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Thursday, September 09, 2010
Lincoln Center, Cuba Get Jazzy - WSJ.com
The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will take its first trip to Cuba next month as part of a cultural exchange with the Cuban Institute of Music, the company will announce Thursday.
The visit comes at the invitation of the Havana-based institute and was facilitated by the Cuban pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdés.
"We have been thinking about this for years," said Jazz at Lincoln Center executive director Adrian Ellis. "It became an event when we got the invitation, and Chucho was instrumental in that."
The artistic exchange is structured to emphasize the connections between American and Cuban musical traditions, and thus will include performances in both New York and Havana. From Oct. 5 to 9, the orchestra, led by artistic director Wynton Marsalis, will perform a series of concerts and workshops at Havana's Teatro Julio A. Mella. The performances will range in size from big bands to smaller groups, and many will incorporate Cuban guest artists. Improvisation workshops will be taught at the National School of Music, where Mr. Valdés is a faculty member.
The JaLC orchestra will also give one of its Jazz for Young People concerts, which introduce the foundational concepts of the music. "It is a formula that is very successful everywhere we go," said Mr. Ellis.
The orchestra will then return to New York for its Afro-Cuban Celebration, which will consist of two shows running concurrently. At the Frederick P. Rose Hall from Oct. 21 to 23, the "Jazz Meets Clave" program will focus on the interplay between American jazz musicians and the percussive rhythms of the Afro-Cuban tradition. On Oct. 22 and 23, Mr. Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers will perform at the Allen Room (the stop is part of a larger October tour in support of Mr. Valdés's new album, "Chucho's Steps").
Mr. Marsalis noted that the involvement of Mr. Valdés, a three-time Grammy winner and a legend of Latin piano, is especially important to the effort. "He's such a major figure. Musicians all over the world respect him."
The news of JaLC's exchange comes just weeks after American Ballet Theater announced its own plans to visit Cuba from Nov. 3 to 6, when the New York-based company will participate in the International Ballet Festival of Havana. The close timing of the visits increases the American arts presence in Havana in short order, noted Jennifer Freeman, a board member of the American Friends of the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba. "It's faster than we've had in the recent past," she said. "Instead of two years in the making, this is a matter of weeks."
The Ludwig Foundation's American arm (which is not involved with the efforts of ABT or JaLC) works to facilitate cultural exchanges in the arts. "It's one of the only means of communication and lifelines between the two countries," Ms. Freeman said.
The field of music, in particular, owes much to cultural cross-pollination. "Until the doors closed, there was so much musical alchemy going on," said Elizabeth Sobol, managing director of IMG Artists, which represents artists including the Cuban pop-classical crossover group Tiempo Libre. "Musicians in New York were picking up the percussive elements and throwing them into jazz or classical music."