Jazz ensemble to be international guest at Havana International Jazz Festival

The TCU Jazz Ensemble has performed with several international artists in the past, but the tables have turned since the group was invited to be an international guest at the Havana International Jazz Festival Dec. 15-20, Director of Jazz Studies Curt Wilson said.

Wilson said Harmony International, a travel group, invited the jazz band to the festival after the band’s performance as the featured college band last February at the Texas Music Educators Conference in San Antonio.

He said the ensemble was the only American band invited to perform at the festival, but other bands from South America and Europe would be there. The university’s ensemble will be one of the first American bands allowed to perform in Cuba in the last 50 years, he said.

Freshman jazz ensemble member Tanner Webb said he was shocked when he found out about the invitation because he didn’t think the trip was possible due to U.S. relations with Cuba. He said he was very excited also for the experience and opportunity to learn about jazz in Cuba.

Wilson said that although the jazz ensemble was invited in February, the trip didn’t become a reality until August because of the approval required for the band to attend.

He said Harmony International took care of contacting the U.S. State Department to get approval and visas for the attendees.

Webb, a music education major, said one of the reasons Americans were allowed to travel to Cuba for was for educational purposes.

Wilson said the trip would be a great opportunity for cultural exchange. He said he did not know of any potential restrictions the group could face from the Cuban government, and that his only requirement was that the ensemble members represent the university honorably.

In addition to performing approximately 30 different songs at the festival, Wilson said the band will also perform and give master classes at the National School of Music in Havana.

Webb said the ensemble started practicing music for the festival at the beginning of the school year because it wanted to make a good impression. He said the group focused on the Havana performance during regular practices.

Wilson said the band hoped to use the trip as an opportunity to learn about Cuban music because of the music’s influence on jazz in the 1940s and 1950s, when the Cuban jazz style was called Afro-Cuban.

Webb said he hoped his eyes would be opened to different jazz styles around the world.

“There are already different kinds of jazz in America,” he said. “But I feel like in different parts of the world, there would be completely different areas that aren’t touched on all the time by American groups.”