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Jane Bunnett
The Spirit of Havana

Canadian Jane Bunnett is a leader of the band Spirit of Havana, which also now the name of a film shown in theatres and on Canadian TV.

From the film's Program Notes:

Set on location in Cuba, this documentary follows Toronto flutist and soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett (considered one of Toronto's premiere jazz musicians) and her husband and musical partner, trumpeter Larry Cramer, as they travel across Cuba on a cross-cultural musical tour of the island that showcases the musical diversity of Cuba's rich musical legacy. Bunnett and Cramer move from location to location, each stop is centred around recording music with different musicians at the different spots and a CD and DVD of the material will be released will be released early next year

- Bunnett first visited Cuba in 1984 (for a cheap vacation) and were immediately struck by the extraordinary diversity and vibrancy of the Cuban musical scene

- Bunnett has made nearly 50 trips to Cuba

- since that first visit, Bunnett has been a champion of Cuban music and musicians, making regular visits ever since, playing with musicians there and recording music and supplying and repairing instruments for school music programs and mostly learning about the various Cuban musical traditions

- she was so attracted to Cuba because of the quality of the musicians she encountered there and also because of the wealth of the country's traditions which, ironically, have been shielded by its isolation from pop influences

- in an interview in The New York Times on March 5, 1998, Bunnett says that what makes so much Cuban music so notable is the curious aspect of Cuban jazz being largely frozen in time and cut off from a lot of what has happened in jazz in the sixties and seventies

- she's been so linked to Cuba that some reviewers have dubbed her "Havana Jane"

- article after article begins by saying that long before Ry Cooder made The Buena Vista Social Club a household name, Bunnett was sharing her passion for Latin music with North American audiences, taking Cuban artists on tour and featuring them on acclaimed albums of her own and often putting up Cuban musicians at her home for weeks at a time

- since 1992 "Spirits of Havana" CD, Bunnett has brought more than 40 Cuban musicians on tour with her in Canada and the U.S. and she frequently performs with contemporary groups from all over Cuba

- says Bunnett in an interview last June, 2000: "If one more person asks me what I think of Ry Cooder, I'll jump out a window!" -- she goes on to say that the reason she's fed up with the Ry Cooder question is because she feels she's been exploring Cuban music for much longer and suddenly it's as if Ry Cooder gets all the credit for discovering Cuban music - recently an interviewer asked her, "So, when did you jump on the Cuban bandwagon?" which totally infuriated her because a bandwagon-hopper is the last thing she is - hers has been a long, serious and passionate involvement with Cuban music that began with her first visit and her groundbreaking record, the 1992 "Spirits of Havana" was out of course many years before Ry Cooder's film

- Bunnett: "This isn't an exotic thing to me at all"

- she's earned the respect of some of Cuba's finest musicians but she's also said that a lot of people in the jazz world didn't get what she was doing: "Spirits of Havana hit a lot of people as being a truly unique record. But in the jazz community, folks just didn't get it. People couldn't hear the connections between that music and jazz, links that to me seemed absolutely obvious. To an extent, people like Ry Cooder have made this music more appealing in the States partially because they're Americans breaking these little taboos. I'm split on the whole thing, though. It's obviously great for the music and I'm glad that they've finally crossed those boundaries. But it's a bit frustrating to hear those guys talking as if they suddenly discovered Cuban music."

- Bunnett says she was struck by the richness, purity and history of the Cuban musical scene

- the ensemble she plays with now is a conglomeration of Cuban expatriates and Canadians

- she says that on that first visit she began haunting Havana's Santo Suarez district, hearing as much music as she could, seeking out the living legends who were still playing and learning and soaking up as much as she could

- From the Globe & Mail, May 18, 2001, article by Tony Monyague: "At the time of their initial visits to Cuba, in the 1980s, it wasn't easy for foreigners to collaborate with local musicians. The authorities there didn't encourage cross-cultural exchanges - especially between Westerners and practitioners of folklorico. The genre remained too closely connected with the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, permitted but not yet officially sanctioned on the island. 'The music was still marginalized and its players weren't given much respect,' recalls Bunnett, interviewed recently in an apartment in Old Havana. 'When we made our first album here, Spirits of Havana, some of the people we brought into the studio weren't even recognized by the authorities as being musicians - and without that status they couldn't record with us. It was a major bureaucratic nightmare to have them accepted and get the recording done.' Adds Cramer: 'Three years of work.'"

