Jon Cleary Music Project in Havana, December 14 – 21, 2019

Jon Cleary with Cuban musicians ad the production team at Club Miramar, Havana, December 2019.

Our Jon Cleary Music Project to Cuba that has been in the works since last spring just completed in Havana this past month, and it was a big success! Huge thank you to Horns to Havana for their work with the musicians behind the scenes, and to our CCJ travelers for directly supporting the project. Part of the CCJ trip funds enabled Jon Cleary and his top two musicians from New Orleans to join the adventure!

Old trade routes, cultural exchanges and mutual musical influences between New Orleans and Cuba trace as far back as to the early 1800s. We learned that Cuba and New Orleans are both equally responsible for much of what we know as jazz. New Orleans, which has been the home base for British Native Grammy Award winner Jon Cleary for the past two decades, has long been described by its natives as being not a Southern city, but a Caribbean city. Also, the habanera – Havana-style dance – became an internationally known contradance in the nineteenth century.

Jon Cleary and Cornell Williams with music students at Amaldeo Roldán music conservatory, Havana, December 2019.

Jon Cleary, together with his percussionist AJ Hall and base guitar player Cornell Williams, led an inspiring master class at the Amaldeo Roldán music conservatory, talking about these roots – and the beats and rhythms – of New Orleans music and its connection to Cuba over the past couple centuries.

They also performed with Cuban pianist Ernán Lopez Nussa and his horn section at the Teatro Nacional in Havana. Jon Cleary even had state TV appearance and a mention in the state newspaper Grandma, something you only can achieve in Cuba working through the right channels. Thank you again to Horns to Havana, Ernán Lopez Nussa and the production team behind this very historical music exchange. Together, we created memories we will never forget!

Jon Cleary performing at Club Miramar, Havana, December 2019.

The grand finale concert at Club Miramar, an intimate venue outside of Havana’s city center made history! “This one of the best concerts I have ever seen in Cuba” said a member of the Cuban group Los VanVan after the concert. We were all in the front row!

It was a a CCJ trip in November of 2016 with blues guitarist Taj Mahal where Jon Cleary was a guest, that laid the groundwork for us collaborating with Jon and his team on this exciting project.

It takes a leap of faith, and a little magic for something like this to come together! All we really did was to create the conditions for the project to evolve just in the way it did. And we could not have done it without the support from our travelers and a portion of their trip funds covering the cost of the musicians stay in Cuba. Thank you all for joining us!

Happy travelers, Elena, Megan and Kay, at Club Miramar for the Jon Cleary concert.
Jon Cleary and his entourage at the Amaldeo Roldán at the completion of a successful exchange.

And an exchange it was, no doubt! It should be mentioned too that all of our visiting professional musicians were wondering “who is really teaching who”, given the unmatched talent of these young Cuban musicians. There is a strong self-confidence and light that shines through these students, many of whom have been taught music full time since the day they started elementary school. That’s the level of talent we are talking about here! 

Chris Ishee, one of the CCJ travelers felt the the combination of Cuba and Jon Cleary was like a dream come true. In an email to CCJ earlier this week, he sent us the following message:

Still flying high from our trip. Musically, socially, politically, and educationally incredibly inspiring. I can’t thank you enough for all that you do, and did, and will do.”  

We are talking about the possibility of working together with Chris for a future musical Cuba adventure, which would involve more young students from both the US and Cuba. Stay tuned!

On a related note, already April of 2020, we are taking high school students and chaperones to Cuba for from Bainbridge Island, WA, for yet another exchange with the Cuba students at Amaldeo Roldán. We will report more as we get closer to it!

Wishing you a Happy New Year from the Cross Cultural Journeys Cuba team!

Chris Ishee is music director at Santa Fe Preparatory School, and is in demand as a jazz educator and clinician throughout the US.
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