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Wednesday, May 1, 2002

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.

When 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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In this live excerpt, Bellita plays piano with a chekeré in her lap which she plays on the breaks. Miguel plays bass and congas while Alexandro solos on batá. Miguel then actually uses both hands on the bass for a solo, and then Bellita solos.

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Bill Wolfer sitting in with Jazz Tumbatá at La Zorra Y El Cuervo:

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