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Cuban Music Lesson: Paquito D’Rivera

Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

By Jack Tomas

There are a lot of problems with communism. I know I’m prejudice because my family suffered quite a bit under commie rule, but  whatever, you would be too. One of the main problems is the vice-like grip that the state has over personal expression. Anything that doesn’t follow the strictures of their policies is considered counter-revolutionary. What’s an artist to do but get the hell out of there. That’s exactly what happened to jazz great Paquito D’Rivera.

Paquito is a genius. I know that word gets thrown around a lot, but he is a certified friggin’ genius. He’s like Mozart in the sense that he was considered a prodigy at age 5. His instrument was the sax. He played with the prestigious National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba at age 7. He got a recording contract a couple of years later. Paquito’s true love was jazz. Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the other greats of 60’s jazz were a tremendous influence on him. The only problem was that jazz was illegal. That’s right, friggin’ illegal. Not only jazz, but for a while, the sax. Why? The saxophone was invented by Belgian music inventor Dr. Sax. When the Belgians fought commie rebels in the Congo, Castro’s government outlawed the sax because…it  was Belgian. I wonder if he outlawed waffles? Jazz was seen as a decadent bourgeois art form from the imperialist United States. What was a genius like Paquito to do but get the heck out of there.

In 1981, he defected at the U.S. embassy in Spain. Since then, he’s become one of the greatest jazz saxophonist around. He also plays the clarinet and all other reed instruments. He has had a great partnership with trumpet great Arturo Sandoval as well as Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, and just about everyone else. Paquito has released something like 30 albums. 30! Even people who don’t like jazz dig Paquito. See what I did there, I used “dig” to sound more jazzy. Ya, dig daddio? Do jazz guys still talk like that? If not they should.

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