Fortunately for her, Jane Bunnett lives in the northern part of North America. If the Toronto resident were based below the border, her past visits to Cuba would have been verboten.
“I don’t know what I would do if I lived in the U.S.,” she said by phone from a remote Ontario cabin. “I guess I would have had a very different career.”
The veteran jazz soprano saxophonist has recorded 15 albums in Cuba since 1988.
“Just doing that was a process,” she said. “It’s not easy doing anything there. We’ve been going to Cuba since 1982. We discovered that we had to cut through a lot of red tape to record with a wonderfully diverse group of Cuban musicians. The studios are owned by the state. It’s been an ordeal, but it’s been worth it.”
Bunnett, 63, has made an array of albums filled with Afro-Cuban, world music and Latin jazz. She has been inspired by the energy and passion of the Cuban musicians.
“I’ve never met anyone like not just Cuban musicians, but Cubans,” Bunnett said. “They’re so into music and they are so excited. I’ve never met people who live in the moment like Cubans.”
The dynamic Bunnett has worked with many Cuban musicians, but her last three albums have been created with a female Cuban jazz ensemble dubbed the Maqueque.
Their album “Jane Bunnett and Maqueque” dropped in 2014 and “Oddara” followed in 2016. Tracks from those world/Cuban jazz releases and their forthcoming album, “On Firm Ground,” will be in the mix Friday (7/5) during the Iowa Jazz Festival.
“What’s exciting about the new album is that all of the girls were writing songs for ‘On Firm Ground,’” Bunnett said. “We’re evolving and we’re like family.”
Speaking of family, her husband, trumpeter Larry Cramer, has been performing with her for more than a generation.
“Larry is the pillar,” Bunnett said. “I wouldn’t be able to accomplish all that I do without him and his hard work and insight. He’s a wonderful, creative partner.”
Bunnett plans to make more albums in Cuba.
“It’s just an amazing environment,” she said. “Most Americans have no idea how it is in Cuba. It’s an inspiring, unique place. The best part about going to Cuba is the Cubans. Working with the musicians is a treat — they are adventurous and they are all about camaraderie. I think that reflects their country, since I think camaraderie holds it together. I’ve been all around the world and have never been to a place like Cuba. Their music and culture is sublime.”
After Bunnett and Maqueque perform their Jazz Festival headlining show, expect Maqueque members to keep the party going into the wee hours in Iowa City.
“The ladies in the group are so young and full of energy,” Bunnett said. “They’re very social and they’re out until 4 a.m. However, I’m much older and I can’t keep up with them but I enjoy making music with them.”
It’s not surprising that Bunnett is tired. The prolific entertainer is constantly writing, recording and touring. That’s the way it’s been for a generation.
“That’s why I’m on vacation right now,” she said. “We’re not robots. I need to take some time out and recharge my batteries. I need to get some rest before I perform at the Iowa City Jazz Festival. I’ve done that festival at least twice, and I’m always taken with the fact of how enthusiastic the fans are there. They’re passionate, and I’m all for passion and music. That’s why I still go to Cuba.
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“There is nothing like playing with musicians who are into it or playing in front of a crowd that is all about the music.”