Havana Diary pt 8
On our last day, in the typical festival crosscurrents of rumours and unplanned events, we got wind of a cocktail party reception for participants being held at the Melia Cohiba, and when our credentials did not gain us official entrance, Marguerite, as a veteran jazz night club owner herself, and experienced victim of just about every conceivable con used by rapid jazz fans to gain entrance to an event, decided on the old “trojan horse” manoeuvre – go to the venue before it’s really set up and open and before the bouncers are at the door and hang around inside as if you belong there and are already “in”, chat up some of the local help so you can pretend to be working or involved with them in some general way, and then wait until the real guests come so you can blend in with the crowd and disappear. I know, an old dodge to be sure, but it worked like a charm.
Ibrahim Ferrer y Omara Portuondo - Silencio
And lucky for us that it did, as it turned out that the musical guests at the party where none other than Ibriham Ferrar and Omara Portuondo themselves, the Buena Vista stars at last, who brought down the house with renditions of Dos Gardenias Para Ti and Candela that had the audience clapping and dancing and even getting a bit teary-eyed with romance, nostalgia and affection for these geriatric crooners.
With the strains of Omara’s throaty vibrato ringing in her ears, Marguerite took off for snowbound Chicago. I stuck around for one more day before my Sunday 4 a.m. flight to Cancun started me on the serpentine path back to Los Angeles. At breakfast in her Thelonious Monk black sunglasses, Jane Bonner reported another rumour, something was happening at UNEAC, the Cuban union of writers and artists housed in another old villa at Calles H y 17, a short walk from the hotel. So I hightailed it over there and caught a great set by an unnamed band on the terracotta tile patio of the Huron Azul.
You’ve heard jazz lovers called “cats”, but have you ever heard of cats that are jazz lovers? Well, the Blue Heron was full of them and they stretched and played and meowed to the caliente music, much to the amusement and delight of the patrons and the band. Finally, back at the Amadeo Roldan theatre in a fitting end to this musical smorgasbord, Kenny Barron and Rufus Reid and Kim Thompson, a piano, bass and drums trio whose dance through Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t” made me remember my own brief days as a wannabe jazz musician, before I dropped out of The Berklee College of Music, when as a student at Wesleyan University I studied with Kenny’s older brother Bill Barron, a great teacher and tenor sax player who grew up in Philly and at one time was a roommate of jazz giant John Coltrane.
I heard that Bill Barron died a few years back, and of course Coltrane died at 36 in 1967, but the music, like my grandmother Florence, is almost 100 years old and still lives on, and the very best place to hear it these days is in Fidel Castro’s Cuba at the various venues off the Malecon in Habana, 2000.
Tomorrow: A Happy Ending!!