Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Is music helping shred a senseless Cold War remnant?

After all these years, is there anything more senseless than the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba? I think not, but some are bound to disagree. But the arts are thawing the iceberg a bit – and jazz is at the forefront of that relaxation.

Larry Blumenfeld had a riveting two-part coverage in the Wall Street Journal in early October of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s six-day residency in Havana that involved both concerts and clinics for young Cuban musicians. The visit, led by Wynton Marsalis, took place under the auspices of the Cuban Institute of Music.

Right now, pianist Chucho Valdés and his Afro-Cuban Messengers are in the midst of a 12-city U.S. tour that included two nights at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Room in Manhattan and hop-scotched around the Northeast and West Coast. Remaining stops on that U.S. tour include tonight in Hopkins MN followed by Boston, Hanover NH and Washington DC. Valdés will also perform solo at New York’s Village Vanguard on November 1 before the band takes its tour to Europe.

This is Valdés’s first U.S. tour since 2003. May the thaw continue. In a jazz sense, there is even more short-term hope at least for artists.

In December, pianist and bandleader Arturo O’Farrill plans to travel to Cuba with the orchestra of his late father, Cuban composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill, for another cultural and educational exchange. The Chico O’Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra (pictured at right) will headline the 26th edition of the Havana International Plaza Jazz Festival, sponsored by the Cuban Institute of Music and the National Center of Popular Music, which runs December 16-19.

“Since my first visit to the Plaza Jazz Festival in Havana in 2002, it has been my desire to return Chico O’Farrill’s music, played by his musicians, to the island,” Arturo O’Farrill said in a news release received this week. “When my father finally agreed to a possible return, it was already too late and he died brokenhearted that he was never able to return to his beloved island [after departing in 1960]. With this trip, Chico’s orchestra will be completing an artistic, familial and spiritual journey.”

On the December trip, O’Farrill’s activities will include a collaboration with Chucho Valdés and his own sons, Zachary and Adam O’Farrill, as well as young Cuban musician. They will premiere a work that O’Farrill is writing. He is calling it “Fathers and Sons: From Havana to New York and Back.”

May these cultural exchanges be just the start of something thriving, regular – and permanent. It will be good for the music – and the economy.

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