Letters to the Editor

A night with Nat King Cole at Havana’s Tropicana

In about 1952, I had traveled alone to all the major cities of South America and wound up in Havana for a last bachelor fling before returning to my consulting petroleum geologist practice in the states. I had seen the finest nightclubs from New York to Monte Carlo but, indeed, the Tropicana was the most beautiful nightclub I had ever seen.

On a Saturday night, in a packed house, I was seated at a table in the huge outdoor patio when the lights dimmed and the band hit a grand chord followed by a drum roll. I was startled when drum roll after drum roll revealed perhaps some 30 girls, illuminated in a huge circle surrounding the amazed patrons below. A spirited salsa ensued on the hidden catwalk high above the patrons’ heads.

After this beyond-spectacular opening, the girls marched down a hidden spiral staircase and onto a large stage to open a wonderful stage show. In time, the emcee announced the feature presentation of the evening, the Nat King Cole Trio.

I noticed a set of bongo drums next to the trio’s bass drum, on the stage floor. Nat and the trio played some well-received numbers, but no one had played the bongos, although there was an empty chair next to them. Nat started a new number that he had recorded, which had a bongo background. No bongo player.

I had led a dance band at the University of Texas where I also played drums and bongos. I was so thrilled and energized by the girls in the tree tops and Nat’s music that I couldn’t restrain myself and bounded from my seat and on to the stage, grabbed up the bongos, sat down and played bongos with Nat and the trio.

At the close of the number, the audience cheered. Nat called me to the mike and asked my name and home town, which was Miami. He then introduced me to the audience who generously applauded as I scurried back to my seat on the patio.

Sixty-four years later, I haven’t forgotten that night — and I never will.

Hal Lobree,