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Cuba and the JALC: Jazz Diplomacy

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Hear that trumpet!!

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are literally breaking down the political barriers that have separated American and Cuban jazz musicians for over 50 years. The JALC Orchestra recently visited Cuba and were hosted by Chucho Valdes and other celebrated Latin Jazz geniuses. In return, Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrated Cuban jazz greats for three days with Chucho playing two off-the-hinge concerts and the JALC Orchestra performing a series of Latin jazz pieces entitled "Jazz meets Clave."

Chucho Valdes and the Afro-Cuban Messengers were spectacular with the grand master of the piano and his brilliant jazz band literally filling every inch of the Allen Room with miraculous solos, including several riffs inspired by Professor Longhair himself! While bata drummer and vocalist Dreiser Durruthy Bambole was haunting and percussionist Yaroldy Abreu Robles flawless and exciting, it was Chucho Valdes who brought down the house with his unparalleled performance.

This was no ordinary concert: First, it marked over six (6) years since Chucho played in the United States, and second, Wynton Marsalis appeared especially to present Mr. Valdes his Grammy for the Best Latin Jazz Album (“Juntos Para Siempre” which was performed with his legendary father Bebo Valdés).

Make no mistake this was a true cultural exchange reminiscent of the ping-pong diplomacy that led to the restoring of diplomatic relations between the Peoples Republic of China and the United States. That thaw came after decades of ridiculous mutual isolation.

Rather than the plunk-plunk of a ping-pong ball being hit by paddles, the clave and other rhythms heard in the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center this last weekend will reverberate for generations to come.

Mark the Jelly Roll's words: once Cuban and American musicians are free to move between the two countries without governmental limitations, the music of both nations shall change exponentially.

Part of the proof of this could be heard in the program of "Jazz Meets Clave" featuring Carlos Henriquez (bass) and New Orleans' own Victor Goines (clarinet and sax) and Wynton Marsalis (trumpet). Celebrating the history of Latin Jazz from Tito Puente (Mambo in Jazz) and Duke Ellington (Limbo Jazz) and others, I was reminded of Jelly Roll Morton's instruction to listen for the "latin tinge" in New Orleans music. Then the JALC Orchestra became incredibly enthralling with new tunes by Wynton Marsalis (Big 12 from the Vitoria Suite) and Carlos Henriquez (Ito's Vibe and 2/3's Adventure).

Throughout the performances, both the Cuban musicians and their American counterparts from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra spoke eloquently of what they had shared together during this historical cultural/diplomatic exchange.

In the end, the performances were meet with joy and elation by inspired audiences that knew they were in the presence of some of the planet's finest jazz artists.

Hold on World: Something magnificent is happening here!!!

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