• This Week In JazzSet History: CUBA!

    May 22, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    Back in 1998, JazzSet received special permission to document four days and three nights of jazz in Cuba. The crew consisted of Producer Becca Pulliam, Technical Director Duke Markos, and Alfredo Cruz (then he was with KLON in Long Beach, now he is CEO at KUVO Jazz 89 in Denver), and Field Producer Carolina Sanchez who lived in Havana. Much time has passed, but this trip remains one of the most special moments in JazzSet history. This will be one of the last posts in the This Week in JazzSet History series; the final will appear next week. I hope that you have had as much fun as I have, reliving and rediscovering great moments.

    Skyline of Havana from Becca Pulliam's hotel
    The Malecón from Becca Pulliam's hotel, the Habana Riviera .. Note from Becca: I thought of the Malecón as equivalent to Chicago's Lakeshore Drive without the traffic, but it's on along a lakeshore, it's on the sea between Cuba and Florida

    What better way to begin, than with a street performance! Here is Rumba Moreno, a seven-women percussion group, featuring Steve Turre on seashells. The session sparked up organically outside painter Salvador Gonzalez’s house, in the world-famous arty alley Callejón de Hamel.

    Rumba Morena
    Rumba Morena

    Next, we’ll hear an excerpt from a concert tribute to a composer who we all know was greatly influenced by Cuban music, Dizzy Gillespie. Bobby Carcassés scats a wild solo on “Salt Peanuts.” Carcassés helped to found the first International Jazz Festival in Havana in 1980, and Dizzy Gillespie was on the bill! As the solo builds listen closely for the incredible chekere (a gourd with beads) solo played by Pancho Terry.

    Now we’ll hear flautist Orlando Valle, aka “Maraca.” He is most popular for his role in the group Irakere, but here he is leading his own band Otra Vision. This was some of the hottest Afro-Cuban jazz captured during JazzSet’s entire visit! The name of this tune is “Tumbao pa’ Changuito,” for guest timbalero, Changuito (of Los Van Van). Note: Timbalero is the word for one who plays the timbales.

    Next, here is a performance by the six-man a cappella group Vocal Sampling. They are singing “Todo el Mundo Cantando Coro,” which translates to " the whole world sings in a chorus." JazzSet recorded Vocal Sampling during a rehearsal at the home of Raúl Castro (yes, brother of Fidel). (Although we did not know this in advance, says Becca. And Duke recalls that the group's engineer was the politician's son.)  Duke Markos used individual microphones to capture each vocalist's clear sound. Believe your ears! No instruments here, folks!

    vocalsampling
    Vocal Sampling rehearsing inside of Fidel Castro's brother, Raul's house.

    The moment the JazzSet team stepped into EGREM studios, it was like stepping into a the time capsule of Cuban music. La Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales de Cuba (EGREM), is to Cuban music what Rudy Van Gelder's spot in New Jersey is to jazz. EGREM was founded in 1964 and remains Cuba’s oldest record label. Its most notable recording is the music from the Buena Vista Social Club. I recovered these photos taken inside the legendary studio.

    The sign outside of EGREM studios
    The sign outside of EGREM studios
    A vinyl tracking console
    A tape-to-vinyl console inside EGREM
    Duke Markos and Yurik, EGREM's cheif engineer
    Duke Markos and Yurik, EGREM's chief engineer

    Inside the legendary tracking room. A long standing tradition is to sprinkle rum on the floor of this room before tracking. This is the musicians way of honoring those who have come before them. Pictured (L to R) is Margarita Nuñez, archivist; Becca Pulliam; Yurik, and Alfredo Cruz.

    Mastering Engineer José Pérez Leroy with Alfredo Cruz
    Mastering Engineer José Pérez Leroy with Alfredo Cruz

    We’ll end this recap of JazzSet's trip with an intimate recording with international piano legend, Frank Emilio Flynn. Flynn played in a small club that had the feeling of a cozy home, and another Cuban jazz great, Chucho Valdez, showed up to join him. The two pianists span the last 60 years of jazz in Cuba. In this gorgeous clip, Flynn allows you to forget about how beat-up the piano is, propelling your imagination into romantic nostalgia. The audience sat comfortably in puffy chairs and sofas. Some chitchatted, while others puffed gently on cigars. The style of this piece is a filin—a genre that brought the blues to  bolero, Cuba's romantic dance music . Here is a “La Gloria Eres Tu” – “The Glory Is You,” by Jose Antonio Mendez.

    Frank Emilio Flynn performing in an intimate, smoky setting.
    Frank Emilio Flynn performing in an intimate, smoky setting. Note Blue Note's Bruce Lundvall, listening on the couch.

    Alexander G. Ariff is a Master's Degree student at Rutgers University-Newark, completing his thesis on jazz/poetry collaborations of the late 1950s.

    Note: These comment boards are available to the general public. Statements expressed in the comment boards do not necessarily reflect WBGO's views. The inclusion of any links does not necessarily imply a recommendation or endorsement of the views expressed within them. For more information, please read our Terms of Service.