thus far NYT Guy and i avoided CubaTour.  walked unescorted from the Daphne pier to a main road.  hailed a cab.  offered the driver a tip.  spoke to a Communist aparatchik, at her headquarters.  and refused an invitation to remain in Cuba and report back to the U.S.  and i’m still here reporting.

the recurring thought of should we be allowed to walk these streets alone was gnawing at me.  we had just left Havana’s Red Square HQ after tossing a serous invitation back at them and here we are marching towards we-didn’t-know-where.

nonetheless, we’re back on the street in front of Party HQ.  NYT Guy tells me of a rumored jam session going on at the Habana Libré (formerly the Hilton) Hotel.  but where is that?  perhaps in Hotel Row, Downtown where the tourists and money launderers of olde gamboled?  we didn’t see it on our drive-by (see Chapter 3).  we could have asked, but we didn’t know who were natives and who were Cuban Men-In-Black in mufti.  it didn’t take long to ascertain.

seems my attire was drawing attention on the street.  dressed for the occasion, or so i thought, i was wearing a pair of tight corduroy Bermuda shorts –i had the bod for it then– and a tee shirt from an LP i was working on called “Suite For Pops,” by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra (Horizon-A&M).  the cover of the album and the tee were the same: a rendering of a smiling, cherubic portrait drawing of the album’s dedicatee, Louis Armstrong.  (see photo).

"Suite For Pops" album cover

perhaps i might mention that i was sporting my latest long zoom lens slung across my chest bandoleer-fashion.

as we walked up the hill away from the waterfront a group of youngsters attached themselves to us dogging our path as it were.  i turned to snap the shot, and as i did they pointed to my chest  chanting, “Lou-ie, Lou-ie, Lou-ie.”  i was so taken aback by my hearing Satch’s name by young people in Cuba where contact hadn’t been made since 1959 –remember this was 1977– that i never got the photo.  but we did get directions to the Libré/Hilton; seems we were nearer than we thought.


the former Havana Hilton was housed in a non-descript edifice.  there were two large  rooms on the ground floor, one a reception area the other contained the bar, restaurant, entertainment and stage areas.  chairs were up on tables as though they were closed, which they were, of course.  we were guided into that room.  ”we” were some of the musicians from the Daphne, reporters, and a group of Cuban musicians called Irakere (“jungle”) who were to demonstrate how hip they were.  i had my interview cassette recorder at the ready.  and was i ever glad of that.


David Amram @ Habana Libré

JESUS CHUCHO VALDES, keyboards, director

OSCAR VALDES, percussion, vocals

JORGE ALFONSO, percussion


CARLOS PUERTO, elecric bass guitar, vocals

CARLOS EMILIO MORALES, electric guitar

PAQUITO D’RIVERA, allto & soprano saxes, clarinet

ARTURO SANDOVAL, trumpet, valve trombpne

CARLOS AVERHOFF, tenor & soprano saxes, flute, piccolo, vocals, Engllish            announcements

LAZARO MORUA, percussion, vocals


DIZZY GIllESPIE, trumpet

STAN GETZ, tenor sax

DAVID AMRAM, French Horn, piano, Middle Eastern flutes, ocarinas, beads, bells, dumbeg, et al


Irakere front line: (r-l) Arturo Sandoval, Carlos Averhoff, Paquito D'Rivera



Irakere opened the afternoon’s set with three tunes: Illa. En Nosotros and Daimo.  they were there to show us what they had, and they had plenty.  the music was  Nordamericano rock and jazz, European classical, all fused into a unified whole underpinned by that Afro-Cuban rhythm which seemed to come directly from the diaspora.  in that brief prorgram we were treated to a montuno, a bolero, a danzón in many manners of rhythmic configurations, as well as some Mozartian clarinet figures thrown in for good measure by D’Rivera.

we were dumbfounded.  where did they learn this?  even Gillespie with his Chano Pozo and other African and Cuban influences didn’t quite know what to make of it.  Getz’s  bossa nova experience gave him something of an edge.

[Averhoff told me later that the band surreptitiously listened to unjammed broadcasts from the Voice of America, particularly Willis Conover's programs.  radio broadcasts from the mainland U.S. were not available.  i'm presuming there was some clandestine transcribing afoot as those musicians are virtuosi.]

Mantilla’s approach to the music was from the Bronx-borne salsa.  ”i  had never heard this kind of music before,” D’Rivera and wife Brenda Feliciano, a Puerto Rico native and a classically trained soprano told us over dinner in 2012.  ”i could hardly understand his language, and it was Spanish.”  more to the point, “Spanglish” derived from the Apple’s NuYoRicans.

Ray Mantiilla sits in w/Irakere percussionists

concluding the Libré set was an extended Billie’s Bounce with all of the players exchanging choruses as if to prove that the Cubans could speak our musical language equally as well.  needless to say we were impressed.  if i don’t sound sufficiently breathtakingly gushing, i guess you had to be there.  i play the now CD i made from the tapes in class regularly, and hear something different every time.


(r-l) Sandoval, Amram, Averhoff, Stan Getz



at the Libré there was symbioses beyond the descarga.  Sandoval was demonstrating Gillespie’s signature uplifted bell trumpet to anyone who would listen.


Sandoval explains Dizzy's horn

D’Rivera who could only speak English haltingly at best was busy with Getz carrying on a comparative anatomy demonstration on their respective instruments.

Mantilla was picking up pointers from the source as it were speaking with Irakere’s percussionists, verbally and percussively.  no language barrier there.

Amram, who speaks Spanish, was flitting hither and thither garnering information for his debut piece that was to be performed later that evening.  (Chapter 5)

me?  i was busy snapping away and making friendships which would last a lifetime.

Irakere rhythm section


Irakere became the darlings of a resurgent latin dance scene in N.Y.C. and were brought here for an appearance at Carnegie Hall during a Newport-In-New York Jazz Festival.  seems they could not legally work for bread but only serve an “educational” function.  i was asked to be their unofficial chaperone.

in your classic fox-watching-the-henhouse scenario our first hotel room reunion since Havana was almost ritual; they dramtically opened their suitcases which were filled with Havana Club Rum –i still have one bottle, emptied– and Partagas and Cohibas, famous Cuban cigars.  i kept those as long as i could, until they disintegrated. i still have the box.  the rest of our time together is a blur.

the Carnegie stage was ablaze.  Columbia’s stars augmented Irakere with Getz and Maynard Ferguson in the forefront among them.  i reported for Biillbard and Down Beat.

in another surprise Irakere encounter during the 1979 Montreux Jazz Festival i was asked to photograph the group’s acceptance of instruments from a famous international, U.S.-based manufacturer.  it seems that was considered remuneration, even though the instruments were for just that purpose, i.e., education, in schools back in hometown Havana.  it was that no-play-for-pay Communist manifesto bullshit raising its ugly political head again.  Irakere was allowed away from mother Cuba to “educate” not to entertain.  certainly not to make friends for Fidel.  the politburo-tchic dummies shot themselves in the foot, again.

for Irakere it was like a college reunion.  my fee covered my week’s room and board in Montreux jet-set fashion.  i had to spend all those “Swizz” (Swiss-jazz) Francs in Switzerland, however; there were no Euros at the time.

friendships cemented, we moved on.

- text & photos © arnold jay smith

June 2012


Jazz Journalists Association 2012 Jazz Awards :










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