Cuban high school jazz band makes U.S. debut

David Rodriguez | CBS News

David Rodriguez | CBS News

NEW YORK– A group of high school music students from Cuba made history this week when they performed in New York City.

It was a musical event that was years in the making and they made the most of every note.

If heaven were a jam session this would be it.

And when its led by Wynton Marsalis, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime — especially for high school musicians from Cuba.

They are students from Cuba’s National Art School, taking part in a week-long musical cultural exchange program.

They are the island’s best young talent hand-picked for an experience they’ll never forget — the chance to make their American debut in New York City at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Seventeen-year-old David Rodriguez is from the city of Manzanillo.

“You close your eyes and you feel like its dream, but its reality,” he said in Spanish.

Sixteen students arrived from Cuba last week and took Manhattan by storm.

They also got right to work studying with the great masters of jazz, getting ready for their performance.

“I’ve never seen a group of kids progress that quickly in such a short amount of time,” said Todd Stoll, the vice president for education at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

He visited the students in Cuba last month.

“The political divides between our countries are separate from the human interaction,” he said. “The art form itself brings us closer together.”

The big night arrived.

Backstage — for 16-year-old saxophone player Hernesto Silverio — it was all beginning to sink in.

I asked him in Spanish if he’s nervous.

He said yes.

“Some of the best musicians have played here and because of that I feel a bit nervous,” he said in Spanish.

The group fused Latin rhythms with jazz classics like Memphis Blues.

The first Cuban youth orchestra to perform at Lincoln Center played every note just right.

When I asked David Rodriguez to describe the experience in a word, he needed two.

“Very beautiful,” he said in English.

No translation necessary, especially when the language is music.

The cultural exchange was made possible by the non-profit Horns to Havana and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

It took the organizations three years to coordinate with the Cuban government.

Marlie Hall, CBS News
April 24, 2016
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