Herbie Hancock in concert. Photo: Sonia Almaguer

Those participating in the global concert for International Jazz Day, held in Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater, highlighted the value of music as a global platform to promote peace.
Organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) - whose director general, Irina Bokova, traveled to the Cuban capital to witness the event – presented in collaboration with the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Cuban Music Institute and the Thelonious Monk Institute, the concert saw contributions from over 50 outstanding artists from the United States, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, with U.S. jazz icon Herbie Hancock and Cuba’s Chucho Valdés headlining, while the role of host was assumed by popular U.S. actor and winner or four Grammy Awards, Will Smith.
The gala, which saw the participation of Miguel Díaz-Canel, first vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba, as well as Culture Minister Abel Prieto, was an example of the what cooperation can and must do to achieve spiritual growth.
“While some beat the drums of war, right here, right now, and in many places only the drums that will be heard are those which invite us to coexistence and solidarity, to harmony and understanding,” stated Cuban poet, Miguel Barnet, upon inaugurating the concert.
Barnet, president of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists, also reminded attendees, and those watching the live broadcast of the concert from hundreds of countries around the world, how “jazz has become part of our identity, conversing with son and bolero, it takes on meaning in what we call Cuban jam sessions, accompanies ritual drumming and songs brought over from Africa by our ancestors, merges with rumba, unveils new paths through the creation of young musicians trained in our art schools, and represents us with dignity and pride in numerous settings both within and outside the island.”
Speaking before the audience, Bokova, Hancock, and special guest celebrated producer and composer Quincy Jones, highlighted jazz’s commitment to freedom, respect for diversity and ethics.
At various moments throughout the concert, an important one being the performance by indisputable jazz legend Oscar Valdés -, the past and present legacy of the genre known as Afro-Cuban jazz was celebrated, starting with the group Manteca established in 1947 and featuring outstanding talents such as Mario Bauzá, Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie, who rocked the New York jazz scene, followed by the explosion of Maraca, a Timba all star Cuban band led by Orlando Valle, as well as the Cuban flavored choir performances of John Lennon’s classic “Imagine,” and the iconic “Guantanamera.”
During the gala, as a way of shining a light on common roots and possible dialogue, Rodríguez Fife’s “Bilongo” was sung by Richard Bona from Cameroon, in addition to a Northwest African flavored changüí, spiced by the strings of Pancho Amat’s tres, the lute of Tunisian Dhafer Youssef, a singer with an impressive vocal register, and William Roblejo’s violin.
The rhythms then moved on from Afro-Cuban to three other interesting zones of Latin jazz: firstly the English version of “Soberana rosa” by Sting and Dione Warwick, performed by Brazil’s Iván Lins; followed by the Consuelo Velázquez’s infallible “Bésame mucho” performed by Korea’s Youn Sun Nah, together with the subtle melodies of renowned violinist Regina Carter and double bassist Esperanza Spalding, and a friendly scat duel between the latter and the ineffable Bobby Carcasés.
Meanwhile, Hancock perfectly summed up the performance of “Blue Monk” by pianists Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo ­Rubalcaba, describing it as the art of two creatures who have expanded the legacy of the maestro, and are both indisputable icons of contemporary jazz in their own right.
Attendees to the concert will undoubtedly never forget the performances by U.S. saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Antonio Hart, as well as by their compatriots singer Cassandra Wilson – with her deep, golden voice-, Christian Sans (piano), Ambrose Akinmusire  (trumpet), bass players Marcus Miller and Ben Williams, and drummer Carl Allen; as well as vocalist Kurt Elling. They will also surely recall how jazz has grown with force and originality across other latitudes, with outstanding performances by Lebanon’s Tarek Yamani, Peruvian saxophonist Melissa Aldana, Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez, Russian saxophonist Igor Butman, Italian trombone player Gianluca Petrella, Japanese trumpeter Takuya Kuroda, and guitarist Marc Antoine from France.
Credit for the gala’s success is also owed its musical directors, Emilio Vega and U.S. maestro John Beasly, as well as Alexis Vázquez, vice president of the event's organizing committee.