- she returned to Cuba many times, worked with and became friends with various musicians there and travelled all over Cuba, studying the stylistic differences of different parts of the island and familiarizing herself with Cuban folkloric music,
classical forms and Santeria chants

- Bunnett received a Canada Council grant to return to Cuba in 1991 and record with some of Cuba's foremost musicians and out of this came the album Spirits of Havana, recorded at Egrem studios in Havana in 1991, the CD came out in 1992 in which Bunnett showcases the Cuban musicians she admires so much

- Spirits of Havana was picked by the All-Music Guide as one of the top 300 jazz
discs of all time

- the CD features deceased singer Merceditas Valdes (who is shown in the film Spirits of Havana singing with Bunnett in Toronto - Bunnett and Valdes developed a close relationship and in the film Bunnett is also seen visiting her grave - Valdes died in 1996) and also features musicians Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Guillermo Barreto

- the CD Spirits of Havana was followed in 1994 by two traditional jazz recordings (The Water is Wide in 1994 with Don Pullen and Double Time with Paul Bley in 1994

- in 1995 and 1996 she put out two recordings Rendez-Vous Brazil/Cuba in 1995 and Jane Bunnett and the Cuban Piano Masters (both recorded in Toronto) in 1996 in which Bunnett explored her affinity for Cuban music further

- in 1997 she returned to Cuba to record Havana Flute Summit and Chamalongo, recorded with her Spirits of Havana band, focuses on Afro-Cuban traditions (Bunnett received a Juno for it)

- a recent CD is Ritmo + Soul (2000) (and some reviewers have said that Bunnett has the 'ritmo' or rhythm of Cuba in her soul), recorded in Toronto; it's the first recording in which Bunnett fuses contemporary jazz, traditional Cuban dance and African-American spirituals and is her sixth CD to put Cuban musicians in the spotlight

- Ritmo + Soul has been well received

- Bunnett has said about Ritmo + Soul that she feels she is now able to successfully
blend her interest in Cuban music with her jazz; she says that for the longest time, she felt she had "two parallel musics happening: one was more of a folkloric thing and the other was a jazz thing. And now I feel like the two are coming together, which ultimately I hoped would happen. But I didn't want to do it in a contrived way. I wanted to wait for the time when it just sort of happened. It really seemed like a natural evolution of the experiences of slugging away at both musics for 15 years."

- reviewers also point to the fact that it would be natural for Bunnett to take the lead and relegate the Cuban musicians she plays with to the background but that is the complete opposite of what she does; Bunnett repeatedly goes in the other direction, putting the spotlight on the music itself

- in an interview she gave in 1998 when her CD Chamalongo came out, she describes her process as (and what she's saying would apply just as well to the film) "basically this record is the listener sitting in amongst us all hanging out one night. The guys are playing and we gradually enter into the conversation when the moment takes us. It's a very organic way of working. Some people have criticized me for that, as if I'm assuming that I'm one of these musicians. I'm not, but I like to think that after so many trips down there I've developed some real relationships with these musicians. People will criticize regardless. I've learned that if you're going to do anything interesting, you can't
pay any attention to that."

Schedule (updated 10/03)

Thu 10/02/03 Boston, MA Sculler's 

Fri 10/03/03 Portland, ME Center for Cultural Exchange 

Sat 10/04/03 Great Barrington, MA Club Helsinki 

Tue 10/07/03 New York, NY Joe's Pub 

Wed 10/08/03 Raleigh, NC North Carolina Museum Of Art 

Sat 11/01/03 Kansas City, MO Folly Theatre 

Sun 11/02/03 Columbia, MO Murry's 

Mon 11/03/03 Saint Paul, MN Dakota Bar & Grill 

Tue 11/04/03 Saint Paul, MN Dakota Bar & Grill 

Wed 11/05/03 Saint Paul, MN Dakota Bar & Grill 

Fri 11/07/03 Toronto, ON Massey Hall 

Discographytop

Ritmo & Soul
Original Release Date: May 23, 2000
Number of Discs: 1
Emd/Blue Note
Click for pricing & to order  ==> Amazon.com

 

Alma de Santiago
Original Release Date: October 23, 2001
Number of Discs: 1
Emd/Blue Note

Click for pricing & to order  ==> Amazon.com

Links

Pancho Quinto's page on AfroCubaWeb. A venerated rumbero, Pancho is a frequent contributor to Spirit of Havana

PROGRAM NOTES - SPIRITS OF HAVANA shown on Canadian TV

Jane Bunnett - her official site

INTERVIEW: Before Buena Vista and beyond: Canadian jazz musician Jane Bunnett - from CBC Infoculture's archives

2001 Juno Awards - this CBC site has an exclusive backstage interview with Jane Bunnett and an archived webcast of her interview with the full press

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