La Zorra y el Cuervo CLUB

On Cuba - - BETWEEN SUNSET & SUNRISE - By Án­gel Mar­qués Dolz

For­get about sta­tis­tics. The best way to es­ti­mate the ar­rival of tourists to Ha­vana is the long line to en­ter La Zorra y el Cuervo.

The equa­tion? The longer it is, the big­ger the crowd. That doesn’t fail.

In the morn­ing you can see small groups snoop­ing around the week’s bill­board of this theme club lo­cated on La Rampa, ded­i­cated in body and soul to Cuban jazz for more than 20 years.

Along that prom­e­nade from the 1950s that comes to an end by the sea, passersby can walk, with­out turn­ing into a van­dal, over a Lam, a Por­to­car­rero, a Martínez Pe­dro, a Ber­múdez or an Amelia Peláez. They are re­pro­duc­tions in gran­ite mo­saics on the side­walks of 23rd Av­enue, an artery that com­bines bars and min­istries with no prej­u­dices.

From ev­ery­where

At night, close to 10, the line is a poor im­i­ta­tion of Ba­bel; from the nearby Latin Amer­i­cans to the far­away Kore­ans or Aus­tralians, to the in­evitable Amer­i­cans, Cana­di­ans and Euro­peans.

Kim, a short­sighted Korean from Seoul wear­ing glasses, mut­ter­ing in English that it’s his first time in Cuba, but the anx­i­ety in his eyes calls into ques­tion Asians’ prodi­gal equa­nim­ity. He’s crazy about get­ting to know the jazz made on the is­land.

Me­lanie, a Cal­i­for­nian, says in per­fect Span­ish: “I wouldn’t miss a night here for any­thing in the world.”

And you know Cuban jazz? “Man, how can I not know it? It’s as if you asked some­one if they knew the Bi­ble,” says Ar­turo, a Spa­niard from Malaga, who the pre­vi­ous day wasn’t able to en­ter the club be­cause he was wear­ing shorts.

At 10 p.m., in a rare punc­tu­al­ity on an is­land of lax sched­ules, the al­most hi­er­atic mem­bers of the line go down the stairs of the base­ment and en­ter through the springy door.

Then the semi­dark­ness and the mu­sic come into play. They laugh, chat, greet each other, clap, move their feet and even jump in their seats to stretch their legs with a few steps when the Cuban per­cus­sion makes their blood boil.

They have even danced with U.S. Victor Goines, a star from the Jazz Band at Lin­coln Cen­ter, who that night at times aban­doned his spar­ing ges­tures to in­vite the pub­lic to fol­low the cho­leric beauty of his sax­o­phone.

Sound and space

The mu­sic is com­pact in this some 100-square-meter base­ment. It can be imag­ined as a sound pla­centa that, de­spite be­ing in­vis­i­ble, en­velopes and could even be pal­pated.

“The floors are very hard, the walls have no cov­er­ing, the ceil­ing is plas­tic. I make an ef­fort so the groups can have a more acous­tic sound, more nat­u­ral, to avoid so much shrill­ness,” says Inti Martínez, the bar’s sound en­gi­neer, also a vet­eran with 20 years in the place.

Man­ag­ing the sound in this mouse hole is an en­tire art. The bands tend to be in­creas­ingly more elec­tronic. “There have been times in which we have worked with two ki­los of power,” Martínez spec­i­fies.

The crux is to avoid a sound chaos, when the club’s sound is mixed at the same time with that of the ref­er­ence and the one that comes out of the in­stru­ments on an al­most Lil­liputian stage.

At this point, the lo­cale, which the di­rec­tives of the Blue Note don’t look down on, but rather con­sider it an hon­or­able sim­i­lar, still doesn’t have an op­ti­mum record­ing sys­tem to di­rectly edit jam ses­sions with its own la­bel.

Mu­sic and cock­tails

In the tribe’s night­time triumphant eu­pho­ria, the mo­ji­tos pre­pared by Eliecer Car­bajo play a well-deserved part, with­out af­fect­ing the mu­sic.

Skill­ful with the bot­tles and glasses al­most like a cir­cus artist, this bar­tender knew noth­ing about jazz un­til 21 years ago he came to work in this bar.

“Ev­ery­thing I know I learned here,” he says while pre­par­ing a blen, blen, a cock­tail in­vented by him based on or­ange juice, Ha­vana Club Reserva rum and mint liqueur.

The drink was in­vented in honor of Chano Pozo, the Cuban per­cus­sion­ist who contributed the racy con­gas to Gille­spie’s band – and, by ex­ten­sion, to the genre in the United States – and who was shot dead in 1948 in a Har­lem bar­ber­shop be­cause of a drug-re­lated mat­ter.

The blen, blen isn’t the only one. The imag­i­na­tion as­so­ci­ated to the genre pro­vides more ideas. Among oth­ers, Ha­vana Jazz, Jazz and Soul, Sexo Jazz, and Clau­dia, named af­ter one of the pieces of the great Chu­cho Valdés.

“For me jazz is one of the most beau­ti­ful mu­sic gen­res, be­cause the mu­si­cian tries to ex­te­ri­or­ize all his im­pro­vis­ing en­ergy and to rise to the oc­ca­sion,” ac­cord­ing to Car­bajo. “There are even those who say that all the jazz peo­ple are mu­si­cians, but not all the mu­si­cians can be jazz peo­ple,” which, ac­cord­ing to this bar­tender of flashy hands, can be taken to the ethylic key: “All the wine cel­lars don’t con­tain cham­pagne, but all the cham­pagnes be­long in wine cel­lars.”

In La Zorra y el Cuervo the al­co­holic bev­er­ages are an added value. Here, a few cock­tails in­cluded in the cover are suf­fi­cient for most of the clients. They spend the four hours of the show with them.

“The bar is not the cen­ter, the cen­ter is the mu­sic,” Waldo Cár­de­nas, the club’s artis­tic direc­tor, ex­tolls.

Flash­back

With Cár­de­nas one can piece to­gether the his­tory of this club. Born in 1957 in the style of the New York un­der­ground niches, La Zorra y el Cuervo was one more in the rev­el­ing Ha­vana of that time, a city of mil­lion­aires and mar­tyrs.

Although there were spo­radic jam ses­sions in the base­ment on 23rd Av­enue, its own­ers had con­ceived it for less so­phis­ti­cated pur­poses.

In the 1960s, al­ready with the bearded men in power, the lo­cale served as a cover for Los Chicos del Jazz’ jam ses­sions, an in­for­mal band through which sax­o­phon­ist Paquito D’Rivera, bas­sist Ni­colás Reinoso and per­cus­sion­ist Ama­dito Valdés passed, in ad­di­tion to com­poser and ar­ranger Rem­bert Egües, among oth­ers.

Although dur­ing the 1960s and ‘70s jazz was con­tained by a cer­tain of­fi­cial grudge, in the late 1990s the is­land had be­come one of the genre’s pow­ers world­wide, even though the per­mis­sive 1980s brought ren­o­vat­ing airs, like the Jazz Plaza Fes­ti­val, the splen­dor of the Irakere su­per­band and an emer­gence of groups formed with tal­ents com­ing out of the con­ser­va­to­ries and art schools.

Pa­rade of stars

The new gen­er­a­tions of mu­si­cians was so over­whelm­ing that in 1997 the JoJazz con­test was cre­ated in La Zorra y el Cuervo.

That plat­form for tal­ent scouts has nur­tured the Coli­brí record la­bel with names that now fill the club as well as di­verse stages, in and out­side the coun­try, with the same ease and di­verse ge­og­ra­phy.

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