Key Change: American Jazz Musicians Witness History in Cuba

Jacob Rascon  |  NBC News  |  December 21, 2014

th[10]HAVANA — Along Cuba’s coastal highway, the Malecón, the rumblings of automobiles older than the American embargo are sometimes interrupted by beautiful music. Usually it’s Cuban, but this weekend, it was also American Jazz.

Members of the New York Jazz Academy were in Havana all week on an educational trip when they witnessed arguably the most historic moment on the island in a half century.

“It was quite surreal. We were visiting a recording studio,” Dan Blankiniship, an instructor with the academy, said.

“All of a sudden, she [a studio employee] opens the door and says, ‘Come here! Come here! Come here! Come here!” said Shoshana Baars-Stanton, another member of the group.

In the next room, the Americans heard the voices of President Obama and Raul Castro.

“I just saw crowds of people just around these TV sets,” said one of the students, William Linster, the youngest of the academy at 17. “Not only were the Americans in the studio watching, but the Cubans, also, together, watching this historic moment.”

Some Cubans in the room were in tears and embraced each other. Others embraced the Americans.

Blankinship said they were “obviously happy, but also overwhelmed – and also just hopeful. Overwhelmed and hopeful about what this might mean for the future.”

“This has been an entirely enchanted week, unbelievable on so many levels!” the academy’s founder and director, Javier Arau said. “I have no hesitation to come back here, and I think we’ll be back more often at this rate.”

And maybe someday, at this rate, Arau said, Cuban musicians will bring their beautiful music from the Malecón to Manhattan, and across the United States.


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