UPDATED: International Jazz Safari to Cuba 2017

The JAZZ.FM91 International Jazz Safari to Cuba was a huge success thanks to a lot of planning by our staff, people at Grand Memories and Sunwing … and because our donors are so generous and kind. The flight to Cuba was a breeze and by noon we were checking into our rooms, in a private (adults only) section called “The Sanctuary” at Grand Memories, Varadero.

On some days, people would go by bus or big old cars from the 50’s and take a day trip to Havana. Others checked out Matanzas or just hung around the pool and relaxed. Many stuck by the beach enjoying the ocean and some even went on catamarans for the afternoon. At night, it was all about the music.

Our line-up was spectacular at our private concert venue: Some returning friends from last year and some new acts that blew our minds.

Jane Bunnett and her Juno-winning all-female Cuban-based group Maqueque performed on our first night. It was high energy and the perfect start to a fabulous weekend. The next evening we were blessed with new music from Hilario Duran. He was joined by his group of Cuban friends and was warm and engaging with his storytelling between songs. The Harold Lopez Nussa trio returned after their unforgettable show last year and it was every bit as magical. His brother Ruy is one of the most talented and entertaining drummers I’ve ever seen and the two of them did a piano duet that caused screams of delight (and a standing ovation) from the audience. The trio also included Gaston Joya whose joy was infectious. Both Joya and Lopez Nussa sold dozens of CD’s after the show.

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By this time the donors were seriously mellow, enjoying the music by the pool (that I had the pleasure of supplying…think Latin jazz and swing instead of “Who Let The Dogs Out” and “Moves Like Jagger”), and the delicious food in our private restaurant and the main buffet. It was time for the Canadian contingent to perform. Colin Hunter brought down friends Paul Novotny (bass), Daniel Barnes (drums) and Alison Young (sax). John Sherwood was music director and after Colin crooned, the band were joined by Jackie and Kim Richardson. Jackie brought up friends (donors) Debbie Flemming and Jeff Jones – the fab foursome also got a standing ovation and caused many a goose bump.

Next up: La Academia. Ruy Lopez-Nussa Senior (father of Harold and Ruy) brought some modern sounds to traditional Cuban music. It was as educational as it was entertaining. (Some would call this EduTainment but I opt for EnterTational!) Friday we witnessed Guido Basso like never before. Guido was joined by his old friend John Sherwood and a Snarky Puppy rhythm section of Larnell Lewis (drums) and SP founder Michael League (bass). Guido also brought up special guests. Alison Young was featured on a gorgeous ballad and he even got me up to sing a serious song (call Ripley!) … a moment I will treasure always.

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Just when we thought our vay-cay couldn’t get any wilder, Septeto Habanero came to our resort and played Cuban dance music from the early 20th Century. This super group includes people who played with Buena Vista Social Club and other famous Cuban groups and in two years they will celebrate 100 years of making music. (I’m pretty sure even the oldest member of the band was under 100; perhaps the son of a founding member?) Larry Cramer and Jane Bunnett get full marks for arranging this tuxedo clad septet to wrap up our perfect jazz holiday.

A big thank you to Sunwing Vacations and Sanctuary at Grand Memories in Varadero for making this as effortless as it was amazing!