U.S. jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will play concerts in Cuba this week with what he said on Monday was a simple goal -- to bring people together through music.
His is the latest in a growing series of cultural exchanges between the United States and Cuba as the two countries grope for common ground after five decades of hostility.
The New York-based jazz orchestra, making its first trip to the communist-led island, is set to play concerts Tuesday through Saturday and give classes to young Cuban musicians.
Marsalis, 48, said he was honored to be in Cuba, with its own rich musical history rivaling that of his native New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.
He told of how, when he was 12, his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis, brought him an album featuring Cuban jazz great Chucho Valdez and said, "Man, this is what cats are playing in Cuba."
"Then he put the record on and every time something would happen, he would go 'wooooooooooo.' He was always 'woooooooooo,'" Marsalis said.
He eschewed any overtly political overtones to the Cuba visit, saying the message of jazz was universal.
"Our tagline is 'uplift through swing.' We raise people's spirit all over the world through the art of swing," he said.
"In our music, swing means come together and stay together, even when we don't want to."
Marsalis said he had played and recorded music over the weekend with Cuban musicians including the pianist Valdez and Buena Vista Social Club singer Omara Portuondo, both of whom accompanied him at Monday's press conference.
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