Wednesday, October 30, 2013

KCKCC Jazz Band to play at 2014 Havana International Jazz Festival

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- It might sound cliché, but the latest invitation for the Kansas City Kansas Community College music program is truly a “once in a lifetime experience.”

The KCKCC Jazz Band has been invited to perform at the 2014 Havana International Jazz Festival in Havana, Cuba. The festival is Dec. 17 to 22, 2014. Jim Mair, professor of music and director of instrumental studies at KCKCC, said the band was invited based on its long reputation as one of the premiere community college jazz ensembles in the nation.

“This will truly be a life-changing experience,” Mair said. “Some of the students are very excited. Others have not yet absorbed what this means. This is a very exciting opportunity.”

The idea for the Havana International Jazz Festival started in 1978 when Bobby Carcasses and other Cuban jazz musicians had a concert at the Case de la Cultura de Plaza.

The following year, Chucho Valdes, now the president of the festival’s organizing committee, gave another concert.

Those yearly concerts morphed into the festival as it is known today. Participants not only have the opportunity to perform and hear great jazz music, but also get an overview of Cuban history and culture.

Mair said a 19-piece jazz band will travel to Cuba, either through Miami, Fla. or Cancun, Mexico. Because this trip is to Cuba, additional paperwork must be completed. Any U.S. citizen is allowed to travel to the small country with the appropriate license.

“What makes this trip unique is that it is not like going to New York or Disney World,” Mair said. “You do need certain documentation that ties you with the college. It does seem complicated, but we are working with a company that will walk us through every detail. They are giving us a timeline as to what needs to happen, and are micromanaging everything to make it easy for us.”

In addition to attending the festival, the jazz band will have the opportunity to take a guided tour of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Havana Historical Centre; tour Cuba’s National Museum of Fine Arts; visit the Institute Superior de Arte, the country’s top art academy; explore Finca Vigia, where Ernest Hemingway lived for more than 20 years; enjoy tap dancing and live jazz music at Pena de Santa Amalia and learn about the Cuban culture.

“This is going to be a real eye opener for our students,” Mair said. “All of the cars are older, nothing is modern. There are no chains (restaurants or stores). We don’t even know what their technology will be. It is a real throwback. Most of our kids have come from a high school band program that went on some kind of tour. But in so many ways, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with the Cuban culture.”

With plans already in the works to travel to Cuba next year, Mair said the next step is to begin raising the approximately $60,000 it will take to get the jazz band to Cuba.  Fundraising started Oct. 12 during the “A Night in the Heights” event. Jazz CDs featuring Mair are also on sale for $20 in the KCKCC bookstore and the Intercultural Center with all proceeds going toward the Havana trip.

“If you look at the cost, it is actually a pretty affordable trip,” Mair said. “We will also be applying for grants and asking for honorariums as part of our fundraiser activities.”

Mair said he would like to open the trip to people within the Wyandotte and Kansas City area community. He said to take people with the jazz band would serve as a cultural exchange, exposing as many people as possible to Cuba. Those who are interested in traveling with the jazz band are responsible for their own expenses and travel costs.

“I would like to make it a community effort. Anyone who wants to go, who likes to travel can go,” he said. “This is a special circumstance to visit a country not many have been able to experience before.”

For more information on the KCKCC Jazz Band’s invitation to the 2014 Havanna International Jazz Festival and on the group’s fundraising efforts, contact Jim Mair at or call 913-288-7149.