Sneak Preview: The Liner Notes to Live in Cuba

Read an exclusive excerpt of the liner notes to Live in Cuba

News | Aug, 6th 2015

Blue Engine Records’ first release—Live in Cuba by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis—is coming. In stores August 21st (and available for preordernow), the album is the first in five years from the Orchestra and there’s an incredible story behind its recording. 

Listen to Limbo Jazz, the second single from "Live in Cuba," on Spotify.

Live in Cuba was captured during the band’s historic journey to Havana, where they played American big band jazz to overjoyed audiences hearing the music they loved for the first time in decades. We hope you enjoy a sneak preview of the double-disc album’s liner notes—there’s much more where this came from on Live in Cuba.

…On their first full day in the city, members of the band went to the Guillermo Tomás Bouffartigue music conservatory where they were received with unprecedented warmth and affection. They conducted master classes and were treated to a stellar performance by the students. The next night they played their first concert in the Mella Theater, performing (as is their custom) everything from new compositions and arrangements to the classics. They played everything from Duke Ellington’s “Braggin’ in Brass” to Sherman Irby’s re-arrangement of the nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to Carlos Henriquez’s new composition, “2/3’s Adventure.” The crowd clapped, cried and laughed, clearly recognizing a sound that resonated deeply, although it had not been heard live for decades. The Orchestra was moved and inspired…

…By the night of the final concert, the band had played all over Havana, sowing the seeds of a musical future between Cuba and the United States. The last show was for kids. The packed house was peppered with students from all over the island. They heard Afro-Cuban, jazz and everything in between—a roster of the most promising students performed with the Orchestra in a sweep of jazz compositions that included Lee Morgan’s “Ceora”, Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” and Ray Santos’ “Azulito.” 

This recording is a compilation of songs chosen from each of these shows. The orchestra was obviously inspired by the experience of reconnecting with their extended family from the deep, deep south…


When I first moved to New York, I spent a lot of time in museums and galleries and it was so inspiring for me. When Wynton asked me to write something for the band in late 2006, I wanted to channel that same energy. At that time, we had a partnership with the Museum of Modern Art, so I would go there on off-hours and play my sax next to some of the paintings. I based this song on Dali’s most famous painting “Persistence of Memory.” I set the time signature in 13/8 because of the melting clocks. The guys in the band call it the “surreal time signature.” Beyond the obvious associations, I tried to create a certain discomfort; like a dream, like the world is a loose end.


This song comes from “Plantation to the Penitentiary.” We play in half steps a lot because the theme is supposed to be playful. I would always tell younger people when they are going to do what they want to do anyway and they don’t really want to listen, “Do your thing, but sometimes you can do our thing.”

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"That's one of the things that I love about playing with this band, no matter what the situation, everyone is there to play, consciously, presently, and wholeheartedly." Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra saxophonist Paul Nedzela shares his notes from the North-East leg of the Blue Engine Tour.


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