By Orbert Davis, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
Photo by Kent Richmond

Creating Havana Blue was a process unlike any other in my life as a musician and composer. Starting with the exploratory trip to Cuba, it was a process of discovery and inspiration, on both a personal and professional level.

 I set out on the trip to Cuba with several goals.  I wanted to explore my African roots through the Cuban culture, where the African heritage is prominent. In my mind, I wanted to “become Cuban” through immersion in the culture and music. I was curious to see where my collaborations with authentic Cuban music would take me as an artist. It was an odyssey of musical self-discovery.

Also, I have always had an interest in tracing the development of African music in the United States and other countries.  I once traveled to Brazil, for example, to see how the African influence shaped that musical tradition, and I was interested in doing the same thing in Cuba.

Photo by Kent Richmond

What I found in Cuba was a wealth of musical expression, and a real passion for learning and sharing.  There’s such a strong connection between American jazz and Cuba that dates from the 1940’s and exists to this day. The local musicians were so excited to play with an American musician. They were especially excited when they heard I was from Chicago.

The musicianship there is of the highest order. I bought CD’s everywhere I could. I was so amazed at the creativity and the talent of the local artists. And what’s more amazing is that there are no jazz schools there, so that the artists have to pick it up on their own.

Wherever I went, I took my horm with me, and the musicians would always welcome me to play with them. My goal was to absorb what was happening in the moment and improvise based on the environment I was in and what was happening around me. I learned something new with every encounter I had, whether it was the house band in the hotel, or a street musician, or the classically-trained performers in the clubs.

I also found out something about my ancestral roots.  One of the percussionists, who could trace his own ancestors back to their village in Africa, told me that I was of Nigerian descent. He knew this from the way I looked, but more importantly by how comfortable I was with polyrhythms. It had nothing to do with my training as a professional musician, he said. It was something innate that can’t be taught.

I created the score for Havana Blue as a series of musical portraits of the people and the places I encountered. I did not want to recreate the music but rather my interpretations of the Cuba I found.  I tried to capture the sense of a people proud of their traditions, intent on honoring the old but eager to embrace the new and move forward. I am excited to bring this project home and share it with the people of Chicago.   ——-

HAVANA BLUE: River North Dance Chicago with Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Presented by BMO Harris and Co-commissioned by the Auditorium Theatre

Venue: Auditorium Theatre
Dates: Saturday, April 13, 2013
Times: 8:00 pm
Price: $76-$32
In a momentous collaboration, the Artistic Directors of River North Dance Chicago and Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Frank Chaves and Orbert Davis, explore their shared Cuban experiences for a vibrant World Premiere of original live music and dance, bringing the culture’s rich history to life in a contemporary way. Co-commissioned by the Auditorium Theatre.
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