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The next day was my last day in Havana, and my only task was to capture a piano solo from Manolito. I took the recorder over to his house in the afternoon, and we spent a relaxed and enjoyable time recording his solo, sipping the J&B scotch I had brought him as a Christmas present. I could hardly believe my luck. I had gone from feeling like I would be lucky if all I got was the basic track to La Gata Loca to an embarrassment of riches. I managed to record everything I had wanted to, and more.

In a strange stroke of synchronicity, all three of the groups I had been working with had gigs that day, and I thought how cool it would be to hear them all in one day, the day before I have to leave. Manolito had a private gig for some governmental organization, and no one knew the location, not even Paquito, his manager. Ay, Cuba! We waited and waited for the bus to come, because supposedly only the bus driver knew where the gig was. I decided to run my equipment back to my place, and just as I was getting back, ten minutes later, the bus pulled away. It turned out that they never played, because the power was out at the gig site!

But I did get to hear Klimax play a matinee at Casa De La Musica, and that night it was Pupy Y Los Que Son, Son at the same place. Great doubleheader to end the trip.

Back in El Yuma, I needed to get the horns done on some of the tunes so that I could present rough mixes of the album as a work in progress at Midem in Cannes, France in late January. Jimmy Branly let me use his studio in Burbank, and we laid down the horns to most of the Cuban stuff in one afternoon. Luis Eric, a Habanero formally with Paulito FG, played both trumpet parts, and Francisco Torres of Poncho Sanchez’ band played both trombone parts.

After I got back from Europe in February, I sat down to finish the arrangements on the tunes that I had to record with the LA guys. The only problem was that they sounded lame to me compared to the stuff I got recorded in Cuba. I threw them all out, and started writing. I spent the entire month of February writing until I had the tunes that I felt were just as good as the earlier sessions. The last thing I wanted was for the LA part of the record to be inferior to the Cuban part. That would be a disservice to the great LA-based Cuban musicians that played on it!

Finally, in March, we started recording, first basic tracks with Jimmy Branly, Conrado “Coky” Garcia and Rigoberto Lopéz. All of them are from Havana, and have played with people like NG La Banda, Issac Delgado, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Adalberto Alvarez. Jimmy is great to work with in the studio. He’s so comfortable working with me now, that when he hears a percussion break on my demo that doesn’t grab him, he just says, “we’re going to do something different here.” And it’s always better than what I had come up with.

Due to scheduling problems, we wound up having to do the horns for six tunes all in one day. We had this marathon session in Francisco Torres’ garage. He and Luis Eric each did the work of two players on each tune, and a bunch of solos on six tunes in one session. Oh yeah, they did the coros on that session, too. We started at three in the afternoon, and finally got done at 2:15 in the morning.

I spent most of April mixing and mastering. I was able to complete the project in enough time to have finished copies to take to Cuba with me. I had promised everyone in Havana that played on it that I would bring finished copes the next time I came, and I made good on that promise. All of the musicians gave the CD great reviews, and loved the stuff we did in LA. It felt great to see their enthusiasm for it. It was a ton of work, but an experience that I’ll remember my whole life.

Thanks again to everyone that helped me make this CD. I had a lot of help from some great people. I could have called the album “With A Little Help From My Friends.” but that title’s been used.

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Here's an online scrapbook of photos of La Habana and some of the recording sessions for the new album.

Interested in visiting Cuba? Take a look at Bill Wolfer's travel journal from Havana, complete with sound samples, photos and Flash animation. ¡Mira aqui!

Want to learn more about Cuban music? Take Cuban Music 101.


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