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Chronicle Jazz Centro Nelson Oney in memoriam, Morón. Photo: Courtesy of Alfred Artigas.

Jazz Centro Nelson Oney in memoriam. Travelogue

Sometimes, walking around the city on one of those nights when I didn't dare pick up the phone to look for company, I look out onto the balconies and imagine parties, meetings, downloads and all kinds of more or less sinful events to which I was not invited.When one, dragged by the daily tides, disconnects from the collective, one can come to think that the electrons of this great atom in which we live are describing frenetic trajectories that, against all odds, never intersect.

The loneliness of the surrounded is rare, hard.

It takes magnets to make friction happen, and I know that we all have a little bit of magnetism, even if we often think it has dried up.

It is normal that we feel this way, because almost nothing around us pushes us in the opposite direction. Neither the networks, nor the news, nor the hackneyed, vitiated and stolen conversations we hear around us, nor the prevailing "every man for himself".

Jazz Centro Nelson Oney in memoriam, Morón. Photo: Courtesy of Alfred Artigas

These magnets I refer to can be of many types: a kind or complicit gesture is a magnet. Listening is a magnet. Generosity is a magnet. Sharing is a magnet. Passion for what one does is a strong magnet when it involves others.

Sowing magnets in your wake guarantees you that last smile of acceptance. A rubric without a trembling hand. Otherwise I imagine the last second with my hands on my head. Solavaya.

In the province of Ciego de Avila lived during his last twenty years a magnet named Nelson Oney Peña. A few days ago the fifth edition of the Jazz Centro in Morón was dedicated to him; and I was invited.


We get up early to leave in a carriage. They pick us up while the night is still late and we go to Agramonte and Trocadero to pick up the fifth passenger. "Carlitos, a cousin of daddy" in the words of Dayron Oney who, being a monster, sees normal things of monsters.

Cousin Carlitos" turns out to be Carlos Alvarez Guerra. For the clueless: that small, talkative, gray-haired, lumberjack-chested gentleman to whom I open the car door, one morning more than forty years ago, he poured coffee, put the trombone in the case and went out to Oscarito Valdés' mother's house. He had a rehearsal that morning. Also at that rehearsal were Chucho, Maraca, Munguía, Del Puerto, Arturo, Paquito, Averhoff, Pla, Carlos Emilio and a handful of other leviathans.

The consort sits next to me.

I'm dying.

We arrive in Ciego de Avila six hours later with the buttocks of a pensioner fakir and the bottom of my eyes full of fields. I meet Dayron at the door of TV Ciego de Avila: hugs and kisses and, for sure, first laughs. Dayron Oney is my friend and it makes me feel good to know that.

You know, Walt Whitman? Dayron is in size. For him, a lonely grape in a park and a Wynton solo are just two of the wonders that the universe gives us in its endless flow.

I am pleasantly surprised by the rhythm and register of the hostess during the program. Between questions, she offers seconds and affection to all the guests so that they can answer without haste. Comfort lubricates the little channel through which emotion emerges.


There, through José Guevara Tamarit, producer of the event, I learn about the festival's program. I already want to be in the middle of the garlic.

During the journey from Ciego to Morón, Dayron and Carlos are a swarm of stories where the familiar and the musical are mixed. Trinidad with Santa Clara and Morón, "La Bandita" with the military service, rehearsals, courtships, jukeboxes and relatives, and where laughter has two effes more than melancholy.

I feel like a teenage Rollins in an alley listening to Bird through the window overlooking the club's warehouse. I shut up and sharpen my memory muscle.

We arrived in Morón!


We settled in at the Timberline Lodge Hotel and left for rehearsal at the Reguero Theater.

The jazz band musicians are here. Dayron introduces me to his two brothers who for me were almost mythological animals.

They tell me "finally, Dayron has told us a thousand stories about the downloads in your house! Good for him.

I also know Eduardo Campos, director of the Camagüey symphony and double bass player, this weekend, jazz.

Asere, what do these people eat...?

We're going to play an arrangement by Michael Phillip Mossman of Birks' Con Alma, and a ballad that Nelson composed for Carlos during his military service almost sixty years ago, of which only the precious melody survives, which Carlos treasures crystallized. (Carlos plays as well as sings, sings as well as counts, and plays again).

We also play a couple of standards. Yoandro, the drummer -a sun-, loosens up. Between the stagnant heat in the theater and the fact that the music is already flowing, we all end up getting into a groove and not looking at the clock.

The lights and audio guy has a one-watt bubble plant parked in front of the theater door in case the power goes out during the concert. Everyone is for this. It's a great feeling.

We went out to some tables in the park at dusk. Cold beer and more stories. I don't want this to end.


The following day, José Guevara Tamarit's documentary, Authentic Human Dynamo, about Nelson is released.

