What was the soundtrack of your childhood? Since my father and his family fled Castro’s Cuba in the late 1950s, my youth had a certain Latin flavor to do it. In addition to my grandmother’s picadillo, flan and boliche on the dinner table, there were rumbas, cha-chas and boleros in the air. One of the family’s favorite albums was a disc of Ernesto Lecuona, playing his own compositions on the piano. (“Lecuona Plays Lecuona” is still out there in reprint, treat yourself to a copy.) As a teenager, my father actually worked at the television studio in Havana where Lecuona had a TV show.

Lecuona was dubbed “The Gershwin of Cuba,” and was both accomplished and prolific. I managed to persuade my dear friend (and gifted arranger) Charlie Harmon to create new arrangements for the trio of three of Lecuona’s best songs, “Noche azul,” “Juventud,” and the timeless “Andalucía.” These three pieces are the very epitome of grace and charm, and are the highlights of the trio’s new Music of the Americas program. Maybe I had an ulterior motive when I dreamed up Music of the Americas, but I really had the best of intentions. Trying to pick the best of American and Latin composers is both a challenge and a pleasure, and then I threw in some Canadian composers in the tradition of good neighbors.

We premiered the new program at the Ruel Joyce recital series in early October and I saw lots of smiles in the audience. We followed it up with a repeat performance at John Knox Village in Lee’s Summit a week or so later, and so many people came up to talk to us after the show. Folks, we have a winner with this one! We perform it again the spring, and I have a feeling we will play around a little with the American and Canadian selections – we have a couple of new works by Canadian composers that should be ready by then – but I can promise you that the Lecuona is going to stick.

Cuba libré.

Tiki Snack Mix

  • 8 thick slices meaty bacon
  • 3 cups salted roasted peanuts
  • 4 candied (or dried) pineapple rings (or just use as much dried pineapple as you like, cut into smallish pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I leave it out)
  • kosher slat, if you wish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the bacon slices in a single layer on a rack set inside a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes (I flipped the slices 1/2 way through) until basically crisp. Drain on paper towels and cut into 1/4 inch strips.

In a bowl, toss the bacon with the remaining ingredients, except salt. Spread it on a rimmed baking sheet and bake about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the bacon is crisp (watch it a bit, since the bacon cooks faster than you might think). Season with salt if you think it needs it and cool. Makes about 4 1/2 cups, or enough for one hard-working pianist (and Dan is the hardest working man in show biz since Sammy Davis Jr. passed).