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Not just hype, this is truly a transcendant experience. Havana is a city like no other, and this will give you a glimpse of it’s inner soul beneath the weathered... read more beauty. The local musical culture is, in its own unique way, as incredible and high level as New York City, but there is no way anyone would find half of this on their own without the expert guidance of Chaz Chambers, an accomplished professional drummer, who is an insider in this vibrant thriving scene, and friends with a number of the world class musicians who live and work there. I went to Havana with very high expectations, and these were totally exceeded.
And you will experience this in total comfort - even by American tourist standards— enjoying excellent accommodations and meals, while seeing many of the historical sites, the arts, attending a cuban style rooftop party, with Chaz and some of the very informative local guides he works with. A downside of being an American visiting Cuba is that you are pretty much required to sign up with some licensed sanctioned tour— something i was quite reluctant to do—but in this instance, it becomes an advantage— there is no tour like this one. Highly recommended.
We normally don't take tours... as we prefer to explore places on our own. However in the case of Cuba and the Havana music scene in particular, if you want... read more to visit for a relatively short time (i.e. can't stay for a month+) and be able to pack in a whole lot of unique experiences without being frustrated by the complexity of dealing with "word-of-mouth" music venue details, then we highly recommend Havana Music Tours run by Chaz Chambers. We went as a family with a teenager who plays saxophone in a couple of high school jazz bands. We wanted our son to be able to experience the music and be inspired by the Cuban musicians. Chaz was able to customize our tour and set up private saxophone lessons for our son with some great local musicians and arrange for him to sit in with them for a couple of performances. This was a great experience and it was wonderful to feel the sense of joy and local community among the musicians... meeting them and their families offered a much more personal experience than you would be able to get by just showing up at a jazz club. Chaz and his local Cuban contacts do a ton of work behind the scenes to make sure everything is customizable, flexible and runs smoothly. Going on the tour was like spending time with a group of friends who just happen to have inside connections in the local community to avoid tourist traps and make it pain free to maximize the musical and cultural experience. In addition to the personalized music lessons, we toured the city, took a day trip to the Vinales agricultural region, went to the beach for a refreshing swim, and had free time to explore on our own.
Writing this review because we had a great time and wish Chaz the best of luck ... but please stay small and keep it personalized. We'd like to come back when next we get the chance.
Things you should know:
* Plan to spend late nights out listening to great music (Some performances don't really get going till around midnight)
* Some clubs have age restrictions so aren't available for < 18 yr old
* In addition to music, plan to see Havana, take a day trip, and just wander around (Cuba is very safe ... a little Spanish speaking ability is really helpful but not required)
* No issues with US customs/immigration at all (we flew JetBlue through JFK... really easy)
* You can get cell service and internet, but try to disconnect for a while if possible.
Two things: 1) Go to Cuba while you can and 2) Go with Havana Music Tours. You'll have a wonderful time with Chaz (and Cuban crew) who is hooked into... read more the best of Havana--the best accommodations, music, food and affinity for this fascinating place.
My wife and I attended the 2020 Havana Jazz Festival with Chaz Chambers, who operates Havana Music Tours. It was a wonderful experience in every respect. Chaz made arrangements for... read more accommodations and meals, as well as a few touristic activities (walking tour of old Havana, visit to the music conservatory, etc). There were activities from midday until late at night, but tour participants could choose to come along, retreat to their hotel or pension, or set out on adventures of our own choosing. Chaz had anticipated just about every eventuality and all arrangements went off very smoothly.
The tour included passes to hear music afternoons and evenings at a variety of venues in central Havana. Chaz, who himself is a professional drummer, curated the selection of concerts and provided transportation for our group of 7 to and from all the events. The performances, which included both Cuban and foreign musicians were all good and most were excellent. The musical level in Cuba is extraordinarily high. We hear some of these performers on tour in the US and on recordings. But to hear so many of them playing together in a single place in a single week is a privilege.
At present it's much easier than most people imagine for Americans to visit Cuba. You can fly from several US cities to Havana, and you buy a visa at the airport. The US government places restrictions on where you can stay and what you can buy, but these restrictions are easy to work with. Best of all Havana Music Tours looked after all the paperwork, so we never had to give the matter a second thought.
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