Havana has been christened “the city that never sleeps.” The city’s restless nature was explored by the renowned Cuban film director and scriptwriter Arturo Sotto in one of his most iconic feature films, Amor Vertical (1997):
"Don’t you feel it? If you listen carefully you can hear the noise of couples who make love. That is the sound of Havana at night..."
This is a city that seduces through its musical charms: clave, timba, rumba, guaguancó, son, guaracha, reguetón, romanticism… diverse influences come together here, and the lines between elitism and popular culture are blurred. In January, in particular, the sound panorama so unique to the Cuban capital takes on a new dimension. That’s when Havana sounds like jazz.
This communion of jazz greats arose from a series of meetings organized in 1980 by the famous maestro Bobby Carcassés. As well as being one of the most dazzling stars of the Cuban music scene, Carcassés received the prestigious National Music Award in 2012.
The Havana Jazz Plaza festival, now in its 35th edition, is one of the most anticipated events in the island’s jam-packed cultural calendar. Each year, the festival showcases the most prominent names in the genre, drawn from all over the planet.
From its very first edition, the festival has fostered exchanges between established musicians and emerging talent, and forged bonds between the Cuban and international jazz communities. The festival quickly reached world renown, with artists on the lineup including the likes of revered Cuban pianists Chucho Valdés and Roberto Fonseca, American trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and French composer Michel Legrand, alongside other international names such as Tete Montoliu, Roy Hargrove, Ronnie Scott, and many more.
In 2004, the festival expanded to include the Theoretical Colloquium, a fascinating program of masterclasses, interpretation workshops, presentations of record productions, and audiovisual, digital, and research events.
Another attraction of the festival are the venues; which include the emblematic sites of Havana: the National Theater of Cuba, the Mella Theater, the Bertolt Brecht Theater, the Cuba Pavilion, and the Cuban Art Factory ( FAC), among many more.
For more than 90 years, jazz has been the lifeblood of Cuba. The first known reference was performed by North American musicians in the Roof Garden of the Hotel Sevilla Biltmore, located on Havana’s main artery, the bustling Paseo del Prado. In the spirit of that occasion, the Havana Jazz Plaza festival has always sought to encourage the flow of culture between the continents. For over 30 years, the festival has brought a diverse range of international genres to the city, including dance music, rumba and rock. This annual meeting of global talents offers an outstanding chance for sharing and feedback between foreign and Cuban musicians.
What began at the end of the last century as a small initiative to bring together Cuban jazz artists is today a symbol of a national passion for jazz. It’s no wonder that musicians and audiences alike are willing to travel enormous distances to be part of the action. A visit to the Havana Jazz Plaza festival is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience Cuba’s enchanting music scene at its most irresistible