Lakeshore Music’s Cuban Cultural Exchange Features Harold Lopez-Nussa

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Woody Wilson is delighted to present a performance at the newly opened 200-seat Ravenscroft Hall in North Scottsdale by Harold López-Nussa from Havana.

The concert on Saturday, October 30 is the latest chapter in an almost 10-year cultural exchange between the Tempe-based promoter and Cuba.

“Harold is one of the greats,” Wilson says of the pianist conductor whose latest album, “Te Lo Dije,” provides an exhilarating showcase for his chops while effortlessly blending Afro-Cuban jazz with the modern jazz and Cuban pop elements.

“He’s not as well known in the US as he should be because he just couldn’t shoot here. But he’s an international celebrity in Montreux and all those great places in Europe. where he goes and everyone knows him and loves him. “

Sharing Cuban music of López-Nussa’s caliber with Arizona audiences through Lakeshore Music has been a passion of Wilson since he and his wife made a trip to Havana in 2012 through the Chamber of Commerce of Temple.

Wilson went to Cuba to “search for music”

Woody Wilson of Lakeshore Music in Havana, Cuba

“Right after Cuba first opened in 2012, chambers of commerce across the country partnered with a major travel agency that would run these trips under the People-to-People banner,” Wilson said.

“There were pretty strict protocols that you had to observe in Cuba. But they allowed people to travel and stay in the best hotels in Cuba. So we went.”

The Wilson’s traveled with a party of 60 from Tempe, crossing the country on two buses.

“We had just launched Lakeshore Music three years earlier and I was going to Cuba to look for music,” Wilson says.

It was a life changing experience.

One of the stops on the tour was Cienfuegos, a town on the southern coast of Cuba.

“We ended up in this community center, where they gave a concert for us by a small chamber orchestra,” Wilson says.

“Cuba is big in the arts. So every city, regardless of its size, has a community orchestra. But it was a chamber orchestra. There were eight of them.”

As Wilson recalls, it was probably 95 degrees in the room.

“There was an old Steinway piano in there that looked like it had fallen from a truck,” Wilson says. “There really was no plumbing. The toilets were questionable. But these guys got out. And they put on this show that blew us up.”

How Wilson worked to bring Cuban musicians to Arizona

Woody Wilson in the Ravenscroft Room

On the return bus ride from this performance with what Wilson remembers as Tempe’s “whole bunch of movers and shakers”, he shared his budding plan to bring this chamber orchestra, Orquesta de Cámara Concierto Sur, at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

“We collected on the bus,” he says. “Everyone was so inspired, people started talking, you know, ‘Let’s make that happen. “I had no idea what it took to do that, all the visas and whatever was needed, but I was going to try anyway.”

Luckily, the Orquesta de Cámara Concierto Sur was already planning to come to the United States a few months later as part of a cultural exchange with a Tacoma orchestra hosted by Neil Birnbaum, who would become Wilson’s partner.

“Tacoma was a sister city to Cienfuegos and Neil conducted the Northwest Sinfonietta which is their state chamber orchestra,” Wilson said.

“So Neil took the orchestra there. He took patrons. There was a special piece of music written. They did a real live cultural exchange. And the next step was for this orchestra to come to the States. -Unite and do something with Neil’s orchestra. “

So Wilson cold called Birnbaum from Miami when he returned to the United States.

“And I said,” You don’t know who I am. But I’m a little promoter in Tempe and I want to bring these guys to the Tempe Center for the Arts. And of course, he thought it just wouldn’t be. possible. But we stayed there. And we did. “

The first exchange in 2013

Harold López-Nussa

This first concert in Arizona filled the great hall of the Tempe Center for the Arts.

In early 2013, Wilson and Birnbaum made another trip to Cuba and spent a week exploring the idea of ​​continuing their cultural exchange.

“We loved the music,” Wilson says.

It was during this trip that Wilson first experienced López-Nussa in his element, jamming with friends in Havana.

“We did an impromptu concert in Aldo Lopez-Gavilan’s apartment overlooking the Malecon,” Wilson said.

“He lives by the ocean right next to the American Embassy. And we did this show with Harold López-Nussa. All the local cats came and played. People were amazed by it. was very romantic. “

Wilson and Birnbaum started their Treasury Department-sanctioned Cuba cultural exchange tour with a group of 12 or 13 friends as “guinea pigs” in 2014.

“Our goal was to go there at least once a year,” Wilson says.

“We were making a little bit of money there, because at that time Cuba was really opening up and the Americans were everywhere. We were a little late but we took the wave in ’13, ’14, ’15. Then (the former president) Trump walked in and started to squeeze them again. “

How did the cultural exchange work?

Harold López-Nussa

The way it worked was that they took an American artist – usually a jazz musician – and a delegation of about 20 music fans to Cuba on two or three trips a year.

The American artist would perform in Cuba and Cuban musicians would in turn perform for the visiting delegation.

In return, the Cuban government allowed its musicians to come to the United States to perform for the Lakeshore Music concert series.

They haven’t been on tour for a year and a half because of COVID-19.

The first years they went, they did their shows at Teatro Tomas Terry, a historic theater in the heart of Cienfuegos.

“We had a great time in Cuba with the shows that we did,” Wilson said.

In 2015, Wilson’s Lakeshore Music paired Lopez-Gavilan with the Harlem Quartet for an evening of classical jazz at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Two years later, Lopez-Gavilan returns for a concert with his own quartet.

About three years ago Wilson and Birnbaum presented a concert in Havana at the Museum of Fine Arts with Lopez-Gavilan and Lopez-Nussa.

“They are two of Cuba’s best young pianists,” Wilson says.

“And they played the piano together. It was off the hook. It’s a small room, about 250 people in the museum. And we took a group to the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. They were in awe of the show. J So decided to bring Harold back. “

Putting on this show was not easy

He hasn’t had it easy.

The show has been postponed twice due to COVID-19. And now that Lopez-Nussa is finally able to perform here, two musicians from his group couldn’t get out of Cuba.

“The embassy is understaffed,” he said, due to all the problems Cuba was having with a disease called Havana Syndrome, which causes ringing in the ears, fatigue and dizziness.

“So they didn’t issue American visas in Havana. There is a lot of good music in Cuba. But they can’t go out.”

Lopez-Nussa and his brother, drummer Ruy Lopez-Nussa, were able to obtain French passports because their family is partly French. They will be joined by an American bassist and harmonica player at Ravenscroft.

“These guys are really good,” Wilson says.

“Ruy is one of the greatest drummers in the world. The last trip I took I took my friend, a talent agent for William Morris. He thought Ruy was the best drummer he ever had. vu. He’s a fabulous, fabulous artist. “

This is Lopez-Nussa’s first major American tour.

“One thing that stands out about Harold is his energy and mastery of the keyboard,” Wilson said.

“He’s so quick and so good at what he does. He puts a lot of power into the music and you can feel it. He’s exciting. And that high energy is powered by his brother’s drums and percussion work. on the other side of the stage. “

This is how it became so popular in Europe.

“There are lines outside the clubs when these guys show up,” Wilson says. “People are coming in droves.”

Harold Lopéz-Nussa

When: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 30.

Or: The Ravenscroft, 8445 E. Hartford Drive, Scottsdale (within the Scottsdale Perimeter Complex).

Admission: $ 65.

Details: 800-785-3318, lakeshoremusic.org.

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-4495. Follow him on twitter @EdMasley.

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