I have to admit, I never thought I'd see Avo Uvezian again. Not at a cigar event anyway, but when I saw him last week celebrating his 90th birthday at the Carnegie Club in New York, he was in typical Avo form—white suit, playing the piano, shaking hands and smoking cigars—and it was great to see him. As a jazz pianist and cigar enthusiast, he's made a life of music and cigars.
The last time I saw him celebrate was at his 88th birthday in New York City's Grand Havana Room back in 2014 when Davidoff released the Avo 88th. Remember that one? It came in a box that looked like a baby grand piano—oh, no wait, the piano box celebrated 25 years of the brand itself. The 88th came in a box with piano-lacquer finish. I know, after a while it's a little difficult to remember the details of every release—pianos, Tesoros, Trompetas, Dominant Thirteenths.
I've been going to Avo birthday dinners since 2006. And every year, Davidoff releases a different cigar, usually with an interesting concept behind it. Like any musician supporting the release of a new album, Avo always toured across the country once his new cigar hit the market. In 2013, when he turned 87, Avo toured six cities. But, in 2014, his age seemed to have caught up with him, as he only toured two cities. Last year, following a car accident, he didn't tour at all. Nor was there an Avo birthday cigar.
Rather, Davidoff released something called Avo Classic Covers. According to Davidoff, it was meant more to honor Avo the brand instead of Avo the man. It seemed the beginning of the end for Avo's involvement, and a move to make sure that the brand could survive without the persona behind it. Makes sense.
But then, last week, Avo came to New York for the official launch party of the Avo 90th. It comes packaged in a box molded to resemble a turntable. The cigar is still marketed under the banner of Classic Covers, but so what? Avo was here!
The man in the wicker Panama hat arrived fashionably late and walked through the door with a cane. He took some very cautious steps to the branded step-and-repeat banner where the entire party lined up to take photos with the cigar celeb.
"I turned 90 years old, but that could happen to anybody," Avo said. "People always ask me, ‘Avo, what's your secret?' And I tell them that every time you smoke cigars, you have given yourself another day of life. I think I'm going to be doing this until I'm 99 years old. That way, when I get to 99, I'll say, ‘Well, I might as well go to 100.' "
As Cigar Aficionado has previously reported, the blend for the Avo 90th is made up of five varieties of Dominican filler tobacco: Piloto Cubano, a Corojo-Olor hybrid, Criollo and two strains of San Vicente Mejorado, grown in different regions of the Dominican Republic. Although it's the same filler blend found in the Avo XO brand, Davidoff claims the Avo 90th uses vintage tobaccos (unlike the tobacco in the core XO line, which has no particular age statement)—specifically the Corojo-Olor hybrid, aged 10 years, and the Criollo, which is aged for 11 years. The limited-edition cigar swaps XO's Dominican binder for a Mexican San Andrés leaf, and its Connecticut shade wrapper for a Habano 2000 cover leaf grown in Ecuador.
After we all sang happy birthday to Avo, we cheered by simultaneously lighting up one of these Avo 90th cigars. Then he took a seat at an electronic piano and began banging out a nice medley of familiar jazz standards with some improvisational measures thrown in there too. Even at 90 years old, I guess a jazzman's instinct for improvisation never dies.
"I am here in New York City with the elite of cigar smokers," said Avo. "Should I come back to Carnegie Club and do it again next year?"
The crowd cheered enthusiastically.
"Then I will. And to all the politicians who want to ban cigars, I say: Mind your own smokin' business."