A Passion For the Piano, a Story of Perseverance and Chucho Valdés in a New Cuban Film

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Esteban (Reynaldo Guanche) conversing with his great love, the piano.

Artburst Miami, June, 2017

Esteban, the debut of Cuban director Jonal Cosculluela being premiered at The Miami Light Project tells the story of a 9 year old, living in Havana with his mother, who’s raising him as a single parent, and his perseverance following his dream of becoming a musician. The challenges seem overwhelming. Esteban and his mother struggle to make ends meet – his estranged father offers little, and unreliable, support; Esteban has to help out selling their home-made beauty products door to door; his school snack is a bun and a bottle of water with sugar. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and Esteban falls in love with the piano.
Convincing a cranky teacher to give him lessons, scamming enough money to pay for them, and getting his mother to go along are just bumps on the road. He has to learn to play the piano.

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Chano Dominguez on an off night offers an unexpected treat

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VALENCIA. Pianist Chano Dominguez is in Valencia rehearsing a classical piece he wrote for brass quintet and piano for a July concert.(He’s working with Spanish Brass) But Chano, who has been living in the US for the past three years, decided he didn’t want to hang out at his hotel in the evenings so, without fanfare, he scheduled two nights of solo piano at Cafe Mercedes, an intimate club that feels like a living room. “I just want to play and see some friends,” he said in a sidewalk conversation before the show. (And I mean intimate, Club Mercedes by my rough count seats 60 people. Maybe)

Wednesday, playing on a stand up piano (yes, there was a concert piano somewhere behind the curtain but could not be used. Don’t ask.) he revisited “Marcel,” a piece for his youngest son, some Monk, a restless “My One and Only Love” and then invited Uruguayan violinist Federico Nathan (whom he had met the day before) to join him for three pieces that covered a lot of ground, from “I Got Rhythm” and “Footprints” to some Bartokian sidetrips.

Chano has integrated elements of flamenco and jazz in such an organic way that, at this point, discussing the parts means missing the whole. He has an unromantic, percussive attack and his single note runs sound more classical technique than bop. But what you really notice in his versions of standards is the pulse, an underlying beat that suggests flamenco and makes it all feel both familiar and different.

The highlight was the encore however, a mournful solo piano version of McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace,” which Chano turned into a meditation on the violence in Manchester. “I have two teenagers who go to those kind of concerts,” he said when introducing the song. He ended the piece ambiguously, fittingly unresolved.

Harold López-Nussa: from classical music to jazz, with unpretentious virtuosity

Cuba seems to produce pianists the way Brazil produces soccer players.
The quality and quantity of jazz pianists from Cuba, all seemingly raised in the most exacting classical school yet all seemingly just as fluent in the popular and jazz traditions, is just astonishing.
Consider Cuban jazz pianist and composer Harold López-Nussa, 34. He was born, and grew up, surrounded by music. His father, Ruy Francisco López-Nussa is a well-known drummer, his uncle Ernán, is an influential pianist, composer and arranger, founder of the groups Afrocuba and Cuarto Espacio and his late mother, Mayra Torres, was a piano teacher and a critical influence on his playing and outlook. “90% of what I am today I owe to my mother,” he once said. “When I was a child she was always on my side. She taught me the piano and also […] to know that it’s not the end of the world to make a mistake. That’s something you have to learn as well.”

López-Nussa and his trio, featuring his younger brother Adrián Ruy López-Nussa on drums and Julio César González on bass, play at the Rose & Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center on the Nova Southeastern University campus, presented by South Florida Jazz, Saturday at 8 p.m.

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