Affectionately known as ”Cugie”— Xavier Cugat was the first bandleader to launch a successful Latin orchestra in the United States. Cugie played a wide range of Latin musical styles. The Tango and the Rumba at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, and in the 1940 movies. A Chihuahua on his arm added to his mystique and the popularity of the Chihuahua! He led a full, successful, musical, hot-life, and died after 90 years and five wives. Felicitaciones!
On the way to the rehearsal of the Grant Park Orchestra, I stopped at another City Farmer’s Market serving the Streeterville area of Chicago, in front of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Tony Deserto of Nichols Farm and Orchards helped me select the best corn for my recipe and photographs. Tony told me to pick short stalks, green, firm, and full.
I asked him about checking the tops, pulling back the tip and silk, looking at the kernels for freshness, I’ve seen done… and do myself. Is that an old wives tale?
Tony said, “The only reason to do that is that’s where you would look for worms. And don’t pull off the husks before your immediate use, the corn turns starchy and loses the sweet taste you look for in fresh corn.”
I continued on to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park and the rehearsal for Wednesday nights performance, prepared to settle down with How To Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen, and ready to read in uninterrupted space while the Grant Park orchestra rehearses.
What I didn’t know was Wednesday night’s program with Tito Muñoz conducting the Grant Park Orchestra featured the Luna Negra Dance Theater, with Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza and guitarist Romero Lumbamo, “considered the best practitioner of this craft in the world today.” They blend their Brazilian jazz heritage with their fluency in the American jazz tradition for a distinctive new sound.
The Luna Negra Dance Company formed by Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro is “devoted to capturing the spiritual, sensual, and historical essence of Latino culture” through contemporary dance. Blending the discipline of ballet, with the dynamic movements and energy of Latin and Afro-Caribbean dance, resulting in “richly textured and highly original dance theater.” Luna Negra believes “dance can be a powerful tool for exploring cultural identity, providing positive role models for Latino and other minority students, promoting self-awareness and creating positive self-esteem.”
The dancers on stage in spandex, lift, jump, meet, bend, squat, twirl— point aware feet. The ballerina folds at the waist, long, lean, with catlike grace positions a chair, derrière in the air. All motion expended, extended, amended, intended. Limber stretches beyond the seat, a leap, roll, gesture, embracing her feat…the last thing on her mind is what she will eat!
And I’m thinking of my mother singing “Bésame Mucho” along with Xavier Cugat and his orchestra on the radio… while she sings and dances the Rumba with me as a child, and her cousin Nettie, who holds her snappy Chihuahua on her arm like “Cugie.”
The Latin beat, heat, and “Cugie’s” corn?
Recipe for “Cugie’s Corn” can be found on Blog Bursts.
*Quotes are from the Grant Park Music Festival Program.