The musical and spiritual ties between New Orleans and Havana are laid
bare in A TUBA TO CUBA, the new documentary directed by Danny Clinch and
T.G. Herrington for Nom de Guerre Films.
A TUBA TO CUBA deals with two journeys. The first was made by Allan and
Sandra Jaffe, jazz lovers who left Philadelphia in 1961 and went to New
Orleans, where they purchased Preservation Hall and brought it back to
life. Once a local jazz mecca--"every jazz musician in town wanted
to play there," said Louis Armstrong--it had become run-down and
neglected over the years, largely because of segregation, poverty and
shifting tastes in music. Although not wealthy, Allan and Sandra managed
to keep the Hall afloat and begin to build a new, prosperous future for
A TUBA TO CUBA is narrated by Ben Jaffe, who pays tribute to his late
parents for the way they saved the club: first by de-segregating it, then
by marketing it as a must-see tourist attraction. Today the venerable
but spiffed-up Hall draws visitors from around the world who are treated
nightly to concerts of traditional New Orleans jazz--played not just by
old-timers but by youngsters as well. Joining them on the bandstand is
Ben Jaffe himself; like his father before him, he plays a mean tuba.
The second journey depicts the one made a few years ago by The Preservation
Hall Band to Cuba. As Ben Jaffe said, "My father had a lifelong dream
of going to Cuba. He loved its music and wanted to connect with it as
deeply as he could." Allan died before he could realize that dream
but Ben, with the help of sponsors, was finally able to organize a pilgrimage
to that country.
"What I soon discovered, almost immediately upon arriving in Havana,
is how close Cuban music is to the music of New Orleans," he said.
"Both of them share African roots, rhythms, and history." This
is what enabled the American and Cuban musicians to jam with each other,
instantly and harmoniously. The joy each group experienced is visible
throughout the 84-minute film. In shot after shot the musicians show their
respect and affection for each other. They smile, laugh, dance and hug--and
also shed a few tears as well.
In addition to playing at the Casa De Jazz social club in Havana, the
Band also gave free concerts in the streets and parks, eliciting equally
delighted responses from the onlookers, many of whom were fascinated by
the sound of Ben Jaffe's tuba, an instrument they had never seen or heard
before. The Band also took a long bus trip to the city of Santiago which,
as Ben said, was like visiting a separate country. Its music, strongly
influenced by the conga (and Santeria), was distinct and different, yet
reminiscent of New Orleans' second-line tradition.
Once again, the Americans managed to bridge the gap between themselves
and their Cuban counterparts.
Footage of past and present New Orleans, Havana and Santiago are woven
into the film, giving an historical perspective to the narrative. There
are numerous talking-head interviews as well, with such luminaries as
Charlie Gabriel and Walter Harris (Preservation Hall's clarinetist and
percussionist, respectively) and Tata Gunes, the venerable Cuban drummer
who once played in New York with Dizzy Gillespie.
"We came on a journey and discovered a piece of ourselves that had
been missing from our culture," said Greg Lucas, director of Preservation
Hall. "We were also able to connect with our past and give our ancestors