JOE LOVANO: JAZZ WITHOUT BORDERS
The International Jazz Plaza 2018 Festival in Cuba still echoes and so does all the presentations, meetings and surprises that could be enjoyed during January 17 to 21, full of rhythm and swing. Among the most star returns to Cuban stages was that of Joe Lovano´s, an acclaimed tenor saxophonist, who since 2006 had not visited Cuba. The performer, whose technique and vast capacity for improvisation have been praised many times in the international arena, delighted music lovers playing along with the “Amadeo Roldan” Conservatory Symphonic Orchestra and the young Jazz Band directed by maestro Joaquín Betancourt, as well as guests like César López and Alejandro Falcón. The concert, in the Sala Avellaneda of the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, was a journey along different ways of approaching jazz, as well as ballads by American authors, Cuban anthological standards such as Mambo No.5, and also compositions by this saxophonist. Just hours before the presentation, a team from Excelencias spoke exclusively with Joe Lovano and his wife Judi Silvano, also an artist. Accompanied by Cuban food of exquisite taste such as the one cooked at the Havana restaurant Atelier, the dialogue took place:
HOW WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CUBA AND ITS MUSICIANS BORN?
"I have collaborated with Cubans for decades. Francisco Mela has been part of my band since the beginning of 2004; and one of the most special connections has been Chucho Valdés. We have even a record together, with other greats from the island such as Gastón Joya and Yaroldi Abreu. The relationship with
Chucho has been a very valuable experience. Ever since I met him in 1986, I can say that it has been an incredible trip. "Also, I have had a constant interaction with musicians with Cuban roots based in New York (NY) or the rest of the United States. I have a very strong link with them. When I moved to the capital in 1975, I was 23 years old and at that time I played with Machito (Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo) and Mario Bauzá who had returned from a temporary retirement. The context around that time allowed me to share time and space with many great Cuban figures, it was a grand moment.
HOW MUCH DOES THIS INTERACTION BETWEEN SO MANY DIFFERENT CULTURES PROVIDE?
"It is a fact that in NY there is a great community and brotherhood of musicians from all over the world. Jazz unifies. And it is also multi-generational: you can interact with the masters, with personalities that bring in their history the baggage of having played with other greats like Charlie Parker or Thelonious Monk. When you are a part of jazz, you live that connection of different generations, that multicultural embrace that fuels you .... "In that sense, the Cuban element in New York since the 30s and 40s was very powerful, especially with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and his zzcollaborations with Cubans. The great thing is that these people, when they played in a band, transcribed the music in their own handwriting. The paper, the score with which a young man like me had to play was exactly that one, there were no photocopies, they were the originals! Then, being in your 20s, full of youth, and playing from the original notes of a great musician, you learn a lot; and if you are humble you get to feel part of that musical legacy. It is an aspect that, if you incorporate it, stays with you, as well as its vibrations, all the energy.
AND IS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CUBAN JAZZ IN THE USA AND THE ONE PRODUCED HERE IN CUBA?
"I think all the old Cuban masters like Chano Pozo, Mario Bauzá, who settled in NY were influenced by great American jazz masters like Duke Ellington, Dizzy...they were inspired by them and they framed their music within a Cuban feeling. It was a great fusion and a lot of collaboration took place. Throughout the years, the musicians who lived there not only transmitted their feelings but were also inspired by all the jazz players who lived there. It was a great mix happening. "Today, according to my experience with artists like Gonzalo Rubalcaba or Chucho, they are still influenced by the great masters when they perform the way they do, and also by classical music, which they have studied extensively. "Chucho once told me that when he first heard Mccoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, it was like a revelation because, beyond what was happening socially, the music came through the sound waves, the radio, and seduced him. And they belonged to similar generations although distant in geography. Then they would listen to him. In this music something impressive happens: first you are part of the audience and you listen; then you grow as a musician and the same people you admired are now part of your audience. That happens and it's something magical, cyclical, especially when you're young and you live that kind of mysticism. And there are also other occasions that you get to play along with the one you admired so much. It's all a great lesson”.
YOU ONCE SAID THAT EVERYTHING COMES AT THE RIGHT TIME IN THE RIGHT PLACE. YOU COULD NOT COME LAST YEAR WHEN THE INTERNATIONAL JAZZ DAY WAS CELEBRATED IN HAVANA. TO BE HERE NOW, WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR YOU?
"Cuba is very special for me, for my family. It feels familiar to be part of this connection. Things have continued to grow and coming back here is inspiring, I know it will bring more collaborations. The fact of coming always brings a difference for people who want to experience, know and feel the island up close. We, as musicians -he and his wife- had the opportunity to come and share, and we are sure that through music we build a different experience. In fact we have come with other family members to spend holidays together taking advantage of the context that we would play at the Festival. It has been very exciting. And to do it from music, it turns out to be profound. Cuba touches us deeply".