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A Nightmare In Havana
Wednesday, June 21, 2006   By: Juan Paxety

A letter from Paquito D'Rivera

One of my favorite musicians, regardless of instrument or musical style, is Paquito D'Rivera - the jazz saxophone and clarinet player from Cuba. I first heard his music with group Irakare - later, Paquito escaped the clutches of fidel's island workers' paradise, and he began a very successful recording career. But he's never forgotten his homeland, as we see in this missive thanks to Net For Cuba:

As a regular goer to the JVC Jazz Festival for more than 25 years, I went to see John Holland’s documentary “A Night in Havana”, about Dizzy Gillespie’s second visit to the once beautiful capital city of my impoverished country in 1988. Well, I must tell you that my second visit to the rather mediocre flick was even more deceptive than the first. Mainly because this time I stoically stayed till the end, enduring all the oddities, the hypocrisy, the snobbishness and even having to put up with the repugnant presence of the oldest dictator on this planet, absurdly mixed with a certainly dearest––yet ill-advised––representative of an art form that epitomizes the very concept of artistic and personal freedom. It’s worthy to remark that while Dizzy was proudly posing with Castro at his luxurious office, the Cuban government denied my son and his mother their exit visas for the eighth year in a row. Painfully enough, Dizzy, my mentor and great supporter of my Jazz career, was pretty much aware of the injustices against my family for the longest time. A few words from his mouth to the ear of the tyrant would probably have put my family in the JFK airport in a matter of days. But unfortunately, those magical words were never pronounced. I lost my marriage. The rest is history.

Musically speaking, that movie is no big deal either; and Gillespie’s comparative commentaries about a country he didn’t know at all, were inaccurate and superficial. So, having on hand so much footage of Dizzy’s masterful performances, why portraying him in such an embarrassing environment? ––Dizzy in Cuba was commercially very rentable–– answered filmmaker Holland. For my money, marketing our misery is cruel, racist and disrespectful.

On the other hand, a great number of the Cuban musicians on tape are now living far away from the “paradise island” that Mr. Gillespie describes on camera. Among them Arturo Sandoval, whose spectacular defection from that European tour, was backed up by Dizzy himself, using his contacts at the Reagan’s White House.

In my opinion, to insist in distributing this outdated film is misleading, and the use of a charismatic and prestigious figure like Dizzy Gillespie to promote such a foul society is irresponsible, immoral and poisonous for our youngsters.

From 1960, the George Wein Jazz organization have been presenting nothing but ”la crème de la crème” on their events. So I bet they have better choices than that crappy flick, don’t they?

Sincerely: Paquito D’Rivera
NEA Jazz Master
2006 recipient National Medal of the Arts


(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren