Jazz in Havana, a Feast of Emotions

It is unquestionable: jazz will live as long as there are musicians like those who shook the stages and the public’s emotions during the recently concluded Festival Jazz Plaza 2010, a musical parade that exhibited a wealth of styles.

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2010-12-27

It is unquestionable: jazz will live as long as there are musicians like those who shook the stages and the public’s emotions during the recently concluded Festival Jazz Plaza 2010, a musical parade that exhibited a wealth of styles.

The dazzling figure was Arturo O’Farril, son of Cuban Chico O’Farril. He devoted himself to playing his father’s best music so as to pay homage to that man, who made great contributions to Latin jazz and who passed away nine years ago.

O’Farril, who was born in Mexico and emigrated to the United States at six years of age, wanted to pay off an emotional debt and came to Havana with his father’s band, made up by musicians who range from 50 to 70 years old, with whom he offered two concerts.

With a look of astonishment and joy in front of an audience that filled the theater, Arturo O’Farril said: “This night is not about nostalgia, because I don’t like nostalgia. It’s thrilling to be here to pay off a debt to the nation that gave Chico his first music, that changed the world”, and the theater burst into magnificent applause.

We never got to see and hear Chucho Valdés, to whom we owe this annual festival, play with his new band, Mensajeros Afrocubanos, and in the closing gala he only appeared on stage to accompany O’Farril’s band with his piano.

But the exquisite performers were more than enough in the Havana event: from the Swiss Michel Fleiner with his Latin rhythm, the ARIFA quartet from the Netherlands, and Rachel Therrient from Canada, to Cubans Ruy López-Nussa and the Academia, his son Harold López-Nussa, the group Síntesis, Bobby Carcasés and Orlando Sánchez.

Fleiner was one of the curiosities with his Latin jazz, sometimes very Cuban - if such terms can be separated - despite being Swiss and directing a band mostly made up of Europeans.

That mix of Europe with Colombia, where Fleiner lived for five years, may be the explanation for the power and infectiousness of his music, which has the strength of Cuban and Latin rhythm, as well as a certain European glamour.

The huge variety and general rigor evidenced during this Jazz Plaza was immense, even though, sadly, many foreign musicians are unknown in Cuba.

The Other Nice Face

As usual, since some six years ago, the nights of the Jazz Plaza Festival are reserved for concerts and the days for debates and lectures about the genre, as a way of digging into its origins, trajectory, present and, as much as possible, predicting its future.

Dedicated to percussion in jazz, the gathering screened the documentary A Drummer’s Dream (El sueño de un baterista), by John Walker, one of the best of his kind in Canada. Living celebrities such as Dennis Chambers, Kenwood Dennard, Horacio El Negro Hernández, Giovanni Hidalgo, Mike Mangini and Raúl Rekow, envelop with their highly rich styles and their diverse influences, which are as powerful as their own performances on the drums and the congas.

A Drummer’s Dream calls our attention because it insists on something that, during the festival, other musicians have pointed out either on stage or outside the theater hall: good music is made with humility, love, and desire.

It is an idea that is perhaps not clear to the hurried reader, but the truth is that the spirit of good musicians has always been that of giving themselves to music with solidarity, with that passion that prevents harmful feelings from coming to the surface. Smugness and arrogance are not ingredients used in the making of good music.

Proof of that was also the American jazz band TUC Jazz Ensemble, Roberto Carcassés and his trio, Gastón Joyas and his band Ta’ Bueno Jazz, Alexis Bosch, Sexto Sentido, Caribe Gerls from Canada, and Yoruba Andabo.

The theoretical area, as the specialists call it, showed that it can be as useful as the recitals. This time, the topics for debates and lectures were stimulating and were conducted by the very stars themselves who shone in the nights: O’Farril, who started the lectures, Cubans Pablo Menéndez, Harold and Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, Yaroldy Abreu, Oscar Valdés, Giraldo Piloto, Rolando Luna, Spanish bassist José Agustín Guereñu, and Norwegian Kjetil Klete, among others.

To know that jazz was buried by rock music during the ‘60s and ‘70s seems today a hard-to-believe nightmare when we listen to this wonderful and splendid music, which is as creative as the imagination of the composers and instrumentalists themselves.

Nevertheless, it is too good to disappear. That’s why its rebirth and progressive development demonstrate that it is highly unlikely that jazz is ever going to die.

*Translated by: Adriana Pinelo Avendaño

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