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Posted August 06, 2005 by publisher in Cuban Music

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By Marilyn Bobes | periodico26.cu

Jazz! The mystery of a captivating music in a captivating city. Marilyn Bobes, who recently won the Casa de las Americas novel prize, describes how Havana is seduced by the calling that every night comes from its nightclubs.

At Night

If a music was made for the night, it’s jazz. Of course, at any other time of day you just have to snap your fingers or say one, two, three and piano, drums and sax break out improvising on long or short notes, as it should be, but the true magic comes at sundown, and even more if you are in this city, addicted to itself, tireless. There is a seduction of silhouettes, a playing of neon lights with the shadows that reject the dawn, but later, if morning comes it doesn’t matter night will come again.

“The multiple fusions of jazz with musics and styles all over the planet have earned new audiences, and at the same time they have renovated the interest for Afro Cuban or Afro Latin jazz, the pioneer of such fusions. Undoubtedly never before in our country there have been so many top jazz musicians. This is due in part to the new methodologies that have revolutionized the teaching of music in the world and broadened technical and expressive possibilities for all musical instruments. All of this has been properly applied in Cuba.”

Maybe because of this ludic mystery Cuban music critic Pedro de la Hoz classifies Havana among the best jazz stages in the world, not only because of its well-known international festivals that gather every year the world’s best performers, but also because since the early 20th century this musical genre with African roots, and so prone to fuse itself with any other with similar improvising tendencies, was an important presence in the very flexible Cuban musical panorama.

The affinity between Cuban popular music and jazz is a consequence, among other factors, of that common root. Musicologist Leonardo Acosta says in his excellent essay Cuban Jam Session: Jazz in Cuba, that exchanges and reciprocal borrowings between both musics after a century brought about that mixture that includes rhythms from other Caribbean and Latin American countries and that presently is known as Latin Jazz.

The Latin Jazz

In the first decades of the 20th century a large number of US musicians came to Havana, among them several jazzmen hired by hotels on the island where American tourists defied Prohibition, a law that drove into the underground nightlife in the United States.

But it was not until the 40s that Cuban musicians living in New York officially gave an Afro Cuban or Latin character to music created in the 19th century by Black communities in New Orleans.

Men like Mario Bauz, Machito and Chano Pozo, among others, fused Cuban percussion and characteristics into the bands in which they played, a mixture from which emerged a memorable piece, “Manteca”, a classic of Latin jazz.

The exchange between American jazzmen and Cuban musicians went beyond the fist half of the 20th century and bands with very similar composition were formed to play mambo and cha cha, so that in the 50s the Vedado neighborhood and famous Tropicana Night Club colored the capital’s musical life with many jazz bands. In the 60s, although there was a decline of the genre in Havana’s night life, the Cuban Ochestra of Modern Music was created. Several musicians that later have been considered international pillars of Latin jazz cut their musical teeth in that band.

Jazz Plaza Festival

Nevertheless, most experts agree that it’s with the creation of Irakere, founded by the great Chucho Valdes in the early 70s, that there is a consolidation and universalization of Cuban jazz, due to the format and virtuosity of a group that inherits the best of the previous jazz and traditional bands.

Many other groups, such as NG La Banda or La Charanga Habanera adopted in the following years the complexity of arrangements and the punch in the brass sections of the so called timba, which brought on expressions of jazz fusion that could also be classified as Latin jazz.

Due to the development of jazz in Cuba during the 80s, singer-showman-jazzman Bobby Carcasses spearheaded the movement that created the Jazz Plaza Festival, which every year, under the chairmanship of Chucho Valdes, gathers in Havana great performers of that global music that has the virtue of uniting different genres from all over the world. Visitors who would like to see for themselves the excellence of present Cuban jazz may tour the three places in Havana where jazz is played every night: La Zorra y el Cuervo Club, in the heart of La Rampa; Jazz Cafe, across the street from the Habana Riviera Hotel; and the Irakere Club, on the magical shores of the Almendares River. Take your pick.

According to critics, Cuban jazz is at present an evolving intergenerational movement with performers that are true virtuosi and a diversity of styles. An interesting characteristic is the high and increasing number of first rate women performers. Havana, a swinging capital, is undoubtedly a leader of Latin jazz in Latin America and a place to find the most attractive music for those that shun simplicity.


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  1. Follow up post #1 added on October 05, 2005 by Groovetoon with 2 total posts

    Adventures in Rock is leading a fully licensed trip to Havana during the Jazz Festival.  Trip dates November 30th - December 7th.  For more information visit http://adventuresinrock.com/havanajazzfestival.com

    Thank you.


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