Spread over three days in Cuba, the Havana Jam ‘79 featured Columbia recording artists alongside native musicians and bands. It was a monumental, historic event that hardly anyone knows about anymore.
But Ernesto Juan knows the story. And, he’s been trying to tell it for the past decade.
The Cuban-born journalist, documentarian and translator became engrossed with the festival around the time of its 30th anniversary in 2009. Since then, he’s been collecting interviews and footage with plans to release a feature-length film about the event.
He’s also spoken at length with one of the concert’s biggest names: Billy Joel. And, Ernesto has near-exclusive audio recordings of the performance that hardly anyone knew existed.
Right before Billy and the band took the stage, Elizabeth Joel, Billy’s wife and manager at the time, ordered Columbia Records personnel to turn off all audio and visual recording. But, two bootleg copies exist, and both found their way to Ernesto.
Since then, he’s been flying all over the world gathering more first hand accounts and documents from an unprecedented three days of performances by American recording artists in Communist Cuba.
But the story goes well beyond the concert. In our own interview, Ernesto also talks about how Western music was villainized by Fidel Castro and his followers, but sought out by many others. He gives his perspective and memories of his homeland along with long-forgotten lore about the Havana Jam and striking up a friendship with Billy Joel.
In this special episode of Glass Houses – A Billy Joel Podcast, Ernesto Juan joins us as we dig deep into Havana Jam ‘79, and what life was like decades ago in Cuba.
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