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.