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Chucho Valdés

Fans of Cuban jazz may think first of pianist, composer and producer Chucho Valdés, who presides over the Havana Jazz Festival and the steady flow of North American jazz artists to the island.

Those who've traveled to woodshed, network and sometimes record in Cuba include Jane Bunnett, George Benson, Terence Blanchard, Steve Coleman, Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, David Murray, Nicholas Payton and Wynton Marsalis, among others.

One legacy of the Soviet era is the integrated national system of music, dance and arts conservatories. The system offers superb training to aspiring performing artists from primary school onward. Musicians study western classical, jazz and Cuban folk idioms interchangeably, which explains in large part the abundant creativity of contemporary Cuban music.

The best students eventually land at the Instituto Superior de las Artes (ISA) in Miramar, Havana, the springboard to bigger things. Most musical visitors find their way to ISA, intent upon checking out the scene and connecting with session musicians to invest their work with something unique. In some ways, the music training system has performed too well, producing a surfeit of immensely talented musicians with limited outlet for their artistry...

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