Today, part six of my Havana Diary from 2000.
The plot thickens, and events careen along to a nice ritmo cubana, leading me closer to a certain special someone...
Debra Evenson is a friend of my sister who moved to Cuba from Chicago in 1993 and works as a lawyer for the government. Tall and rail thin, she has the ultimate Cuban exercise program – she lives on the eighth floor or a building whose elevator has been out of commission for several years.
Her boyfriend Vassilio plays trumpet with Irakere, the Cuban jazz ensemble headed by Chucho Valdes, who is also the director and programmer of the jazz festival, if it is indeed possible to use words like directing and programming when it comes to such a unsystematic affair. Debra has the bemused relaxed attitude of someone who has lived and worked in Havana for many years, and is comfortable and never surprised by the haphazard and indirect way things work here. You would think a week long jazz festival might have things like a reliable schedule of events, an information center, a known location to purchase tickets, but then you clearly have never been to the Habana Jazz Festival. There is a Salon de Informacion at the Riviera Hotel, but there is no informacion to be had there, so they direct you to the Ministry of Music, but they ran out of credentials a long time ago, and the one printed schedule they have is no longer relevant as the acts and venues and times have all changed.
In spite of all this, there was actually something deeply pleasing about the carelessness and casualness of the whole event. This is a jazz festival with the personality and habits of a jazz musician, a sense of improvisation underlining the proceedings that made the whole experience have the uplifting quality Cuban’s call descarges. And from the opening act at Teatro Amedeo Roldan of Chucho Valdes and Chano Gonzales, with surprise guest Herbie Hancock completing this trio of solo pianists, to the disastrous Italian duo performing jazz covers of Beatles songs at Club La Zorra y El Cuervo, through to the last night of tight hot salsa from the Havana Ensemble in the open air plaza of the Casa de la Cultura, somehow the music was only half the point, the picture in the frame that was the excuse to visit the gallery.
Eric Dolphy once said “Music, when it’s in the air, it’s gone. You can never capture it again.” And it’s true that the live experience of the crowds, the mojitos, the full moon over the stage, the bleachers full of writhing beautiful dancers, the painted backdrops and the $5 taxi rides from venue to venue, the cool breeze and the rapid-fire chatter of the Cuban language in the crowd, created an ambience that no recording device will ever reproduce.
Tata Güines Manteca
Here is the master himself.
How can one write about Tata Guines, one of the best percussionists in the world, or Bobby Carcasses and his flugelhorn and ritmo vocals, or Jose Ruiz Cortes, the flute playing leader of NG La Banda, or Canadian soprano sax player Jane Bonner whose pig-tails and pork-pie hat are comic props that might cause you to underestimate the strength and beauty of her Coltrane-like solos over a solid foundation of Cubano soul, or any of the nameless, faceless musicians lined up at 4 a.m. outside of the Bar Elegante in the lobby of the Riviera for the last call jam session each evening, some amateurs struggling to hold their own and then heading back to the woodshed, some stunning soloists that in a more just universe would be headlining the festival, all of them reflected for one brief blues chorus moment in the spotlight that bounces off the tacky gold- flecked mirrored wall behind the makeshift bandstand?
TOMORROW: Havana Diary continues with one of the last two installments