Havana is the capital of the most famous and controversial island in the world, Cuba. And what can you expect from a trip to Havana? Caribbean beaches nearby, best mojitos and daiquiris you ever had and… music. Cuba, in general, is a paradise for music lovers. Even though the most traditional Cuban genres are son, salsa and trova, jazz is also very popular. Don’t get too attached to origins, though. Cuban jazz developed its own personality, and it can be described as more vibrant and cheerful.
In this post, I will give you some tips to create an itinerary throughout Havana’s main live jazz venues.
First things first: if possible, plan your trip for the second week of December, so you can attend the Havana International Jazz Festival. Big performances take place in Amadeo Roldan, Nacional and Mella Theaters, but don’t miss wandering through Havana’s cobble stoned streets and its smoky, nostalgic clubs.
Don’t be surprised if, between one drink and another, you get a glimpse of famous jazz musicians such as the five–time Grammy winner Chucho Valdés.
Havana’s best jazz clubs:
La Zorra y el Cuervo
(23 Avenue, between N and O streets, Vedado, Havana)
Despite the British-inspired phone booth at the door, La Zorra y el Cuervo Jazz Café is a perfect place to have a genuine Cuban nightlife experience.
Walk down the stairs and you will find yourself in an intimate and charming place. You can almost sit face-to-face with the musicians, who will hypnotize you with their sounds and movements in a perfect harmony.
The entrance fee includes 2 drinks, and their mojitos are among the best ones I tried during my whole trip to Cuba.
( Paseo and 3, Galerías Paseo Mall, Second Floor, Vedado, Havana)
This traditional jazz club brought to light several music stars, including the pianist Chucho Valdés, whom I already mentioned above as the winner of five Grammys.
Don’t be shy: talk to the musicians when the concert is over, just as you would praise the chef after a remarkable meal.
El Gato Tuerto
(O Street, between 19 and 21, Vedado, Havana)
Only a block away from the famous Hotel Nacional, there is a place where you can find great mojitos, thrilling jazz performances and friendly people in an air-conditioned, cozy ambiance. Almost a heaven, at least for my standards.
However, I must say that among these three options, it’s the only one that is not exclusively a jazz club. Gato Tuerto features other Cuban genres, like Trova, so you better check the schedule beforehand or go with an open mind.
Also, keep in mind though that El Gato Tuerto opens late, at 12 midnight, so start your drinking at any other bar in Havana and get ready for a long and fun night!
Finally, whichever club you choose to go to, I’m sure you will have a memorable night. Just remember: when in Cuba, do as the Cubans. Have a mojito, enjoy each moment and go for a walk on the Malecón before and/or after the performances.
If you get lucky, you may see the jazz musicians from the club and others relaxing in a casual jam session. Independently, once you get that fresh Havana air and hear the sound of waves against the rocks, you will realize you are living now the moments you will remember affectionately in the future.
By Manuela Hollos