Nicaragua: Duke Ellington in Managua (1971)

29

January
2013

The earliest years of the Teatro Nacional Rubén Darío (TNRD), a period of time from its inauguration in 1969 to the great earthquake of 1972, saw a varied number of American musicians perform in the Sala Mayor. Nicaraguan audiences were treated to military bands, symphony orchestras, instrumental recitals, chamber ensembles, and even ballet—some the finest representatives of American culture (see below).

Yet it was Duke Ellington‘s visit in late 1971 that made the greatest impact, in terms of cultural exchange, during the TNRD’s first three seasons. At the time, Ellington and his orchestra were on their second Latin American tour, sponsored by the US State Department, and were specially booked to perform in Managua on two consecutive nights in order to celebrate the second anniversary of the TNRD.

It was the first time a US jazz orchestra was heard in the theater and a possible first in the capital. Ellington’s opening night performance was a state event for Nicaragua, with the president in attendance, as well as US Ambassador Turner B. Shelton and his wife. The American Embassy was a principal sponsor and received mention in nearly all promotion for the performances. Both nights were completely sold out, garnering favorable reviews in La Prensa and Novedades.

The concerts were a “resounding success,” according to Ambassador Shelton’s report, which concluded, “the impact of Duke Ellington’s performances in Nicaragua cannot be overstated. While many in Nicaragua have only a limited exposure to jazz, and feel more comfortable with classical and popular music, all were impressed by the artistry of the performance and touched by the magnetism of “the Duke.” Nicaraguans seem to understand a little bit better what U.S. culture is all about…that we’re something ‘alive and now.'”

During the following season, the TNRD presented three American jazz artists and their ensembles, including Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Byrd, and Sarah Vaughan.

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American performers and ensembles who were presented by the national theater in its first seasons:

1970
US Army Band
Ursula Oppens, pianist
Jeffrey Solow, cellist

1971
US Air Force Band
Eugene Istomin, pianist
Utah Symphony Orchestra
American Chamber Ballet Company
Duke Ellington Jazz Orchestra

1972
Cannonball Adderley Jazz Quintet
Andre Watts, pianist
Ensemble New York Pro Musica (Early Music)
Charlie Byrd Jazz Trio
Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Barbara Blanchard, soprano (guest artist with the orchestra of the National Conservatory of Music)
Sarah Vaughan and her Jazz Trio

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