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Jazz Caliente: Pianist Ann Reynolds shares her joy of Cuban music

Pianist/composer Ann Reynolds enjoying the movement of Cuban jazz
Steve Korn
Pianist/composer Ann Reynolds enjoying the movement of Cuban jazz.

Ann Reynolds' second Clave Gringa CD, Joy, will be celebrated at a release party at the Royal Room in Seattle on Sunday, April 21.

Ann and I recently chatted about her fascination with Cuban music, and about the new album, part of which was recorded in Cuba with Cuban musicians. 

"I've been going to Cuba for 19 years," Ann said. Hanging out with Cuban musicians and working with teachers there has given her a solid grounding in Cuban music. She understands some of the subtleties, and can use them as part of her musical vocabulary.  

“Cuban musicians put so much into each note, and it’s all got the feeling of movement in it," Ann said. That feeling of movement inspired the CD title and the cover photo. The recording is her attempt to capture the energy and joy of Cuban music. 

Of course, there are many styles of Cuban music, and regional differences, too. 

"Santiago is great for son, but Havana has a special energy, and more jazz," Ann said.  She's spent spent her time in Cuba studying authentic styles and fusing them with her jazz background. She refers to herself as "almost Cuban," and the musicians in Havana fondly call her "Ann-ita."

Ann is very aware of the legacy of great Cuban pianists. "One of the best compliments I get when I do a performance is when a Cuban will come up to me, someone who has been living in the U.S. for 10 or 20 years, and say, ‘your piano playing reminds me of home,'" she said. "That’s a huge compliment, because Cuban piano playing to me is very special. It’s got all the history in it from the great danzones, from Ernesto Lecuona (prolific composer and exceptional pianist known as the Gershwin of Cuba), it’s got huge expression. Cuban pianists are great classical players too, so they really use the piano, use the whole instrument.”

Ann's group, Clave Gringa, provides the perfect palette for her Cuban-inspired compositions. Trumpeter Daniel Barry is her longtime collaborator, drummer/percussionist Steve Smith lays the foundation, Honduran percussionist Ricardo Guity is a master of folkloric rhythms, and Kelsey Mines is a marvelously innovative bassist.

The Cuban musicians on Joy include two young women you might recognize from saxophonist Jane Bunnett's group Maqueque: percussionist Maria de la Paz and bassist Tailín Marrero Zamora. Ann’s percussion teacher José Eladio Amat is featured on timbales. Ann also was delighted to use "the best jazz trumpeter in Cuba," Julito Padrón.

Listen for "Dizzy Monk" from the Clave Gringa CD Joy this week on Jazz Caliente, and come out for live music and fun at the CD release party on April 21 at Seattle's Royal Room.

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. The show is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.
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