By Irina Echarry  (Photos: Elio Delgado Valdes)

HAVANA TIMES — In recent days, Havana’s jazz lovers had to plan their evenings meticulously to be able to enjoy as many of the performances staged at different venues and times around the city as possible.

Twenty-nine years after its creation (in 1979, when it was presided by Bobby Carcasses), Havana’s International Jazz Plaza Festival continues to provide us an opportunity to come into contact with different performers from the jazz world.

This year’s festival opened with Yipsy Garcia and her band. Then, Harold Lopez Nussa and his quartet took the stage (inviting singer Omara Potuondo to join them at one point). The evening ended with a performance by Arturo O’Farril – son of the renowned Cuban composer Chico O’Farril – and his band, Afro Latin Jazz, who also invited several Cuban musicians to join them on stage and delighted their audience with the piece Action and Reaction.

All of the Festival concerts over four days were equally good. The event ended on Sunday December 22.

The Bertolt Brecht Theatre, Mella Theatre (and gardens), the Avenida Concert Hall, the legendary cultural center located in Havana’s neighborhood of Plaza – the venue of the first gathering that gave rise to the festival – and a new addition to the festival circuit, the Club Miramar, were some of the festival venues this year.

The Palacio de la Rumba (“Rumba Palace”) and Maxim Rock club were also the stage of performances aimed at exploring jazz influences in other music genres.

The festival’s most valuable asset is its diversity, the mixture of aesthetically different genres. During the festival, one can come across anything from traditional and Latin jazz, to experimental and Gospel music and boleros or jazzed-up rumbas.

Different generations of musicians also come together during the festival: established artists share the stage with newcomers, and language barriers are dissolved among musical notes, melodies and applauses.

Two months before, organizers had announced that the 29th festival would be dedicated to Chucho and Bebo Valdes, and that the opening performance, to be held at the Avellaneda concert hall in Havana’s National Theatre, would feature Chucho Valdes himself.

Bebo Valdes’ criticisms of the Cuban government may explain why this dedication was extended to “the great, Cuban jazz musicians” at the last minute. No one has yet to offer a convincing explanation.

The change is a good way of paying deserved tribute to many of the musicians who have enriched the genre in the course of time, but it also eclipses the merits of the pianist who passed away in March this year. As for Chucho Valdes, he did not attend the festival.

There was, however, no shortage of Cuban and foreign jazz musicians at the festival. The Swiss band Nolose played alongside to the Cuban band Gala Mayor, Dutch drummer Joost Lijburt joined Cuban pianist Abel Marcel and Bass player Arturo Cruz on stage and the US band Jazz Urbaine, led by saxophonist Carlos Averhoff Jr., was well received by the public.

Chucho Valdes’ absence was felt during the Festival. So was Roberto Fonseca’s, though we did hear news about the musician, reporting that his album Yo (“Me”) had been nominated for a Year’s Best Latin Jazz Album at the Grammys and that the Washington Post had included the album among the best albums of 2013.

Thus – between notable attendances and notable absences – did one of the longest-running and most prestigious music festivals in Latin America take place in Havana.

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One thought on “Jazz in Havana, Cuba

  • Jazz is one of only a very few truly American original musical art genres. So those of us who feel, understand and appreciate jazz are careful about whom we give praise. It is in this light that I say that Cuba does jazz very well. I wish had been in Havana to attend this festival.

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