When, in the 1930s and ’40s, Cuban musicians such as trumpeter Mario Bauzá and percussionist Chano Pozo introduced the American jazz world to Afro-Cuban rhythms, they kicked off a cultural cross-pollination that continues today with the Cuban jazz combo Harold López-Nussa Quartet.
The group — López-Nussa on piano; his brother, Ruy López-Nussa, on drums and piano; Julio César González on bass; and Mayquel González on trumpet — will be appearing on Sunday at Wellfleet Preservation Hall in a late-afternoon concert produced by Payomet Performing Arts Center. The band has performed for Payomet in the past as a trio, but the inclusion of Mayquel González marks its first time touring the U.S. as a foursome. The Wellfleet show is just the second stop of a lengthy tour.
“Mayquel and Julio are both my brothers from a different mother and father,” López-Nussa says in an email exchange from his home in Havana. “They are like family to me. We have been playing together for a long time, more than 10 years now.”
As a trio, the band has recorded three albums. The most recent, “Un Día Cualquiera,” which loosely translates as “Just Another Day,” draws on López-Nussa’s classical piano training at the Instituto Superior de Arte, as well as the Afro-Cuban rhythms he heard in his Centro Habana neighborhood and the jazz influences he has absorbed from both sides of the Florida Straits.
“My influences come mostly from my country, from my city, and the way that people live here in Havana. My family is a very musical family,” says López-Nussa, who is the son of jazz drummer Ruy López-Nussa and the late Mayra Torres, a respected piano teacher. “We are almost all musicians. Some of us are professionals, others just music lovers, but music is a huge part of who we are. And of course, I also have influences from great musicians and from musicians from my own generation. My friends from school still inspire me a lot.”
He also cites, among many others, Cuban piano players Bebo Valdés, Frank Emilio Flynn, and Rubén González, and such American jazz pianists as Bill Evans, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock as influences. And then there’s the great Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés.
“Chucho is one of my favorites,” López-Nussa says. “I’m still learning from him. He’s one of my heroes, and every time I hear Chucho playing, I enjoy him like a child. He was a big influence on my way to find my own voice.”
For López-Nussa, jazz is about lifelong education. “I’m still learning how to play jazz,” he says. “I learn from recording, from the other great Cuban piano players, from my uncle Ernan López-Nussa, who is also a jazz pianist. I love to discover something new every day. Jazz is amazing.”
A percussive pianist, López-Nussa brings rhythmic complexity to his playing. “Rhythm is very important in Cuban music,” he says. “Our country is rich in percussion. Rhythm is part of the life of the people, so this expression is inside.”
Writing music, for him, is a solo endeavor. “It is a very personal process for me, and I enjoy making music in my small studio in Havana,” López-Nussa says. “But, of course, when I’m playing with other musicians, that is another thing. It’s much more exciting when we play for an audience. That is the final goal for me. I want them to love our music. This does not always happen, but when they really love it, it’s just magic. An audience could influence our music, of course. They can even change something every night. The relationship that we make with the audience is very important for me, and I always learn something from them.”
López-Nussa says that it can be very difficult for Cuban musicians to obtain permission to tour in America. “Just getting the visa to work in the U.S. is something crazy,” he says. “I can write pages about that.”
But that difficulty hasn’t tempted him to leave Cuba, which remains, for him, a source of inspiration. “The music that I’m listening to right now, as I answer your question, comes from my window — the building next door is under construction, and music is playing there very, very loudly,” López-Nussa says. “This is Havana: everyone makes his own party and wants you to be part of it. People are very friendly. Everyone says hello to you in the street. The children of my friends, they all are my nephews. Havana is a magic city for me. Even when politics and economics are sometimes a disaster, I just love living here.”
[Factbox head] Cuban rhythms
The event: The Harold López-Nussa Quartet in concert
The time: Sunday, Nov. 3, at 4 p.m.
The place: Wellfleet Preservation Hall, 335 Main St.
The cost: $23-$30 at payomet.org