With a spring that’s been far too wintry, Jane Bunnett may wish she was making one of her frequent trips to Cuba this weekend. Instead, she’ll be on stage in Kitchener summoning up the Spirits of Havana.
The Toronto-based reed player is reuniting the band for a 25th anniversary celebration Friday night (April 20) at the Registry Theatre. That will include Cuban piano master and frequent collaborator Hilario Durán, who was part of Bunnett’s first recording in the Caribbean nation, 1991’s eponymous Spirits of Havana.
Her relationship with Cuban music extends back to the very first trip she and her husband took to the island in 1982. Almost as soon as she got off the plane, the local music was omnipresent.
“There is music, music, music everywhere,” she says from her Toronto home. That continued after checking into what was still a fledgling all-inclusive hotel.
“I heard music playing, and thought it was just something on a stereo. I came over a hill and there was this 18-piece band playing there. It was almost like an apparition.”
By night’s end, she and her husband were sitting in with the band, having made a host of new musical friends. From there, they bought up all the records they could find.
“It was just magical and exotic, and totally enlightening,” she said of the music.
Arriving back home, she looked for ways to keep the vibe going at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of what we now know as world music. There were few Cubans in Toronto, let alone a Cuban music scene, she notes. Still, having fallen in love with the music, she set about incorporating it into the jazz that she’d already started playing. Her love of jazz dated back to the mid-1970s when, on a trip to San Francisco, she saw Charles Mingus’s band. Returning home, she was determined to play jazz. A decade later, Bunnett was making inroads with the Toronto jazz scene.
The addition of Afro-Cuban sounds into the mix certainly took people by surprise.
“It was totally new. People were perplexed by what we were doing,” says Bunnett.
Since then, there’s been a huge cultural shift in the city, the entire country and certainly in the music industry, which is much more global now than it ever was.
Today, the accomplished reed player is a multiple Juno Award winner and Grammy Award nominee, holder of an honourary doctorate from Queen’s University, and recipient of the Order of Canada.
Bunnett has combined elements of Cuban roots music with traditional contemporary jazz in recordings such as Radio Guantanamo, Cuban Odyssey, Alma de Santiago, Ritmo + Soul, Chamalongo, Havana Flute Summit, Jane Bunnett and The Cuban Piano Masters. Her first recording in Cuba was the Juno Award-winning Spirits of Havana.
Since that first fateful visit to Cuba, she’s returned many times, both to make music and to support young musicians through the Spirit of Music Foundation, which provides instruments for kids studying in the country’s music conservatories.
Audiences here are now much more educated in the ways of world music, she says, noting a shift over the years in both the range and demographics of those who come out to concerts.
Friday’s show at the Registry will feature a retrospective of the Spirit of Havana, with multiple recordings for the “all-star lineup” to draw from.
“We’re going to be doing music right from the very first album, Spirit of Havana. We’re going to have a great time,” she says.
Jane Bunnett & the Spirits of Havana take to the stage April 20 at 8 p.m. at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $30, available www.registrytheatre.com, by calling 519-578-1570 or at the door.