I am very excited “Portrait in Seven Shades” that I co-led with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is in several categories of this year’s Grammys.
If you are a Grammy voter, please consider the following. If you have not heard the recording you can do so at:
Thank you very much.
Best Improvised Jazz Solo
Artist: Nathalie Bonin; Title: Chagall
Artist: Ryan Kisor; Title: Pollock
Artist: Wynton Marsalis; Title: Van Gogh
Artist: Ted Nash; Title: Dali
Artist: Marcus Printup; Title: Dali
Artist: Bill Schimmel; Title: Pollock
Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Artist: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra;
Title: Portrait in Seven Shades
Best Instrumental Composition
Best Instrumental Arrangement
Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist
Title: Van Gogh
Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical
Saundra Palmer-Grassi, engineer
Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical
Frank Kimbrough, Ted Nash, Saundra Palmer-Grassi
The response to our visit here in Cuba has been almost overwhelming. I didn’t realize how much the community, especially the young musicians, had been anticipating our visit here. Our activities have ranged from official to quite unofficial; from organized educational events to late night visits to rumba clubs; from televised concerts to playing in the street.
Last night I was invited to a theater called the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center, named after the famous writer, who happened to be a communist. (Many of the important venues are named after supporters of this system.)
My new friend, percussionist Mauricio, took me to the theater around midnight, and explained that one of Cuba’s great saxophonists, was performing. I grabbed my horn (you never know) and jumped in Maurcio’s well-used Fiat - unusual as most people are driving either a Lada (common Russian car) or a late 50s American monster held together by bungee cords and clothes hangers.
We arrived at the theater and I could immediately hear the wailing sounds of what was clearly a great alto saxophonist. It was César Lopez, who used to play with Irakere, a famous group with Chucho Valdez, Paquito d'Rivera, etc. We were immediately ushered to a section to the back of the of the club, near the stage, and low and behold sitting there with their horns out, and light beads of sweat on their brows, were my band-mates Sherman Irby, Vincent Gardner and Victor Goines. Sherman had been telling me about César player for some but I had never checked him out.
Before I had a chance to sit down and order a mohito, César was wrapped around me with his arms, embracing my appearance at his gig and giving me the kind of love that Cubans have showed so much on this trip. Next thing I knew I was on stage with him playing a funk/fusion version Caravan, my reed barely wet enough to produce an adequate sound. It didn't stop me from giving it all I had. The audience would occasionally break into big cheers at a particularly elevated section of what was happening on stage. Then César had all of us on stage together playing the song Sonny. The way he could engage the audience, make us feel welcome, and continually play his ass off was a marvel. No fear. All love. I realize that so many musician, myself included, just don’t allow ourselves to be everything we are all the time.
After rehearsal today, going over some of the music for tonight’s concert, our first here in Cuba, Victor Goines and I jumped in a taxi and headed to Old Havana, something we both have been wanting to do since arriving here.
After walking around a bit, and looking unsuccessfully for the spot it was well-known that Ernest Hemmingway hung out at, we sat down for lunch at a place called the Havana Club Bar. Havana Club is the most popular maker of Rum, the national drink here. We ordered appetizers and fish, and two cervezas. The waitress quickly said “no cerveza, only rum here.” So we ordered mohitios. There was a Cuban band playing - guitar, flute, percussion, bass and a singer. They sounded great. Vic and I sipped our drinks and enjoyed the vibe, savoring the mushrooms cooked in, what else - rum.
At one point the flute player from band inquired where we were from, and when we answered “New York,” he asked if we were musicians. We said yes and the immediately asked if we were with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. We smiled. There were so excited. Vic and I ended up sitting in, jamming on Oye Como Va, and Summertime. The whole restaurant felt something happening. People came from the other room and stood in the doorway, smiling.
