HAVANA — Bobby Carcassés may have been one of the first to find out. He got a call from the Thelonious Monk Institute and was told that the 2017 International Jazz Day would be held in Cuba and that he had been chosen to participate.
Later, the institute’s officials came to consult him about some indispensable names in the host country and how the activities could be organized.
“They’ve spent months traveling [to Cuba], holding meetings and interviews,” says Carcassés, founder of the Plaza Jazz Festival.
“The reasons why they chose us as hosts are Cuba’s tradition, its links and transcendence in all moments of jazz, from its beginnings in New Orleans at the start of the last century,” he explains. “This is a huge event in the sense of its display of energy, of the movement it carries with it.”
In addition to the April 30 concert at Havana’s Gran Teatro, there will be performances at the Art Factory, the Mella Theater and the Plaza House of Culture, which will be celebrated as the shrine of jazz in Cuba.
Carcassés reveals some details. A Cuban musician will play along with a foreign guest and each duet has been assigned a specific theme. We can expect a two-piano confrontation between Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdés. In Carcassés’ opinion, the Havana celebration of Jazz Day is the continuation — in crescendo — of the previous edition in Washington. “One step higher,” he says.
Weeks ago, on assignment from UNESCO, Cinesoft Productions filmed a documentary about the jazz movement on the island. It will be shown this week in the Cuba Pavilion and later on national television. Also, Leonardo Acosta’s book “One Hundred Years of Jazz” will be re-launched.
Returning to its popular and plebeian origins, the music will rise from streets, parks and schools.
“The only similar instance,” recalls Carcassés, “was when Wynton Marsalis came for the first time, in 1997. We played in [the jazz club] La Zorra y el Cuervo, and there was a group of conservatory students who stayed outside because the club sold alcoholic beverages and didn’t allow access to minors.
“Wynton found out that the boys were out on the sidewalk trying to listen, so he took his trumpet, excused himself and sat outside, on 23rd Street, in the middle of the night, talking to the boys and giving them an unscheduled master class.”
In the mood for jazz
“I’ll tell you one thing; jazz is a mass expression. Some people used to say, ‘Oh, jazz is not for the masses, it’s for the elites.’ Forget all that. What happens is that jazz is the music of musicians. Not everybody can assimilate it because it implies a certain preparation — which doesn’t mean that an uneducated person cannot feel it and be happy listening to this genre.
“It is a paradox that our art institutes don’t have schools of jazz or Cuban popular music. But the kids in school — maybe in a clandestine, underground manner — are aware of what jazz is, how it’s played, about the activities of the best jazz musicians.
“Because of the common roots of jazz and Cuban music, because of the African presence in the United States and Cuba, we have a mutual affinity, a common element. Everything that happened in the U.S. throughout the centuries had an immediate repercussion in Cuba, and vice versa. Well, the same thing has happened in music.”
These are some of the artists who will take part in the celebration of the International Jazz Day:
Chucho Valdés (Cuba)
Emilio Vega (Cuba)
Bobby Carcassés (Cuba)
Sixto Llorente (Cuba)
Julio Padrón (Cuba)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Cuba)
Pancho Amat (Cuba)
César López (Cuba)
Herbie Hancock (United States)
Ambrose Akinmusire (United States)
Carl Allen (United States)
Jhon Beasley (United States)
Richard Bona (United States)
Regina Carter (United States)
Kurt Elling (United States)
Kenny Garrett (United States)
Ben Williams (United States)
Antonio Hart (United States)
Marcus Miller (United States)
Christian Sands (United States)
Esperanza Spalding (United States)
Marc Antoine (France)
Till Brönner (Germany)
A Bu (China)
Igor Butman (Russia)
Takuya Kuroda (Japan)
Ivan Lins (Brazil)
Youn Sun Nah (Republic of Korea)
Gianluca Petrella (Italy)
Antonio Sánchez (Mexico)
Tarek Yamani (Lebanon)
Dhafer Youssef (Tunisia)
[Top photo: Gonzalo Rubalcaba, left, and Chucho Valdés rehearsing for their piano duet / Joao Rubalcaba.]