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Berkshire County Musicians Embark On Tour Of Cuba

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Sister City Music Ambassadors
Sister City Music Ambassadors Practice Grass-roots Diplomacy, Focusing on Musical Riffs instead of Political Rifts

PITTSFIELD, MA: The Sister City Music Ambassadors have announced that the band will embark on a musical mission to Havana, Cuba, in February, on a specially designed people-to-people tour. Under the direction of Pittsfield, Massachusetts guitarist and leader Andy Kelly, the tour, which is still one of the few types of travel which is allowed for U.S. Citizens, was designed to include performances by the band in community centers and schools, and to participate in specially arranged jam sessions with Cuban musicians.

Performances scheduled for Feb. 8-13, and the itinerary has time built-in for the musicians to participate fully in a cultural exchange, attending concerts and jazz performances throughout Havana. Among the related activities will be a private lecture and discussion with internationally recognized musicologist Olavo Alen, as well as playing in a public concert with saxophonist Michel Herrera.

“There is so much to learn and appreciate in the rich musical heritage of Cuban Jazz. I look forward to bringing this back to the students I work with, and to the community of fine jazz musicians in the Berkshires" said Kelly. “We are fortunate to visit Cuba at this time, as diplomatic relations continue to evolve. Of course, sharing music is a time-honored means of building bridges, focusing on musical riffs instead of the political rifts that have been in the news for the last half-century.”

Kelly added, “As our partners at Sister City International say, we believe in promoting peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation - one individual, one community at a time. Or, more succinctly: Make Music, Not War."

On this tour the Sister City Music Ambassadors will bring an acoustic quartet, to perform Americana- acoustic, harmony- rich versions of American and jazz classics. Members include:

• band leader Andy Kelly, jazz guitarist, music educator, and founding member of the Pittsfield CityJazz Festival committee of Berkshires Jazz, Inc., as well as the Young Musicians Workshop “Rock On";

• Ben Jaffe , a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter living in Los Angeles, who was originally from the Berkshires. He and his band “honeyhoney" have recorded and toured in the U.S. and Europe;

• Christopher Parkinson, bassist, guitarist and songwriter; and

• Tessa Kelly, guest vocalist. Christopher and Tessa live in New Haven, Conn., where both are architects and musicians.

Susan Kelly, Andy's wife, will be on the tour, helping with Spanish translation, and visiting artist collectives. An Expressive Arts Therapist, she will be bringing a donation of art supplies for children's programs.

Andy Kelly, who also leads The Sister City Jazz Ambassadors, is chairman of the city of Pittsfield Sister City Commission, which is a member of Sister City International (www.sister-cities.org). The mission of Sister Cities International “is making friends/peace with people in the world via one on one personal contact,” he said, noting the both Sister City groups —the Music Ambassadors and the Jazz Ambassadors— add the musical dimension to the cultural exchange.

The tour was organized with the assistance of Project Por Amor, an organization that harnesses the power of arts and culture to bring Cubans and Americans together through people-to- people, cross-cultural exchanges. Pittsfield’s Sister City groups have previously taken part in musical exchanges in Turkey, Nicaragua, Ireland and Italy, with a rotating slate of dedicated Berkshire County musicians. Members of the tour will be staying with Cuban host families in Havana during the visit.

Additional information on the groups is available on their Facebook page (Sister City Jazz Ambassadors).

This story appears courtesy of Ed Bride Associates.
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