It is hypnotic to see and hear Nelson talk about vocation, about the learning process, about commitment, about the craft, about the transmission of codes, about the fact that we are mere vehicles...; and I am deeply impressed by the fact that he does it in exactly the same terms in which I have heard other great musicians of different generations, origins and styles express themselves. Is there really a common substance? A structure? Being a musician is a journey that molds you and shows you that when unnecessary edges jump out only generosity and humility should remain.

I would have loved to meet him. I know his children, his living legacy.


We have lunch at the hotel, together with the Matanzas baseball team, the only guests with whom we share the facilities. The testosterone in the buffet line is a suffocating mist. Not the soup, the soup is fresh.

The afternoon has become rainy and there is a little fear of a possible non-appearance of the public. "The moronero, if he pisses a frog, does not leave the house", says someone looking at a thundercloud; but when we arrive at the Reguero there are already people at the door. They are very elegant, and me, as always. I remember Toni Gonzalez, one of my teachers, who told me "the first two things you have to buy if you want to be an electric guitarist are an extension cord and a black suit".

Jazz Centro Nelson Oney in memoriam. Photo: Courtesy of Alfred Artigas.


There is excitement, "in and out", the stories go on, the rum flows and the desire to play overflows.

Already on stage -in a metamusical preview- Rosita is brought up on stage to receive two or three post-mortem mentions/diplomas for her little boy. Rosita is wise. She picks them up, petite, with a rictus that amazes me: perplexed and polite in equal parts, and sits back in her front row seat flanked by her grandchildren. There I thought I saw her smile, but I couldn't say for sure.

The concert went well, a little more rushed than the rehearsal, but just imagine, the moment was strong.

I always remember Paco Valeriano, another teacher of mine who told me, when I still did not have the capacity to manage that message, that to transmit you have to be a bit cold.

I think he was referring to what here in Cuba you call "cabroná".

The most descriptive thing I can say about the hours after the gala is that, try as I might, I can't draw them.


The next morning, already Sunday, I went out for coffee at a kiosk near the hotel, and got into a friendly conversation about Putin and his supposed geostrategic superpowers with two seniors in caps and vascular forearms.

From there, with Dayron who came to pick me up at the hotel by bike, we went for a walk to Martí Park to listen to the retreta, morning in this case.

It's not even ten o'clock and we hear the roar of the band from a block before. We arrive, lager in hand, happy from the walk and the chat.

How wonderful, live music! In the park, in the morning, it's for old people! The day there are no retretas will be the day we'll make love by bluetooth. You'll see.

The two or three soloists I heard in the three remaining numbers improvised with a clear jazz bent. A trumpet player with a black lip and a Breton half-scrum chassis, and an altist with a clarinet sound and a language that made me imagine Lester Young irritating the composer of a contradanza.

I thought, "look, more of Nelson's energy sprinkled around here."

At the end of the concert, already pouring the cucumber of the production, everyone passed by where we were. Everyone greeted Dayron. He introduced me to everyone. I felt at home. Same jokes, same gossip. The musicians, what a crazy thing to do. What a warm feeling of belonging.

In particular, I chatted for a long time with Jesus Lacerda, a skinny guy in his seventies, with wonderfully white hair and a magnetic smile. He is a guitarist and orchestrator, but he plays clarinet in the band. He and his partner, a saxophonist, what a beautiful energy. With them we talked precisely about the good fortune of suffering our madness.


Lunch at Dayron and family's house. The smell of bright light, more cold beer, bare feet, and guava in little pieces. All the Oney lineage and their affection and Carlos, Dayton and I playing tunes, were the preamble to the most delicious grilled fish in the world. Shorter, Oscar Peterson, Maria Schneider's big band, Zenon... and we all listened like children. There is a magic in listening to music collectively. I don't know how to explain it. It is as if on some plane the attentions of each person were agglomerated in a sum of common use that contains the criteria and the concentration of all of them. It is then when you detect that strategic hit on the bass drum that had gone unnoticed for decades, or discover for the first time a hidden intention in the phrase with which the melody ends.


We walk in procession with the instruments to the house of culture. There we will have the closing performance of the festival. Beautiful colonial house with its satanic reverberation indispensable for this type of activities. Assembly, with people already, two small stages of mypimes selling beer and chewy things. What a thrill.

I always miss the jams. In Havana I miss them very much. I know that it's largely the fault of the daily grind, transportation, etc., but the musical muscle of a city is given to a large extent by the musicians who get together to play. Whether or not there is money involved.

Young people come up to play. I think it's a miracle. One with its own name. We celebrate the ideas in the solos, the colors in the chords, the rhythmic complicities, and we play, without egos and without snobbery. In Morón, with the Oney, this is how things are done.

That night ended in the hotel room. We went up with the instruments, food from the pantry, beers from I don't know where, and in that brutalist cabin the music and laughter went on until the wee hours of the morning.

A few hours later, crossing reddish cane fields on the way back to Havana, I thought that the less you worry about transcending, the deeper the mark you leave. You just have to be a magnet.

As the great Eladio Reinón used to tell us in the conservatory as a mantra: curiosity, perseverance, patience and love.

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