Jazz in Havana
You’ve heard it time and again. Cuba has rhythm. Cuba has soul. And fortunately so, the vibrant island has some of the best jazz you will ever hear. For music lovers, the Caribbean nation is a dream destination, for the island’s universal language is everywhere: at every corner, and in every paladar.
As you stroll the cobblestone streets, peak your head through colonial courtyards or munch over ropa vieja in Cuba’s beautiful plazas, the sound of trumpets and Spanish guitars is omnipresent. It’s enrapturing and alluring. The more you hear it, the more you can’t get enough.
From Havana’s music venues, all the way to Santiago de Cuba’s Afro-Cuban jazz, music brings Cubans together in joy and fellowship, united in Latin spirit and joint desire to perform and inspire. Neighborhood communities are formed, schoolchildren learn to perform and gifted musicians entertain, in a superb display of creativity of what instruments, as old as the embargo on Cuba, can create. And in Havana is where it all starts.
Going past the cliché of the Buena Vista Social Club, Havana’s jazz scene is thriving. More than just as a simple spectator, Havana jazz clubs come with promises to engage and entertain, for many hours into the night. Expect the chance to hum along and meet with the artists, as you take in a live performance.
Good jazz is everywhere, but for jazz in Havana, these venues stand out.
1. Jazz Café
On the second floor of the Galerias Paseo Mall in Vedado, right across the Meliá Cohiba Hotel is a venue known for its quality jazz and live performances. The 10 CUC cover charge (the equivalent of $10) is well worth it as the live bands are truly exceptional. Come early, as the music hall gets packed. The jazz club introduced several stars, including the legendary pianist Chucho Valdés, who started playing the piano when he was five years old.
After a night of jazz, cross the street for a moonlit stroll across the iconic Malecón.
Gallerias del Paseo, Avenida Primera (First) and Paseo, second floor, Vedado
2. La Zorra y El Cuervo
Another Havana favorite is famed La Zorra y el Cuervo, which will particularly be to the like of Afro-Cuban jazz lovers. In a crowded basement with dim lights and wafts of smoke is where congas and maracas scatter the heavy air, in a dynamic performance. Cover charge is also 10 CUC.
Calle 23 #156, entre O y N Vedado
Rightfully so, Hotel Nacional, the iconic national monument that acts as an ode to a glamorous past, is best known for its dazzling Cabaret Parisién show, rather than for its jazz. However, in exchange for the 4.5 CUC price of a mojito, you get both a walk through the splendid premises and a free performance of jazz that plays on most nights in the Garden Bar. With its Spanish-Moorish arcades and proximity to the iconic Malecón, you’ll find your casual music night all too enticing.
Calle O corner of 21, Vedado.
4. El Gato Tuerto
Only a block away from El Nacional is a Cuban local favorite. Here you’ll find cheap mojitos, prolific jazz performers and an overall pleasant ambiance. Cover charge is only 5 CUC. Be aware doors open at 12PM, so be ready to party well into the night.
Calle O entre 19 y 21, Vedado
Immerse yourself for six music-soaked days in a blaze of Afro beats, freewheeling jazz and swirling salsa on our Jazz in Havana tour.
Text by Monica Suma. You can follow her on Twitter at @MonicaSuma.
Photos by Robin Thom, © all rights reserved