It’s been a long journey for Pausa Art House co-owner Lazara Martinez who grew up in Cuba before coming to America. Now, her live music venue has become a hot spot for touring musicians. This weekend, Grammy nominated jazz artist Jane Bunnett will be performing with her all-women Cuban group Maqueque.
Martinez was born in Havana. Learned violin at a music conservatory in Havana. And with her talents, eventually traveled the world.
“You start music and that’s what you are going to do for the rest of your life,” Martinez said. “You breath, you eat, and you dream music. And I think it shows in the passion that we Cuban musicians have.”
That passion brought her to Buffalo, where in 2013 she opened Pausa Art House with Jon Nelson in Allentown. It’s now become a notable small and intimate space for jazz groups to perform.
“We ask everybody not to talk during the performance and it has become part of the brand. That you are coming in to a listening space. That you don’t come in here to chat,” said Martinez.
“It’s very interesting how people have been very open to this concept of an intimate chamber music style."
Martinez used to be a substitute violinist for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. When she’s not booking new acts, she’s performing in a 5-Group piece of Afro-Cuban jazz called El Coco.
“I think here in Buffalo there is a great audience for live music. Yes, we are not completely mainstream right now, but we have had a lot of groups that just find us,” she said.
One group that found Pausa is award-winning jazz saxophonist Jane Bunnett and the all-women Cuban group Maqueque.
“We were just at Newport Jazz Festival. That was a huge crowd,” said Bunnett. “We are going to be at the Pausa Art House. I’ve heard it’s a really great room. It’s small, intimate.”
Pausa was recently named best bar for live music in Buffalo by Buffalo Spree. But it’s not just the venue that has Bunnett excited.
“The shows on Friday and Saturday are going to be really exciting for us because—here the girls are going to be meeting someone who is running this place and she’s a woman and she’s from Cuba. And she’s a musician too. That we’ve never run into. That’s going to be a first,” Bunnett said.
In Cuba, you have to get permission from the government to perform. Bunnett said this can lead to few opportunities to work professionally, especially women.
“When you have the lack of opportunities, they are going to be gobbled up by the guys. For many reasons. Partly because it’s a bit of a macho environment,” she said.
In the past Bunnett kept meeting women musicians in a Havana conservatory who wouldn’t play outside the school.
“Often, I didn’t see any of them out on the scene and if I did, they were just there as spectators. It hit me just a few years ago, I should try and do something,” she said.
The girls of Maqueque live in Cuba so they have to petition to come into the United States. Since the U.S. consulate in Havana has closed, Cubans have to go to a third place to get processed for their visas—which Maqueque did at the Toronto consulate.
“When we get those visas, we’re only given one entrance in to the US,” said Bunnett. “So we can’t go back and forth. We have to really try and maximize our time in the US because once we go back into Canada, we have to apply for new visas again.”
“When we hit the bandstand, I think the attitude in our group is like… this hasn’t been easy to get from A to B. We’re here now and can’t wait to play.”
Bunnett found out about Pausa through Jazz Buffalo Founder Tony Zambito who collaborates with several performance venues.
“I reached out to Tony and Tony really responded quickly,” said Bunnett. “He sounds like he’s a man about town and he got it happening and hooked us up.”
Zambito may have gotten Bunnett’s attention, but he credits Martinez for making these kind of concerts a possibility.
“She has an open willingness to partner with an organization like Jazz Buffalo,” said Zambito. “What she really cares about is this quality type of performance to really bring quality music. She brings that knowledge and awareness of what that is and what the audience wants to hear.”
Zambito said you don’t usually see music venues owned by women.
“It’s actually uncommon and it’s a rare thing and a beautiful thing too for the city of Buffalo,” said Zambito. “What we get out of that, is we get somebody who has more of a global thinking. More diversity in bringing in music that typically maybe we might not even be aware of ourselves and she brings that to the table for the city of Buffalo.”
Martinez said they also hold art shows, poetry readings, and host many different genres when it comes to musical acts, not just jazz.
“Lots of people call it a hidden gem, because once they discover it, they go like… how do I not know about this place?," she said.
"The placement is a little odd. We’re off the beaten path of Allen, which is very vibrant for younger crowds. I think we’re getting on the map. People look for it. They google jazz music in Buffalo and we come up."
So what’s next for Martinez? She wants to continue bringing more talent in from outside Buffalo.
“People don’t know who they are. They just read about it. They hear about it. But getting them out and experiencing the new music is a challenge, but I think we are making a statement. If it is happening at Pausa, it’s going to be good.”
Jane Bunnett and Maqueque perform starting at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.