Cuban jazz is a type of Latin jazz, played at first in Cuba, then in New Orleans, and later still in New York and Puerto Rico.
The history of jazz in Cuba was hidden for many years by the unwillingness of record companies to make recordings available. However, in recent years, it has become clear that its history in Cuba is as long as its history in the USA. The key figure in revealing the early days of Cuban jazz is Leonardo Acosta, musician and musicologist, who has been working on this topic for many years. Others have explored the history of jazz and latin jazz more from the U.S. perspective.
Today’s Jazz Scene
Fans of Cuban jazz may think first of pianist, composer and producer Chucho Valdés, who presides over the Havana Jazz Festival and the steady flow of North American jazz artists to the island. Those who’ve traveled to woodshed, network and sometimes record in Cuba include Jane Bunnett, George Benson, Terence Blanchard, Steve Coleman, Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, David Murray, Nicholas Payton and Wynton Marsalis, among others.
In some ways, the music training system has performed too well, producing a surfeit of immensely talented musicians with limited outlet for their artistry. Several years ago, local players welcomed the opening of the Irakere Jazz Club and the reopening of the Club Barbaram, in hopes that this would translate into more regular work. In particular, Irakere’s afternoon sessions have been dedicated to presenting Cuba’s countless gifted jazz artists, many nearly unknown off the island.
Jazz guitar virtuoso, keyboardist and composer Peruchín Jr. is the son of Pedro A. Jústiz “Peruchín,” one of the piano greats of the descarga (“jam session”) era of the 1950s. Peruchín Jr. presents a sparkling exploration of the improvisatory form, backed by some of Cuba’s premier session players. Peruchín Jr. came up with the renowned Orquesta Revé, and the orchestras of El Teatro Musical de La Habana, El Instituto Cubano de Radio y Televisión, and the Cabaret Tropicana. He founded the Festival Internacional Jazz Plaza de La Habana, has toured widely in Latin America, Canada and Europe, and has had a regular Thursday-to-Saturday slot at one of the premier jazz venues, La Zorra y El Cuervo. The night I heard him he presented an unassuming but astonishing solo keyboard performance for an intimate and appreciative audience.
Famous Jazz Clubs in Cuba
La Zorra y La Cueva Jazz Club. calle 23 Esq. a O, El Vedado. Tel: (53 7) 66-2402. [Here, you drink and dance with Jazz live music. Prominent Cuban Jazz bands come to this place to perform their music. The night becomes a discharge of energy. Normal dress requirements for a tropical night. Every day, 21.00-04.00. Directions: Rampa Habanera. Three blocks from the Habana Libre Hotel down the street.
Jazz Cafe. Primera y Paseo, El Vedado. [Every day]
Habana Cafe. Hotel Meliá Cohiba, Paseo e/ 1ra y 3ra, El Vedado. Tel: 33 36 36. [Every day]