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Make Jazz, Not War: Jazz Plaza 2020 in Summary
January 14-19, 2020, La Habana and Santiago de Cuba
by Bill Tilford, all rights reserved
Bobby Carcassés (with Brenda Besada) explains the festival in scat
The 35th edition of Jazz Plaza took place in Havana and Santiago de Cuba in January. This is a truly global event both in terms of the musicians and the audience. Musicians from Cuba, the United States, Austria, Spain, Chile, the Netherlands, Martinique, Haiti, Norway, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Venezuela, Colombia, Slovakia, Japan, Brazil, Italy and Argentina performed both on stage and in jam sessions. Frequently, the visiting musicians played together with Cuban colleagues. I noted audience members from several additional countries. This writer was especially pleased to see the size and variety of the contingent from the United States (also both in terms of musicians and listeners). New Orleans had the largest contingent from the United States, but multiple other cities were represented from around the country including smaller cities like Oklahoma City and Tacoma. Most of the concerts at the Teatro Nacional filled the hall, so much so that in some of them, some of the members of the press surrendered their regular seats to make room for more people. If the atmosphere of this festival pervaded the rest of the planet, we might achieve world peace.
2020 also marked the 15th anniversary of the Coloquio, a daytime activity in Havana that includes lectures, round tables, videos, master classes and presentations of new recordings. This, too, had international participation.
It is physically impossible to be at all of the venues in the festival simultaneously, and that means there are always some agonizing decisions for attendees about which events to choose. Since in past years I made it a point to visit most of the smaller venues, this year I spent more time at the largest venue, the Teatro Nacional. I was rewarded with some spectacular concerts, but I also found myself wishing that I had a clone to attend the other concerts that I missed. The scope of the festival can been seen in the schedule.
It is a great pity that the mainstream jazz press in the United States is largely ignoring what is happening in jazz in Cuba now unless a foreign (non-Cuban) label is involved (although several radio stations, to their credit, DID have people at the festival). There is now a full spectrum of jazz styles in Cuba with the same exacting standards that apply to what is stereotypically considered to be Cuban jazz, and the dearth of coverage of that trend has left many in the US stuck in time, unaware that much has taken place since the 1990s.
Some valuable resources that I highly recommend are
D'Cubajazz, an excellent website by José dos Santos about Jazz in Cuba
La esquina del jazz, an excellent late night jazz program on CMBF
The Jazz Place, a biweekly program on the Saturday English broadcasts of Radio Havana Cuba
A todo jazz, the flagship jazz program on television in Cuba
From the Isle of Music, a program on shortwave that frequently presents new jazz recordings with interviews with the artists
Click on the following links to view documents and visit the photo galleries, which include commentaries about the events:
Official Jazz Plaza 2020 Schedule
Official Coloquio Schedule
PHOTO GALLERIES OF CONCERTS WITH COMMENTARIES:
Hermanos Arango at Teatro America
Tribute to Juan Formell at Teatro Nacional, directed by Dayramir González
Afrojazz with Bobby Carcassés and others at Teatro Nacional
Cuban Sax Quintet at Teatro Nacional
Concert dedicated to Irakere by Carols Miyares and others at Teatro Nacional
Tribute to Chappottin directed by Eduardo Sandoval at Teatro Nacional
Tribute to Cachao and Charles Mingus directed by Gaston Joya at Teatro Nacional
Bobby Carcassés and others at Casa de Cultura de Plaza
Jam Session with Emilio Martini's Natural Trio and others at Hotel Riviera
Havana in a Grand Manner with Ernán López-Nussa at Teatro Nacional
Omara Portuondo concert to celebrate her 90 years at Teatro Nacional
PHOTO GALLERIES OF THE COLLOQUIO & PRESS CONFERENCES WITH COMMENTARIES:
Colloquio Day 1
Colloquio Day 2
Colloquio Day 3
Colloquio Day 4