Director: John Holland
Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie has always had a musical love affair with Cuba, but it's been passion from afar. For three decades, political conditions prevented Gillespie from visiting Cuba, until he was invited to headline the Fifth International Jazz Festival of Havana. A Night in Havana is a celebration of that trip, and of Dizzy's music.
In the 1940's, bebop was born. Dizzy startled the world with Afro-Cuban rhythms in America jazz, and music would never be the same. In A Night in Havana, Dizzy finally experiences, first-hand, the African drumming, chanting and dancing that was one of the wellsprings of his creativity. Talking with Fidel Castro, he discovers that the Nigerian religions practiced throughout Cuba were also prevalent in his native South Carolina.
Dizzy's synthesis of the Afro-American and Afro-Cuban experience lies at the very heart of A Night in Havana. The first act of the film explores Gillespie, the man. His tales are wide-ranging, from his boyhood in rural South Carolina, when he wasn't permitted to drink water from the whites-only public fountain, to the 'true' story of how his trumpet-gotbent. Dizzy also reveals the hilarious, but anatomically-improbable source of a trumpeter's wind.
Act two is Africa—from a visit to the sister of the great Afro-Cuban drummer, Chano Pozo, who is, herself, a Yoruba priestess, to the passionate joyous dancing of the Folklorico Nacional, a scene which might have been filmed in a central African village. Giltespie talks of his personal identification with Africa, and recounts incidents from his tours there.
The final act is Gillespie's synthesis. Although best known as a creator of bebop (with Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk), his greatest contribution to music was the introduction of Afro-Cuban rhythms into western music. The final act of A Night in Havana features Dizzy performing some of his best known compositions, including 'A Night in Tunisia' and 'Manteca'.
In 15 or 20 years, Dizzy tells us, the music of Brazil, Cuba, the West Indies and the United States is still going to come together. 'And,' he grins, 'I'm gonna be there'.