The cocktail waitress remembered me from Sunday,
and asked if I was going to play. Well, we'll have to see, I said.
I had to make sure I wasn't completely out of my league, always
a possibility in Cuba. The tiny stage was crammed with drums of
every kind: congas, timbales with a kick drum, three batá
drums strapped together, bongos on a stand. It looked as though
seven or eight musicians were going to play.
the musicians arrived, the maitre'd introduced me to the band leader,
a pretty woman named Bellita. Her band's name is Jazz Tumbatá.
When they took the stage, I was surprised to see that there were
only three musicians: Bellita on piano, a bass player and a timbalero.
When they started playing, my jaw dropped to the floor. The bass
player (Miguel Miranda, Bellita's husband) strapped on an electric
five-string bass, and sat down at the three congas. With his left
hand, he played the bass tumbao, hammering on the notes, Stanley
Jordan-style, with just his left hand. With his right hand, he played
the congas. Absolutely amazing! This guy was playing two complete,
totally independent tumbaos at the same time! He must have two brains!
Alejandro Napolles played timbales and kick drum and went over to
the batá drums when Miguel used both hands on the bass for
his blazing Jaco Pastorious solos. Bellita played percussion breaks
with the other two on the bongos mounted on the stand to the right
of the piano. On some tunes, she played a shekeré with her
right hand, and comped chords with her left. When she played the
melodies to her tunes, she scatted in unison with the line she was
playing on the piano, Tania Maria style. And what chops this woman
has! Incredibly talented. She should be world famous, and probably
will be someday.
Bellita's entire family was at this gig. Her thirteen
year old daughter played flute on a beautiful danzón
she had written in honor of her abuela, Bellita's mother,
a beautiful woman in her eighties, who then got up and sang an incredibly
moving bolero. Another family member, a tio perhaps, got
up and sang a rumba. What a familytheir house must be full of music.
During the second set, Bellita asked me
to sit in, and after she started the tune, she got up and I took
her place at the piano. The uncle who sang rumba was playing congas,
and Miguel was only using one of his brains playing bass. Man, what
a rhythm section! After I finished my solo, Bellita gave me a big
warm hug. If she wasn't married to the bass player, I probably would
have proposed on the spot. A wonderful, sweet woman.
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