April 20, 2017 by Helen Borgers


Jazz Appreciation Month ends with an international celebration for the sixth year in a row. This time, the global broadcast will originate from Havana, Cuba, with co-Artistic Directors, Herbie Hancock and Chucho Valdés.


In his official statement as UNESCO’s Goodwill Ambassador, Herbie said, “Afro-Cuban jazz and its rich history have played a pivotal role in the evolution and enrichment of the entire jazz genre. The incomparable trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie along with beloved Cuban musicians Mario Bauzá, Machito and Chano Pozo, infused American jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms to create a brand new, energetic sound that defined modern music. We are so pleased that Havana, Cuba, will serve as the Global Host City for International Jazz Day 2017. On behalf of the worldwide family of jazz musicians, educators and enthusiasts, I would like to thank the citizens of Havana and Cuba for their enormous support of this truly global musical art form.”


Herbie has an intimate association with Afro-Cuban jazz, having composed one of the most recorded “hits” in the genre, “Watermelon Man.” Herbie composed the tune for his own debut disc, Takin’ Off, in early 1962. Later that year, Chick Corea announced he was leaving Mongo Santamaria’s band, and Herbie filled in for a weekend with Mongo in New York. Donald Byrd dropped by the club to see how Herbie was doing with the band, and got into a discussion about musical bridges linking Afro-American jazz with Afro-Cuban jazz. Mongo said he hadn’t found any, so Donald suggested Herbie play him “Watermelon Man.” 


Herbie picks up the story: “And I’m thinking, ‘What does that have to do with the conversation they’re talking about?’ I thought it was a little funky jazz tune. So I started playing it, and then Mongo, he got up and he said, ‘Keep playing it!’  He went on the stage, played his congas, and it fit like a glove fits on a hand, it just fit perfectly. The bass player looked at my left hand for the bass line, and he learned that.  Little by little, the audience was getting up from their tables, and they all got on the dance floor. Pretty soon the dance floor was filled with people, laughing and shrieking, and having a great time, and they were saying, ‘This is a hit! This is fantastic!’ It was like a movie! So after that, Mongo said ‘Can I record this?’ I said ‘By all means.’ And he recorded it, and it became a big hit. That’s how it happened.”


It was Herbie’s tune that gave Mongo his unique place in the music’s development, for he became known for blending Afro-Cuban and African American music, recording Cuban-flavored versions of popular R&B and Motown songs.


On October 16, 2006, Chucho Valdés was made a Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It may seem an unlikely branch of the U.N. for an Arts celebrity to hold, but in fact there have been Arts ambassadors for years, including DeeDee Bridgewater in 1999, Dionne Warwick in 2002, and Susan Sarandon in 2010. Through the Goodwill Ambassadors, the FAO works to increase international awareness and mobilize action in governments, international organizations, the private sector, academia, farmers, and the public to engage the support of as many people as possible in the struggle to end hunger. Chucho has been in a good place to do that since making the international scene with his band, Irakere, over 40 years ago.


Unlike former bandmates Paquito D'Rivera, who defected from Cuba in 1980, and Arturo Sandoval, who left ten years later, Chucho never defected. He has enjoyed world travel and global fame, both with Irakere and as a solo artist, receiving five Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammys.


Chucho’s father, Bebo, a famous Cuban bandleader who gave his son his first piano lesson, worked regularly at the historic Tropicana in Havana, from 1948 to 1957, and also took part in recording sessions commissioned by Norman Granz in 1952. He defected from Cuba in 1960, living first in Mexico, then in Sweden, where he promoted Cuban music and Latin jazz. His last recording was a Grammy Award-winning collaboration with his son in 2008, Bebo y Chucho Valdés: Juntos para Siempre (Together Forever).

Along with Herbie and Chucho, the All-Star Global Concert will have John Beasley and Emilio Vega as the evening’s musical co-directors, and will feature a truly international roster of artists including Ambrose Akinmusire (United States), Carl Allen(United States), Marc Antoine (France), Richard  Bona (Cameroon), Till Brönner (Germany), A Bu (China), Igor Butman (Russian Federation), Bobby Carcassés (Cuba) Regina Carter (United States), Kurt Elling, (United States), Kenny Garrett(United States), Antonio Hart(United States), Takuya Kuroda (Japan), Ivan Lins (Brazil), Sixto Llorente (Cuba), Marcus Miller (United States), Youn Sun Nah (Republic of Korea), Julio Padrón (Cuba), Gianluca Petrella (Italy), Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Cuba), Antonio Sánchez (Mexico), Christian Sands (United States), Esperanza Spalding (United States), Ben Williams (United States), Tarek Yamani (Lebanon), Dhafer Youssef (Tunisia), Pancho Amat (Cuba), and César López (Cuba), among others.

Many acclaimed musicians and educators from Cuba and around the world will participate in free jazz performances, master classes, improvisational workshops, jam sessions and community outreach initiatives. Programs will take place at schools, arts venues, community centers, jazz clubs and parks across the city of Havana and throughout Cuba beginning on Monday, April 24th and leading up to the festivities on April 30th. Additionally, jazz history and education programs will be provided for tens of thousands of students in over 11,000 schools across Cuba. These programs will be among the thousands of International Jazz Day live performances, educational activities, and community service programs taking place in more than 190 countries on all continents.

The concert will be live streamed by UNESCO. You can watch live concert performances on http://jazzday.com/videos/ throughout International Jazz Day.


On-air personality, Helen Borgers, can be heard on KJazz 88.1 FM from 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. As a jazz broadcaster, Helen has been invited to give pre-concert lectures at various performing arts centers, served on panels in jazz conventions all over the world, and lectured about the history of jazz in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. She has also written articles for international jazz publications and regularly emcees concerts, festivals, and club dates throughout southern California.

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