February 12th: George begins his journey to holiday in Cuba, travelling for 4 days via ocean liner S.S. Veendam
February 13th: First full day on board, heading to Cuba. George meets a young lady, Jane, who agrees to have her portrait sketched. They are photographed together.
February 16th: George arrives in Havana, Cuba. This travelogue, made a year later, shows what he would have seen.
February 16th: George arrives in Havana, Cuba. With him were 3 friends, Everett Jacob, Bennett Cerf (founder of Random House) & stockbroker Daniel Silberberg (“one of Wall St’s best young operators”). Here they are on the beach in Havana together.
February 17th: George & his friends had checked in at the Hotel Almendares & Golf Club (“Cuba’s most exclusive hotel”), &, as it was the hotel’s carnival night, the dining room was “colourfully decked with serpentines, balloons & bright streamers with confetti & amusing favours at the tables for the guests”.
February 17th: Carnival night at the Hotel Almendares & Golf Club! The entertainment featured “Celinda, foremost danseuses of Havana… in some of her own dance creations” & “Mr Gershwin was most interested in the Cuban music played by the Palau Brothers Hollywood Orchestra” (The hotel’s resident orchestra – Havana Post)
February 18th: The Havana Post reports “The siren call of Cuban music with its odd rhythms & plaintive melodies has lured George Gershwin, internationally famous composer, to Havana, in search for new inspiration for his ‘Rhapsodies’, which have set a trend in composition”
February 18th: The Havana Post also reports: “In the wee small hours.. following the Carnival gala at the hotel, guests were surprised to hear the rhythmic rattle of maracas, the staccato beat of the bongo drum & voices lifted in harmonious song permeating the night air.. a Cuban serenade in honour of the visiting musicians arranged by his (George’s) friend, Mr Henry Ittleson of New York (founder of CIT Financial Corporation), with a group of itinerant musicians..” Apparently not all the guests were amused; Bennett Cerf said “Several outraged patrons left the hotel the next morning.” (Oops!)
George is the guest of honour at the villa, in Reparto Miramar, of J.P. McEvoy (author of ‘Show Girl’, whose stage version George had set to music in 1929 – including the hit song ‘Liza’). He had just completed a new novel & celebrated with a “typically Cuban gala including various interpretations of the rumba by professional dancers & instrumental music by the Habanero Sextet.”
February 19th: George is a guest at a recital for the Sociodad Pro-Arte Musical by dancer/choreographer Ruth Page (from Chicago). George was honoured “by an impromptu addition to the programme, Miss Page’s interpretation of his 2nd Prelude.. which won his hearty commendation. Introduced to the audience from the box he shared with his friends.. he was received with enthusiastic applause from Cuban music-lovers.”
February 20th: George signs an autograph:
George had already cabled his good friend, stockbroker Emil Mosbacher, about his trip to Cuba & today Emil arrives in Havana, flying over from his home in Miami, Florida. When he arrived, he found “George & Bennett chasing after the same girl, each trying to keep it from the other.” (‘Going to Windward: A Mosbacher Family Memoir’
Sunday February 21st: George (with his friends Everett, Cerf & Silberburg) throw an afternoon cocktail party in the hotel. The Havana Post reported: “The Cuban Son & American jazz vied for popularity… the 2 suites of the hosts & the adjoining terrace overlooking the patio were thrown open for the reception of the guests. Castro Brothers Orchestra, friends & admirers of Mr Gershwin… demonstrated their unique interpretation of the Cuban native music,.. giving their visiting musician lessons in the use of the maracas. Mr Gershwin generously played several of his compositions on the piano including portions of.. ‘2nd Rhapsody’,.. ‘Of Thee I Sing’ & ‘Strike Up the Band’..”
February 22nd?: George spends time at the Havana Derby at Oriental Park, with his friends Everett Jacobs (l) & Emil Mosbacher (r) with carnation buttonholes!
February 23rd: That was a brief visit! George’s friend, stockbroker Emil Mosbacher, flies home to Miami!
February 24th: Partying increases in Havana with celebrations following the 200th Anniversary of George Washington’s birth (on Feb 22nd) & Cuba’s independence. George’s menu at the Almendares might have looked like this!
February 25th: The Gran Casino Nacional Gala Night at the new (1930) Hotel Nacional. George & Everett Jacobs (& novelist J.P McEvoy) are members of a party hosted by Howard Hughes (director of the 1930 film ‘Hells Angels’). The entertainment was a special dance arrangement of ‘The Peanut Vendor’, & prize-winners were awarded miniature Peanut Vendor marionettes. Guests were also given souvenir maracas, gourds, claves & bongos (& taught how to play them!).
February 26th?: George’s friend, violinist Samuel Dushkin (pictured with Stravinsky) arrives to perform Stavinsky’s Violin Concerto with the Havana Philharmonic Orchestra at the Teatro Nacional (pictured). Dushkin had arranged 2 of George’s piano pieces into ‘Short Story’ for violin & piano in 1925
February 27th?: Did George meet Cuba’s leading composer, Ernesto Lecuona? He had been responsible for the 1st Havana performance of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, & had already bumped into George in New York, so it seems likely – but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence for it!
February 28th: The New York Times reports on George in Havana & the cartoon depicts George practising his maracas in Havana
“Composer George Gershwin is spending his Havana vacation in an exhaustive study of the Cuban rumba dance music with a view to composing a work around the peculiar rhythms of this native music”
February 29th: George & his friends Everett, Daniel & Bennett fly back to Miami. A few days later he wrote to his friend George Pallay, “I spent 2 hysterical weeks in Havana where no sleep was had but the quantity & quality of fun made up for that…”