Peering out from the window of TWA's Flight 8753, Orestes Vilato spied the runway of the city's airport -- the same airport he used 19 years earlier when his family left here to relocate in New York.
"My coul has lived in two places," he said. "Now finally I get to make music for my own people."
Vilato is part of the Fania All-Stars, a New York salsa band that is one of six American groups performing here this weekend at the Karl Marx Theater in the first Cuban-American music festival since the revolution.
On Thursday, a chartered 707 brought 134 musicians and members of the press from New York to Havana. The emotional level on board ranged from sleep and general jet-altitude boredom to the enthusiasm of some of the Fania All-Stars, returning to their birthplace for the first time in two decades.
"I don't believe Stephen," said Mike Finnigan, the keyboardist in Stephen Stills' band. "He's sitting two seats away from Stan Getz and he has the nerve to play his own music on a cassette machine." He turned around and jokingly accused Stills of being an egotist.
Getz was busy paging through the April issue of Playboy, oblivious to what was going on.
"This is going to be a great gig," Getz said. "Dizzy Gillespie, Fatha Hines and I stopped here unexpectedly two years ago, and we blew some kind of jam. We were on a cruise ship."
Up the sisle Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge were wondering what they'd do in Havana, because their bass player had missed the plane. Tony Williams, Cedar Walton, Hubert Laws, Dexter Gordon and Woody Shaw were going over some musical arrangements for the All-Star jazz group they'd put together. John Mc-Laughlin was listening to music from a cassette deck on a set of earphones, drumming out rhythms on his tray top. Finnigan was now immersed in a match of Mattel electronic football. And somebody from Billy Joel's band observed that 'if this plane goes down it's gonna be another Buddy Holly story."
The plane in faxt landed a half hour early, only to have the musicians discover that it would take several hours to clear the immigration desk. The squawking was alleviated in about 30 minutes after a Cuban coordinator of the trip suggested that everyone retire to the waiting lounge for a few Mohitas, a cane rom, lime juice and mint concoction.
"I'll tell you one thing," said Stills. "I used to be married to a French woman, and it was no treat for her to come through immigration every time we got back to the States."
Kristofferson and Coolidge were the first to their baggage duly recorded by Cuban national TV and a CBS "Sunday Morning" news crew. As other musicians came through the line, the baggage search virtually ended, prompting one player to exclam, "I can't believe none of us brought any drugs."
On Thursday night the entire group was bused to the Tropicana, a sprawling outdoor nightelub with three basketball-court sized stages and enough gaudily dressed dancers and singers to fill all of them simultaneously. The show's finale had the review dancing through the audience, and one woman grabbed Kristofferson and tried to yank him up on stage. He resisted and said, "Once when I was in Spain about 15 years ago, I got pulled into the front of a conga line. I made the biggest ass of myself I've ever made. Fortunately my brother was the only person who saw me do it, and he was rolling on the floor. But the last thing in the world I need is to do it in front of a TV camera" -- again both the Cuban and Cbs/ crews were present.
When the two-hour show had ended, Billy Joel quipped, "I think that was the best wedding I've ever attened.
By yesterday afternoon, the musicians were lazing around the beach of their hotel about 15 miles outside Havana, waiting for last night's first concert.
"I think we're all just really anxious to play," said Stills, a Woodstock and Monterey veteran. "The amazing thing about this gig is the number of incredible musicians who are here, but none of us has had a chance to play one lick together yet. So far it's just another hotel on another tour."