked rock and roll. I wasn't capable of appreciating Cuban music, maybe beause I had it so close to me, but gradually I understood the roots of Cuban music, the roots of rhythm, and I got interested in jazz. For me jazz is a starting point, a way of seeing music, a way of life. Jazz is there in everything I do, regardless of the type of music. It could be funk, timba, anything. Jazz is a way of figuring it all out."

That's something on which father and son can agree. In 1984 Bobby Carcassés created Havana's Jazz Plaza Festival and it became an early showcase for his son's talents. Roberto peformed at the festival for three years in a row starting in 1994. Four years later father and son played together on Bobby's Jazz Timbero album. But their paths had already diverged in a dramatic way.
After he graduated from music school in 1991 Roberto toured Latin America and Europe with Santiago Feliú. Then he embarked on an extended tour of the United States with the Afro-Cuban jazz ensemble Columna B, recording an album with them called Twisted Noon.

As the 1990s ended Roberto was back in Cuba working with some of Havana's best musicians, among them trumpet player "El Indio" and sax players César López and Alfred Thompson from Irakere. They backed him up on his Invitation album, released in 2000. The same year Roberto revealed his talents as a producer and arranger on albums such as Air of Havanaby Selma Reis and with Gema Y Pavel'sTrampas Del Tiempo.

Then, in 2001, Roberto Carcassés embarked on a project that would have – and is still having – enormous repercussions for the future of Cuban music. He gathered the best and brightest talents from Havana's eclectic music scene – beginning with Telmary Díaz, Francis del Rio, Yusa and William Vivanco– and organised them into a sprawling, ever-shifting orchestra he called Interactivo.

He says the idea for Interactivo came to him while he was in the United States: "I saw some groups there that were playing danceable music that mixed in a bit of everything – a bit of Cuban music but not exclusively timba or salsa. It was more like a free jam. I felt like I could put together a group that had a bit of everything – hip-hop, funk. For me funk has a lot to do with Cuban timba. That's why I call my music 'timba-funk'."

Interactivo's first recording, Goza Pepillo, won the Best Album prize at the 2006 Cubadisco awards and the band has been touring and thriving ever since. He says he'd like Interactivo to include even more members in the future.

Given his success as a music impresario – writing scores for film and theatre, producing, arranging – it's easy to forget how just how well Roberto Carcassés can play. When we ask him to remind us, he sits obligingly at the old piano in the main room of his house and plays a lovely improvisation he calls (but only because our film crew has pushed him to call it something) "Today".

On the day in question, Roberto was finishing recording Camino Colores, an album of solo piano tunes of his own composition. "I get bored doing the same thing all the time," he confessed, although that would seem pretty obvious. "Playing piano solo is something very introspective, going back to where all music, all imagination, begins." Which is not to suggest he has been planning to abandon any of his more collaborative efforts. February 2011 saw the release of Cubanos por el Mundo, the latest Interactivo album. Some of Cuba's most outstanding musicians, among them Francis del Rio, Descemer Bueno and Santiago Feliú, feature on the album's 11 tracks. On the cover is a smiling Roberto Carcassés, arms outstretched as if to embrace the whole of Cuban music — past, present and future.