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...