'Lost' Cuban Recordings, Unearthed And Rediscovered Cuban music from the 1950s was beautiful and lush. Equally romantic, though, is the story behind a new album collecting that era's rare recordings. It's the story of two brothers, Harry and Morris Schrage, who fled from Poland to Cuba amidst the turmoil of the Nazi invasion in 1939, then fell in love with the music.
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'Lost' Cuban Recordings, Unearthed And Rediscovered

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'Lost' Cuban Recordings, Unearthed And Rediscovered

'Lost' Cuban Recordings, Unearthed And Rediscovered

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(Soundbite of music)

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Right now, you're hearing a little piece of 1950s Cuba. As beautiful and luscious the sound is, the story behind this recording is equally romantic. It's the story of two boys who fled from Poland to Cuba in 1939 and fell in love with the music.

(Soundbite of music)

TRIO MELODICOS: (Singing in Spanish)

ROBERTS: Harry and Morris Schrage recorded dozens of songs by Trio Melodicos, who we're hearing right now, Trio Zamora and other Cuban groups. Harry died before he could release those songs, but his brother Morris has resurrected the old tapes on a CD called "The Lost Cuban Trios of Casa Marina."

We're joined now by the executive producers of the album, Morris Schrage and Jimmy Maslon. They're both in our studios at NPR West. Welcome to the show.

Mr. MORRIS SCHRAGE (Musician): Hi. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Morris Schrage, let's start with you. Your family fled Europe as the Nazis were invading. What brought you to Cuba? What did you father do there during those early years?

Mr. SCHRAGE: We went to England first, but when the bombs starting dropping he wanted to leave. So, he was looking for a place in the Western hemisphere to go to. It was impossible to get visas for the United States. And he got visas for Santa Domingo, but the boat stopped in Cuba, so we got off.

ROBERTS: And when you and your brother were growing up there, did you spend a lot of time in Havana?

Mr. SCHRAGE: Not a lot. Our home was 60 miles west of Havana. That's where our father built a new factory in a place called Matanzas.

ROBERTS: Looking back on that time in 1950s Cuba - and I know you're looking back from the perspective of an 80-year-old now - but can you tell me what Cuba was like? What did it feel like to you?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SCHRAGE: Paradise. It had everything - beaches, music, entertainment.

ROBERTS: Beautiful women, I bet, is what you were about to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Mona Lisa")

TRIO ZAMORA: (Singing) Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, (Spanish spoken)...

ROBERTS: Jimmy Maslon, when the Schrage brothers were teenagers and young men, what was going on musically in Cuba then?

Mr. JIMMY MASLON (Co-Executive Producer, "The Cuban Trios of Casa Marina"): There was a lot of music called - like the septeros(ph), seven-piece groups, and trios.

ROBERTS: What players are the trios made up of?

Mr. MASLON: Bass, guitar and a singer might be playing some kind of percussion.

ROBERTS: And everybody singing in three-part harmony generally.

Mr. MASLON: Definitely.

(Soundbite of song, "Mona Lisa")

TRIO ZAMORA: (Singing in Spanish)

ROBERTS: Morris Schrage, how did you and your brother end up finding the trios who are on this recording?

Mr. SCHRAGE: We went to a place called La Casa Marina.

ROBERTS: Which was a bordello, right?

Mr. SCHRAGE: Yes, it was. The atmosphere in Casa Marina is like walking into a fine nightclub. And the trios stroll along the booths and they play for a dollar a song at that time.

ROBERTS: So, these trios were playing at Casa Marina and, obviously, big part of their repertoire in that atmosphere would be romantic music. Do you have a favorite love song on this album?

Mr. MASLON: I like "Ultima Noche."

(Soundbite of song, "La Ultima Noche")

TRIO MELODICOS: (Singing in Spanish)

ROBERTS: I'm speaking with Morris Schrage and Jimmy Maslon about their new CD, "The Lost Cuban Trios of Casa Marina."

So, tell me the story of how you and your brother ended up convincing some of these trios to come record.

Mr. SCHRAGE: My brother was an audiophile and I loved the music, so we made a good combination. He went to Miami and bought the state-of-the-art latest recording equipment you could get. And then he decided he was going to give it a shot and try to record the trios.

ROBERTS: And, Jimmy Maslon, did you get hold of these tapes when they were still in reel-to-reel format? Is that what ended up inheriting?

Mr. MASLON: Actually, when Harry's widow brought the tapes to Morrie and I during the revolution. And they had taken out of Cuba when they (unintelligible) United States and they'd been in storage in a closet in Southern California for many, many years. And...

Mr. SCHRAGE: Actually, in Seattle.

Mr. MASLON: In Seattle, OK. And then she brought it to us and asked if we'd be interested. And I had a Cuban music label for many years and we listened to this stuff and it was incredible. And we thought the quality was incredible as well, because they recorded directly to a stereo tape. So, it wasn't like it was recorded to multi-tracks and then mixed down to another tape with a lot of hiss. And that's one reason I think it's so clear. As far as mastering it, we didn't have to do too much to it at all. The quality was incredible.

ROBERTS: Well, the mix of songs is really delightful. I mean, there are romantic songs, of course, given the origin. But there are also some folk tunes. How did you decide what to do put on the album?

Mr. MASLON: We just listened through it. There were about 50 songs recorded and Morrie and I and a friend of ours, Agustin Gurza, who was a writer for the L.A. Times before, we all listened to it and just decided what we thought were the best songs.

ROBERTS: And do you know what became of the musicians? Did they stay in Cuba?

Mr. SCHRAGE: My son and I are planning to go back to Cuba and search for them because we have no idea what became of them.

Mr. MASLON: Yeah, Morrie's going to down there and I think well probably document it, going around trying to look for the trios and see if we can find any. We don't know if they're still alive. We figure we might be able to at least find some relatives of theirs. Maybe they'll still be around.

ROBERTS: Morris Schrage and Jimmy Maslon are the executive producers of "The Lost Cuban Trios of Casa Marina," out now on Ahi Nama music. Thanks.

Mr. MASLON: Thank you.

Mr. SCHRAGE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "El Negro Simon")

TRIO MELODICOS: (Singing in Spanish)

ROBERTS: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

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