When we had finished there were mucho handshakes and hugs all around. I handed back the man’s flute and Vic and I returned to the table to tear into our grilled fish (which was by far the best I had yet here in Cuba). The manager approached us, explaining that the Havana Club Bar was also a museum and would like to give us a free tour. They also took care of our lunch and drinks. Vic and I bought a round for the band, and went on the tour, which showed the whole process of making rum - the distillation, aging, packaging (and tasting!).It was actually pretty interesting. I know a lot about rum now (both intellectually and viscerally). In fact, I plan on getting to know a little more about the stuff during the rest of our stay here...
On the way out we stopped in the museum store and each purchased a bottle of their Barrel Proof, made by a process using older barrels. Special stuff. They also gave us each a bottle of their 7 year old. A beautiful gift.
The musicians had returned from their break and brought from home some CDs of important Cuban music. Vic and I bought a few and headed down the street, feeling good about the connection with the local people, the excellent food, and the rum. A warm glow, on two counts...
We found a small gallery, and we each bought a painting done by local artists. Mine was small, a street scene - very impressionistic. Vic got one done in a typically Cuban style - very colorful, almost cubist.
It was time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the gig, so we hopped in a tiny taxi, also known as a “coconut” because of it’s small, round shape. The motor in this thing couldn’t have been much bigger than the lawn mower I bought the other day at Home Depot.
First concert tonight...
I am in Havana with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. We are here for a week doing concerts and educational events.
Yesterday I had a great, great experience. One of those gems, a meant-to-be which has left me feeling a renewed. The night before last (our first day in Cuba), after hearing a well-known rumba band at the Palacia Rumba, some of the cats were hanging at the bar in the hotel. There was a duo playing - piano and sax. They sounded nice, not stretching much, but playing very musically on a mix of traditional Cuban songs, Jobim tunes, and American standards. Between selections I introduced myself. The woman playing sax invited me to sit in using her flute. Always happy to mix with the locals, I jumped in playing two or three tunes. She told me she wanted to learn more about jazz (she was classically trained). Her husband is also a musician - a percussionist. I invited both of them to drop by the hotel the next day, to talk music, have a lesson. She looked a little apprehensive, and said she had a 2-year old baby. I said, hey bring the baby.
The next morning they called and came by. Both such nice people. And they have a very cute baby. They weren't allowed to come up to room (hotel policy - guests only) so a woman working with the hotel found a conference room that was no occupado. Mary Fiance Fuss, the press director with Jazz at Lincoln Center saw us heading up the escalator, saxes in hand, and ran up to me and asked almost urgently what we were doing. I said, casually, were having a little lessen. The 60 Minutes film crew, who are here covering our visit to Cuba, just happen to be in the lobby, getting ready to shoot some local street stuff. Mary grabbed Morley Safer, David Browning the producer, and two cameramen and followed us up and shot the whole thing. The young saxophonist’s English wasn't that good, so her husband was translating, baby in arms. She had prepared a list of questions: how to growl, how to bend notes, how to get a sub tone, how to play high harmonics, how to get a sound that is jazzy and bluesy. We worked through all her questions, cameras capturing everything, Morley standing aside grinning, obviously pleased with this impromptu event.
At one point the saxophonist was struggling to get the high A harmonic (a good starting point). I made a couple suggestions for her embouchure. All of a sudden she had the note, clear and strong. Then I showed her a set of fingerings up to high D, and she did it perfectly. She couldn't believe it, and was laughing and so excited, her husband smiling, happy for her, baby squirming to get down and run around. Mauricio, her husband, told me everyone encourages her, tells her she has potential, but that she doesn't believe it herself. He looked at me and said that last night they were touched by God, at having met us, and having this experience. I of course got all teary-eyed.
Then I brought them (the whole crew) down to the lobby bar where we could use the piano, and we continued. Victor Goines joined us and at one point was at the piano, and the three of us played Misty. When we finished, there was an outburst of applause. People had gathered in the bar, and the bartenders had put down their serving trays. I sat with David and Morley in the bar a for a few minutes afterwards. They were so excited - it was just this kind of thing they were hoping to capture.
More to come...