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Working long days in the studio, I missed the jazz festival entirely. But I still went out to the clubs after the sessions. Como no? Bamboleo was at Casa De La Musica and Lázaro Valdés invited me to sit in. Let me tell you, that was a rush you can’t believe. What a powerful rhythm section that is! It made me wish I had planned some tunes to record with them. But maybe I can do that on the next album. Imagine the possibilities for song titles: Mamboleo Bamborama.

I was going out every night after recording, and the guys would ask me when I had gone to bed. One night, I got all of one hour’s sleep from seven until eight in the morning, and then it was time for the studio. I told the guys, “I can sleep in the States.”

One of the Jazz festival activities I managed to catch was Bobby Sanabria’s show at La Zorra Y El Cuervo. Bobby and I knew each other only through correspondence on the Latin Jazz email list, and it was nice to meet him in person. I sat in, along with a dynamite young drummer who was all of about seventeen years old. I got to talking to him, and asked him who his favorite drummers were. When he mentioned Riverón, I invited him to the studio to watch Riverón in action. He came down, and Riverón, great guy that he is, took him under his wing and gave him lessons right there while we were setting up. After we finished cutting the tracks, he and this kid jammed together the whole time the rest of us were eating lunch.

Now I had the tunes with Trabuco in the can, and the only thing left was the tune I wanted to do with the guys from Klimax. The only problem was, I hadn’t had time to finish writing out the horn parts. I had brought my laptop with me, planning to finish the chart there, but I hadn’t done it yet, and there was no way I was going to have time to do it. I asked Marcos if he would help me. He said sure, and came over to my casa where I set him up with the keyboard, the laptop and the demo of the song. The chart was only partly done, the form of the song was there, but not the horn parts, which were on the demo. Marcos asked me if it was all right if he changed a few things. I said, please! Do whatever you want with it! I got a lesson in arranging that day. Actually, it was the next day, because I didn’t hear what he had done until we recorded it.

While Marcos was in my casa working on the chart, Hector, Michel and I were running around setting up for a party I gave for the musicians. This was my last week, and the best night to have a party for musicians in Havana is Monday, when most all of them don’t have gigs. My landlady kindly allowed us to use her courtyard for the party, which was also going to be a descarga, or jam session, if you don’t know the term. Manolito again came to the rescue and allowed us to use part of his sound system to power the music. So in this quiet residential street in Vedado, we had a killer sound system, two keyboards, congas and timbales, and plenty of mics for singers and horns.

I’ll bet my landlady’s neighbors are still talking about that night. Manolito was there, El Indio, David (who showed up without his flute! I made him go back home and get it), Piloto, Marcos, Yusef Díaz (keyboards for Klimax), Osiris (keyboard player for Pupy’s band, formerly with Trabuco), singers from Klimax, Pepito Gómez from Pupy’s group, you name it. Riverón was a no-show, but there was this fifteen year old kid who played timbales and did a great job. Pescado, the violinist of Trabuco played, as did Armando Gola, bass player for Gonzalo Rubalcaba. We had some killer músicos on hand, that much was certain.

I tried to get Piloto to play timbales, but he just smiled and declined, saying that he didn’t play timbales, he plays drums. But after awhile, he grabbed a mic and started doing some incredible scat singing. And before the night was over, he took a turn at the timbales, and blew everyone away with an amazing solo.

I just took a couple of turns playing. I wanted to hear these guys play. There were a lot of keyboard players there, and just two keyboards. While Osiris was playing piano, Manolito took over on bass, and El Indio started playing timbales! And both of them were good! Apparently, Manolito is a decent drummer, too. And he plays trés, if that wasn’t enough.

We wound up playing far longer than the 11:30 pm curfew for a residential neighborhood, but no one complained. I helped Hector and Michel pack up the sound system, and we went down the street for a final beer for the evening.

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Finding the music
in Havana

Finding out who's playing where is always a mystery in Havana. Even band members often don't know about a gig until a couple of hours beforehand. There's a weekly bilingual tourist newspaper, the Cartalera, that is distributed in the hotels, but it doesn't list the shows at places like the Casa De La Musica. Ask around, and follow Kevin Moore's advice from a post he made on rec.music.afro-latin:

Call each every night around dinner...it keeps changing

don't start drinking til you see the whites of their eyes...sometimes
the main band won't start til 2:00

watch for sunday "matinees" which start as early as 8:00 at Chevere
and sometimes the Marina (papa's) [also check the matinees at Casa de la Musica]

here's all the spanish you'll need:
a) "¿Quién toca allí esta noche?"
b) ¿y mañana? ¿y miércoles? (but check again the next day to make sure)
c) ¿cuándo comience? (don't believe them...it's later)
d) ¿hay dos grupos o solo uno?

Also, remember that the two Casa de la Musica now have matinees almost every day. Make sure you know that the show you're going to is por la tarde (afternoon show), or por la noche (night show).

 

 
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