Wander into Radio Habana Social Club on Friday night and you might have a closer encounter with Cuba than you expected.
Among the strong regular rotation of musicians playing the art-and-sundry object-cluttered gathering spot, pianist Eduardo Corzo stands out with his expansive command of Cuban idioms. Born and raised in Havana, he’s made a point of playing close to home since he found new Mission digs in April. He’s also working every Thursday at Ivory & Vine, where he’s often joined by unbilled guests, bringing some of the lamented Revolution Café’s anything-can-happen spirit back to the corner.
A Bay Area resident for the past decade, Corzo was raised in a highly musical family under the tutelage of his father, a violinist in the Havana Symphony Orchestra. He joined the ensemble in 1953, and spent the next four decades in its ranks.
“When we didn’t have a nanny, he took me with him all the time,” Corzo said. “I grew up with that orchestra. He was my first teacher and taught me how to read music. But it’s not just him. We have two sopranos in the family, and other musicians. Plus, in Cuba, everything is music.”
The great Cuban jazz fusion band Irakere, founded by piano legend Chucho Valdés and featuring reed maestro Paquito D’Rivera and trumpet powerhouse Arturo Sandoval, rehearsed in the same hall as the symphony. It was as a kid hanging around the rehearsal space that Corzo encountered Valdés, who remains a primary source of inspiration. “Oh my God, the first time watching that big guy playing the piano was incredible,” he said.
His father also played popular music like danzón, charanga and other forms, and Corzo soaked up everything, though he didn’t start formal studies until his early 20s. He graduated as a clarinetist from the Conservatorio Ignacio Cervantes, and still plays the reed instrument, teaching piano and clarinet at the Community Music Center (“a great institution for whoever wants to learn music,” he said). But otherwise, he keeps clarinet on the down low because it’s hard to make it heard over a rhythm section.
“My major was in clarinet and minor in piano, but I never bring clarinet to gigs,” he said. “Music needs more pianists than clarinetists. With piano, you can play alone, or play with a singer.”
Inspired by the nueva trova movement as a young man, particularly the songs of Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez, Corzo got his big break when he was tapped to score a Cuban national television series designed to showcase rising young actors and directors, “and they looked for a young musician to compose for the show,” he said.
“They were different kinds of soap operas, and I had to write music for every kind of situation, which was a great school for me. It was very risky, but I did it and was good and got some renown.”
He started making a name for himself outside of Cuba in 1988 as music director of the “Conjunto Nacional de Espectaculos,” a Cuban variety show featuring dancers and actors doing “humorous sketches about national realities and a little comic opera,” he said. “It was cabaret and theater with live music on stage, and we’d interact with the actors and performers.”
The troupe toured around Latin America, and Corzo ended up settling in Mexico City, where he spent most of the ’90s “composing for radio and television and also playing cumbia, Cuban music, and a lot of jazz,” he said. Opportunities abounded and he worked with artists like Lila Downs, Amaury Gutierrez, Leoginaldo Pimentel, Oriente Lopez, Pedro Cartas, and Gil Gutierrez.
After marrying an American woman he met in Mexico, Corzo relocated to Denver so she could attend graduate school with the plan that they’d move back to San Miguel de Allende when she graduated. He’s been in the U.S. ever since. The marriage broke up after they lived in Chicago, Illinois, for a few years, and Corzo made the move to Los Angeles, a productive five-year stint anchored by a long-running gig at the mid-Wilshire Cuban restaurant La Bodeguita de Pico.
When another relationship broke up, he headed north in 2012 to stay with a friend in El Cerrito and went on find his own place in Oakland. Before the pandemic, Corzo was a regular presence in the East Bay scene with the Cuband, a group of Cuban players who honed a dance-inducing book of originals, performing weekly at Oakland’s Caña Cuban Parlor & Café. Feeling right at home in the Mission, he’s loving the neighborhood and its cultural offerings.
“For me, San Francisco is kind of micro-New York, with people from everywhere,” he said. “The other day, I went to see Balkan music. You can find any kind of stuff. It’s a shame it’s not more promoted and rewarded.”
A look into the Radio Habana – a place you could only find in the Mission
Catch a Colombian double bill at the Roxie
It’s always a safe bet that there’s something interesting at the Roxie. But, even by the theater’s high creative bar, Sunday’s cross-generational double bill is a doozy. The program starts with Colombian filmmaker Mercedes Gaviria’s 2020 “The Calm After the Storm,” an essayistic account of working on a film with her father, the renowned filmmaker Victor Gaviria.
Following the screening, there’s a Q&A with Mercedes Gaviria, moderated by Mission-based, Medellín, Colombia-raised filmmaker/artist Claudia Escobar. Gaviria introduces the program’s second half, “The Rose Seller,” her father’s celebrated 1998 reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” set on the mean streets of Medellín during the city’s cartel-infested bad old days.
Sean Dorsey Dance returns to Z-Space
Speaking of Claudia Escobar, you may have seen Sean Dorsey Dance featured on the KQED video series she co-created, “If Cities Could Dance.”
Based in the Mission since Dorsey founded the company nearly two decades ago, Sean Dorsey Dance returns to Z Space Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 for a reprise run of “The Lost Art of Dreaming,” which premiered at the venue last November. Since then, the groundbreaking troupe featuring trans, queer and non-binary modern dancers has toured around the country. It was “an incredibly rare and amazing opportunity to take a dance work on the road and perform it in so many cities,” Dorsey said. “Getting to do this means we get to dig deep. On a technical level, we’ve honed, sharpened and refined the work and I’ve experienced it deepening and blossoming.”
Dorsey created “The Lost Art of Dreaming” in response to the fraught and oft-hostile political climate during the previous presidential administration. Rather than curse the darkness, he and his collaborators sought to kindle a fabulous flame. “So many of us are in fight-or-flight mode,” he said. “I really felt called to create a space that was expansive and dreamy and full of possibility and pleasure and joy. A lot of my work over the past 10 years has been rooted in oral history interviews and archival history that revealed trauma and pain. At this point, I needed to be bathed in a creative process that was expansive and hopeful.”