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Scenes From Life: Cuba! Review - A truly historic night

By Keith Gerbosi

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Friday night at the Auditorium Theatre felt historic.  Just being in the 125 year-old gorgeous theater makes one feel that way, but this was more.  This was a once in a lifetime show.  One that Emmy award winning musician, composer and conductor of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Orbert Davis, looked forward to for a long time.  One that couldn’t have taken place just a few months ago.

The US and Cuban flags proudly hung together

The show started with a brief video to explain how this night came about.  Davis, in his role as an educator and musical ambassador, traveled to Cuba in December 2014 on a cultural exchange.  While there Davis visited The Universidad de las Artes (ISA) in Havana.  ISA was established by the Cuban government to be the premier school for music talent on the island.   Orbert Davis went to Havana to share Chicago Jazz as well as to learn about Cuba’s musical heritage.  The sessions went so well that the educators wanted to expand the relationship which, given the history between the two countries, seemed unlikely.  However, as the video said, “Timing is everything.”  The very next day President Barrack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro made the historic announcement to normalize relations between the two countries.  And with it the seed of collaboration was planted.

Hurdles still had to be cleared, but in the end joining the 55 piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic on stage on Friday were 36 Cuban music students from The Universidad de las Artes.  This made for a crowded stage, but the more the merrier.  Cubans and Americans making music together for the first time in the United States ushered in a new era of collaboration between the two former adversaries – and it was wonderful to hear.

The Super-Sized Orchestra

During the first act Orbert Davis conducted the super-sized orchestra through music he composed during his visits to Cuba.  The extra flavor that the Cuban musicians added helped create more layers to the songs which somehow punctuated the theme of partnership on the night.  Davis also made sure that the students were able to solo right along with his regulars – which was fun to see. 

Mr. Davis takes a turn soloing

With all due respect to Mr. Davis, the best part of the night was the beginning of the second act.  This was when he stepped aside and let the students take the stage by themselves.  The first number was five young ladies with five string instruments performing a beautifully melodic number that could have lasted the rest of the night. 

Six Young Students with six stringed instruments

After that, Ernesto Lima Parets came out to direct his fellow countrymen and women in traditional Cuban numbers. 

Orbert Davis turns the stage over to Ernesto Lima Parets

His style as a conductor was a little different than what we are used to in this country.  His hips swayed to the music and his head bobbed to the beat and at one point, joined by others from on stage and off, he danced in front of the orchestra.  Cubans believe that music exists to dance to, and these students put that belief on full display.  The music even got the audience to bounce in their seats.

Dancing and Singing Traditional Cuban Songs

To end the historic show, Davis performed a four part composition which he said wasn’t completely finished.  The final composition would be improvised right there on stage by the multi-national orchestra.  The percussionists lead the way – with the drummers taking turns providing the Cuban rhythms that made the audience’s hearts skip a beat. 

This show was truly historic – but it had even deeper meaning.  The collaboration between the American and Cuban musicians on display Friday night in Chicago should be looked upon as an example of how US-Cuban relationship should move forward:  a collaboration of partnership, harmony and a whole lot of rhythm!


Photos by Darron Jones


Published on Nov 18, 2015

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